Gijo. Katoots. Muffin. We recently asked several step families about the names and titles their families use, and their answers were fascinating.
The word “step” was forbidden in my home. I was six when my uncle married and became a stepfather. “So is Kimmy my stepcousin now?” I asked.
“No, Kimmy is just your cousin,” my grandmother answered, matter-of-factly. And that was that.
Around the same time, a young black woman moved in with my grandparents. Lynda’s family lived halfway across the country and during the years she lived in my grandparents’ home, she referred to my grandma as Mama. She called me her little sister. I’m sure our family picture was confusing to some, but not to me. We loved her and she loved us and we were a family. To this day, Lynda introduces my grandma as her mama with no explanation.
As an adult, I was shocked to learn that not everyone is so laissez-faire with family titles. After marrying my husband, I immediately began calling my stepsons “my sons” and quickly learned that many find that wildly offensive. Over the years, I’ve referred to them as both my sons and stepsons, depending on the situation, and as I‘ve written before, they developed an endearing name for me.
The boys and I had exactly one conversation about what they wanted to call me. Shortly after we met, Henry said to me, “I have too many people in my life with J names. Can I change yours?”
“Sure. What do you want to call me?”
I found it appropriate, given its similarity to PMS, a condition which defines me at least two days a month.
The boys are now 20 and 24 and still call me Pmessica. Their friends call me Pmessica. My friends call me Pmessica. I introduce myself as their stepmother, and depending on the situation, they refer to me as their stepmom, parent, and even mom.
I recently asked several stepfamilies about the names and titles their families use, and their answers were fascinating.
They call me Katy, Ka-mommy, Katoots, Kate, and sometimes just Mom. It all depends on the situation. They’ve lived with me full time since they were seven, and I’ve always told them to call me whatever they’re comfortable with.
My stepdad Jeremy and I call each other by our first names. I think that mostly has to do with the ages we were when we became family. I was 13 and Jeremy was 20. I also wasn’t a good 13-year-old. I was moody and still fairly angry about the divorce and getting over the idea that my parents were never getting back together. (I could go on about movies featuring parents reuniting and how much damage those did.) By the time I let what has become an amazing relationship be built, we were both in the habit of calling each other Jessica and Jeremy. But we did give a lot of thought to what my daughter Charley would call him. “Gijo” was the first of the grandparents to be named. It is a shortening of Grandpa Jeremy and was inspired by a former roommate of my husband’s.
My oldest stepdaughter, who is now 16, has always called me by my first name (or perhaps other names that I don’t know or want to know). But my 14-year-old stepdaughter calls me Mom most of the time. She thinks it is great to have 2 moms. Depending on the situation, I call them my daughters or stepdaughters.
When my son was little, he called his stepmom Aunt Tammy because she didn’t have any nieces or nephews, and she told me she was sad about that. Calling his step mom “Aunt” caused a lot of confusion for people trying to figure out our family structure.
I had one serious boyfriend after my divorce (before I remarried) and my son called him Mitten. You don’t run across too many 6’4”, 250lb tattooed black men named Mitten…
I have no idea how he came up with Mitten. He was three or four, and he had a goldfish named Lullaby Mailbox, so I guess he was just an eclectic namer.
They call me ESM — Evil Step Mutha! It’s in jest and I love it. It’s how I refer to myself. It’s funny ‘cause I’m so not evil. We’re super close.
My mom got married five months after I did so when my stepdad entered the picture, I was a grown adult. I love him, but have always called him Dan. He always wanted to be a dad but never found the right person or season. What really changed things was when I had the boys. My dad won’t be a part of their life, but Dan will. They call him “Bestie” and I always call him that, too. It’s so interesting how much a mutual love can connect people. I’m a marketing consultant, he’s a truck driver and farmer. We have nothing in common beyond loving my mom and loving my kids, but he loves both of those parties SO much and it connects us forever.
Do you have stepchildren or stepparent? What names do you use?
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.