New words connected with families and relationships

by Liz Walter
Changes in social attitudes, new laws on same-sex relationships, and advances in medical procedures connected with conception and surrogacy have all led to new family structures and relationships, and this blog looks at some terms that have come into the language in order to describe them.

The jigsaw family, for instance, is becoming ever more common. Also known as the blended family, it consists of a couple and their children, living with children from their previous relationships.

The rainbow family, with members of different races, is most famously exemplified by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who currently have 6 children, three of whom are adopted (from Cambodia, Ethiopia and Vietnam). Children with parents from different racial and cultural backgrounds are now increasingly described as dualheritage, a term which has a more positive spin than the still more common ‘mixed-race‘.

Adoption, the rise of surrogacy, and the increase in lesbian couples with children have led to the terms bio-mom (more formally gestational mother) and non-bio mom to distinguish mothers who have given birth to their child from those who have not. The rather twee phrase tummy mummy is also sometimes used.

The term baby daddy was originally used primarily by African Americans, and referred in a rather derogatory way to a man who was not married to the mother. There was outrage in 2008 when Fox news told US liberals to ‘Stop picking on Obama’s baby mama‘.

However, although ‘baby daddy‘ still primarily denotes an unmarried father, it no longer has the same negative connotations, and is becoming used much more widely, simply as a useful, informal, and non-judgmental way of referring to a child’s biological father.

Medical advances have changed the nature of pregnancy. For example, the UK looks set to be the first country to allow three-parent IVF, where one man and two women contribute DNA in order to prevent serious disease. This technique is of course controversial, as is the notion of a saviour sibling, who may be conceived primarily as a potential donor for a sick brother or sister, or an anchor baby, born in the US to immigrant parents with the aim of securing US citizenship for the child and its relatives.

I’m sure that to my grandmother, born in the 1890s, many of the phenomena I’ve described here would seem utterly outlandish, and of course many of them are controversial in our own times. We can only speculate on what changes our own grandchildren might see.

4 thoughts on “New words connected with families and relationships

  1. Pingback: New words connected with families and relationships | Pascual Pérez-Paredes academic blog

  2. You modestly fail to note that the first step in this revolution occurred in the UK: the first successful “in vitro fertilization” (or “test tube baby” in popular terms). Once people realized that sex alone was not necessary to conception, Imaginations ran wild.

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