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Old 11-30-2019, 03:21 PM
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Is there a word for this family-ish relation?


Background: I have two children, both adults now. My oldest, Gertrude, is married and has three kids. Gertrude is not my biological child. She is the product of a relationship my wife had her senior year in high school. I came into Gertrude's life when she was about a year and a half old. Her mom and I married when she was three and I completed the adoption when she was six. Gertrude has no childhood memories of her biological father. I am the man who raised her. She calls me "dad". She has always known the truth of her biological situation as her age allowed.

Now: Some years ago, Gertrude sought out a relationship with her biological father, Manfred. Manfred has pretty much remained the same guy he was in high school (in the 1980s). He has gone from woman-to-woman in the intervening decades and held blue collar jobs. He has also had some relatively minor run-ins with the law, though he is far from a hardened criminal. Anyway, Manfred has a fourteen-year-old daughter named Hortence. Manfred is not a horrible or abusive father, but he isn't much interested in keeping up with a mouthy teen. Hortence's mom is unavailable for anything meaningful.

As you've guessed, Hortence now lives with Gertrude and her family. Gertrude's three kids are my grandchildren. They call me "Bawpaw". I like Hortence just fine, but I am at a loss as to what to call her -- aside from "Hortence". Gertrude's home is the most stable home life Hortence has ever had. Hortence calls my daughter and son-in-law mom and dad.

So what do I call Hortence? Is there a word for this? She is my wife's ex-husband's daughter from another, much later, relationship. My adopted daughter is now her guardian (perhaps permanently, perhaps temporarily).
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Old 11-30-2019, 04:06 PM
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There's way more information in there than needed. If I'm reading everything correctly, this is what I'm getting:

Gertrude is your step daughter.
Manfred is Gertrude's dad.
Manfred is Hortence's dad.
Gertrude and Hortence are half sisters.

Hortence and you would have no relation. I think the easiest way to explain it to people would simply be 'this is Hortence, my daughter's half sister'.
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Old 11-30-2019, 04:20 PM
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"My adopted daughter's half-sister"

There is no single word that describes your relationship to this person.
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Old 11-30-2019, 04:23 PM
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"My adopted daughter's half-sister"

There is no single word that describes your relationship to this person.
She is his daughter's half-sister. Her adoption is irrelevant, Gertrude is his daughter.
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Old 11-30-2019, 04:49 PM
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You could just say "she's my daughter's sister," and fill in the details when appropriate.
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Old 11-30-2019, 04:54 PM
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Please quit calling her your adopted daughter. She is your daughter, and this is her sister.

There are a lot of relationships that don't have specific names. I am trying to come up with terms for my sons' mothers-in-law. We are all friends, but we are also now grandparents to some of the same children. There should be a name! Like, co-madre, or something.

(I once confused the hell out of my coworkers by telling them that my husband's mother-in-law was in town and she was driving me nuts. Yes, that was my mother. Yes, she was driving me nuts. This is just an aside and has no bearing on anything.)
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Old 11-30-2019, 06:14 PM
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You could just say "she's my daughter's sister," and fill in the details when appropriate.
That may sound strange since usually your daughter's sister is your daughter as well.
OTOH, perhaps it is time in society to end that assumption. It's not like half-siblings were a recent invention. The 'nuclear familyist' concept assumed much simpler family relationships than the ones that life produces.
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Old 11-30-2019, 06:26 PM
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Thank you for the responses.

I never refer to my daughter being adopted unless there is some need to identify her as such. There is also no "step-" anything required. She is my daughter, full stop. Period. The fact of her biology is irrelevant to that fact.

For her part, Gertrude refers to Hortence as her little sister. This is actually upsetting to Wolfgang, who is my and my wife's son together. Wolfgang very much wanted to be a big brother himself, but our third child was a stillbirth. We had no further children. Gertrude claiming this teenager as a long-lost sibling is upsetting in some ways. Gertrude had a very trying childhood and Wolfgang suffered much for it. In his eyes, and mine, no one should be able to claim to be Gertrude's sibling without having had to suffer the consequences of that. None of this, however, is Hortence's fault.

All the adult feelings can be gotten through and have largely been handled. This Thanksgiving is the first we have spent with Hortence, though not at all the first time we have interacted with her. We are happy welcoming Hortence into our clan, it is just so confusing coming with a way to describe her that is succinct yet not impersonal. Family friend doesn't really work. Granddaughter doesn't work. Gertrude's half-sister is biologically accurate, but leaves out a lot of information.

I know it's all just my hang-up, but I thought that some of the Teeming Millions might have had similar experiences. It's not like this family structure is unique in the history of the world.
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Old 11-30-2019, 06:43 PM
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Thank you for the responses.

I never refer to my daughter being adopted unless there is some need to identify her as such. There is also no "step-" anything required. She is my daughter, full stop. Period. The fact of her biology is irrelevant to that fact.

For her part, Gertrude refers to Hortence as her little sister. This is actually upsetting to Wolfgang, who is my and my wife's son together. Wolfgang very much wanted to be a big brother himself, but our third child was a stillbirth. We had no further children. Gertrude claiming this teenager as a long-lost sibling is upsetting in some ways. Gertrude had a very trying childhood and Wolfgang suffered much for it. In his eyes, and mine, no one should be able to claim to be Gertrude's sibling without having had to suffer the consequences of that. None of this, however, is Hortence's fault.

All the adult feelings can be gotten through and have largely been handled. This Thanksgiving is the first we have spent with Hortence, though not at all the first time we have interacted with her. We are happy welcoming Hortence into our clan, it is just so confusing coming with a way to describe her that is succinct yet not impersonal. Family friend doesn't really work. Granddaughter doesn't work. Gertrude's half-sister is biologically accurate, but leaves out a lot of information.

I know it's all just my hang-up, but I thought that some of the Teeming Millions might have had similar experiences. It's not like this family structure is unique in the history of the world.

So what does Wolfgang expect Gertrude to call her sister? I understand he thinks that "sibling" is a title that must be earned through abuse/suffering, but it is up to you to reason him out of that crazy belief. Gertrude shouldn't have to tiptoe over the truth just because your son is confused.

"Gertrude's half-sister" is more than adequate. If someone is curious how she can have a half-sister who isn't related to you, then you can provide additional details. I have a friend who has multiple sets of stepsiblings, half-siblings, and full siblings due to multiple marriages on both sides of the family. She just calls all of them siblings. But if you ask her how many siblings she has, that's when she describes the complexity.
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Old 11-30-2019, 06:54 PM
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In Hawaii we use the term hānai which is Hawaiian for adopted, but as explained in this article it's much broader in meaning such as a grandchild being raised by their grandparents: https://www.mauimagazine.net/hawaiian-hanai/. No one would blink an eye or question if you referred to Gertrude as your hānai daughter.
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Old 11-30-2019, 07:02 PM
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Hortence calls Gertrude "mom", but Gertrude calls Hortence her "sister"? I think for outside of the family, she's a grand-daughter. She's living with your daughter's children and being raised by by your daughter. If anyone is close enough to require a longer explanation, you can explain as much or as little as you like.


Your son is a separate issue. Perhaps the two of you could talk about not taking Gertrude's history out on this girl, who has had enough trouble. It sounds like she could use all of the acceptance and love that she can get.
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Old 11-30-2019, 07:33 PM
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From someone with a family that has some odd names/titles for each other ------ talk it over with the two girls, include your son probably, and decide what feels good for all of you. Your case will not be this extreme but --------

I've mentioned this before but I am very close with the one branch of cousins. I lived with their family several times over the years growing up and we're all of an age. Everything was fine and dandy until we got older and they had kids, we helped raise a couple of the kids, and all the kids were a little confused. I was the same age as all their aunts and uncles but with a different last name ------ but just what was I? I was clearly more a sibling than a cousin but that wasn't quite right either. And these were kids after all.

Finally the one who was about 4 at the time came right out and asked; are you my uncle or my cousin? Now anyone who knows me knows that I never take anything much seriously and for some reason I replied "well -- since I live closer to West Virginia than anyone else maybe I'm your Uncle Cousin". So that is what I became - instantly. The kids are now all in their 20s or more and even in public I'm Uncle Cousin. People can think what they want and go screw themselves for the effort; it feels good and we like it.
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Old 11-30-2019, 08:20 PM
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In Hawaii we use the term hānai which is Hawaiian for adopted, but as explained in this article it's much broader in meaning such as a grandchild being raised by their grandparents: https://www.mauimagazine.net/hawaiian-hanai/. No one would blink an eye or question if you referred to Gertrude as your hānai daughter.
Sorry, I got confused. The question is about Hortence. Still applies. You could refer to both as your hānai daughters or just Hortence as your hānai daughter. When someone asks what that means, explain that she's not directly related, but like a beloved daughter to you and you treat her as such.

Edit: IMO, anyone asking for a more detailed explanation of your relationship is prying too much into your private affairs.

Last edited by lingyi; 11-30-2019 at 08:23 PM.
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Old 11-30-2019, 08:29 PM
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It might actually be easiest to just ask Hortence how she'd like you to refer to her. In all but legal/medical type situations, most people aren't going to question your relationship or even need to know. If she wants you to call her your daughter or your daughter's half sister or your cousin or your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate, it doesn't really matter. And, like I said, the vast majority of people aren't going to question it. If someone introduced me to their daughter, I'm not going to ask if it's really their daughter or they're just saying that to skirt a longer explanation.

Sure, if there's a medical issue, they might need to know she's not your biological daughter. If there's a legal issue, the adoption part could be relevant, but beyond that, the exact nature of your relationship is rarely going to come up.
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Old 12-01-2019, 08:32 AM
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Hortence calls Gertrude "mom", but Gertrude calls Hortence her "sister"? I think for outside of the family, she's a grand-daughter. She's living with your daughter's children and being raised by by your daughter. If anyone is close enough to require a longer explanation, you can explain as much or as little as you like.
I agree with this .Take out Hortense's age and the fact that she's Gertrude's half-sister - say she's the toddler daughter of Gertrude's deceased cousin and you'd almost certainly refer to her as your granddaughter to most people.
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Old 12-01-2019, 10:40 AM
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Hortence calls Gertrude "mom", but Gertrude calls Hortence her "sister"?
Forget it, Sunny. It's Chinatown.
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Old 12-01-2019, 01:32 PM
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In Mrs. FtG's family there was a sad case. A mother died shortly after childbirth and the eldest daughter raised the child. She called her sister "Mom" and all that.

At a family reunion a few years back Mrs. FtG heard the following exchange between the youngest daughter's kid and another daughter who happened to be a nun:

"Do we call you 'aunt' or 'great aunt?'"
"Yes, but you can call me 'sister'".

Just be flexible. If things get blurred, that's okay. Range possible here are daughter's half-sister to foster (?) granddaughter (if she thinks like that).
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Old 12-01-2019, 03:10 PM
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It might actually be easiest to just ask Hortence how she'd like you to refer to her. In all but legal/medical type situations, most people aren't going to question your relationship or even need to know. If she wants you to call her your daughter or your daughter's half sister or your cousin or your fatherís brotherís nephewís cousinís former roommate, it doesn't really matter. And, like I said, the vast majority of people aren't going to question it. If someone introduced me to their daughter, I'm not going to ask if it's really their daughter or they're just saying that to skirt a longer explanation.

Sure, if there's a medical issue, they might need to know she's not your biological daughter. If there's a legal issue, the adoption part could be relevant, but beyond that, the exact nature of your relationship is rarely going to come up.
+1

Other than in a legal or medical situation, the familial relationship with anyone you may be with is irrelevant and it would be rude for anyone to inquire further. I was friends (strictly platonic) with a much younger woman and when I helped her find a place to live, her roommates assumed I was her Uncle (we didn't look anything alike). Neither she nor I ever clarified the situation.
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Old 12-01-2019, 03:39 PM
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Just remembered. Since I tend to befriend younger men and women (I'm often looked upon as father figure), I'm sometimes asked if they are my son or daughter. If I get an odd look because we don't look anything alike, I'll say: "Yeah, he/she takes after their Mom...and Dad." Depending on the other person's reaction, I'll either leave it at that or answer that that we're just friends.

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Old 12-01-2019, 03:52 PM
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I'm going to get flamed for this, but I sometimes get irritated when people put an possessive emphasis on "This is MY wife" or "This is MY husband". I'm tempted to say, "Oh, how much did you buy her/him for?". I'm more tolerant with "This is MY daughter or son", since supposedly you have something to do with their conception or care in the case of an adopted child. Personally, I wouldn't call Gertrude my daughter unless I was directly involved with her life.

In the case of the OP, I would probably opt for introducing Hortence and Gertrude by their first names to place them on equal status. If someone asked "Are they your daughters?", I'd reply, "Yes, Hortence is adopted and Gertrude is in the process of becoming part of the family." Any further inquiry would be ignored. *Mumbling "None of your business" as I turn away!*
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Old 12-01-2019, 07:26 PM
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I'm going to get flamed for this, but I sometimes get irritated when people put an possessive emphasis on "This is MY wife" or "This is MY husband". I'm tempted to say, "Oh, how much did you buy her/him for?". I'm more tolerant with "This is MY daughter or son", since supposedly you have something to do with their conception or care in the case of an adopted child. Personally, I wouldn't call Gertrude my daughter unless I was directly involved with her life.
Not really a flame- but do you have the same issue when people say "my cousin", or "my neighbor" or "my coworker" ? "My" doesn't only imply ownership or possession - it also denotes a relationship.

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Old 12-01-2019, 08:38 PM
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I'm going to get flamed for this, but I sometimes get irritated when people put an possessive emphasis on "This is MY wife" or "This is MY husband". I'm tempted to say, "Oh, how much did you buy her/him for?". I'm more tolerant with "This is MY daughter or son", since supposedly you have something to do with their conception or care in the case of an adopted child. Personally, I wouldn't call Gertrude my daughter unless I was directly involved with her life.
I'm not sure I follow. Marrying someone makes them, in the eyes of the government, society and the almighty god (or whatever), YOUR spouse. And it goes both ways, as you noted, so it's not like it's a patriarchy/misogyny thing, it's just how you refer to each other.
I'm not sure how you'd refer to your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/cousin/aunt/uncle etc without using some type of possessive pronoun. IOW, how do you introduce the person you married without using the word 'my'. "This is Jaime, the person that married me" is not only clunky, but doing everything it can to get people to ask you to clarify.

Sure, if there's some misogynistic subtext, or even the a hint of the person feeling like they 'own' their SO, that's different, but suggesting you shouldn't refer to your SO as your SO, gets into SJW territory.


ETA, it would follow that you never refer to others like that as well. That is, you never say to someone 'her? That's John's girlfriend' or 'that's my brother's husband', right?

Last edited by Joey P; 12-01-2019 at 08:39 PM.
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Old 12-01-2019, 11:10 PM
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I hate referring to myself because it sounds like I own me and nobody owns me.
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Old 12-01-2019, 11:16 PM
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Please quit calling her your adopted daughter. She is your daughter, and this is her sister.
Thus making Hortence your daughter's sister. That you call her that already makes it clear that it's a bit more complicated than "they're both my daughters", but I wouldn't go beyond "they're sisters through the other side" unless someone really, really has the right to know (medical or legal reasons). The nosy ones will probably assume that they're sisters on their mother's side either way, but the complete details are nobody's business.




Quote:
Originally Posted by lingyi View Post
In the case of the OP, I would probably opt for introducing Hortence and Gertrude by their first names to place them on equal status. If someone asked "Are they your daughters?", I'd reply, "Yes, Hortence is adopted and Gertrude is in the process of becoming part of the family." Any further inquiry would be ignored. *Mumbling "None of your business" as I turn away!*
The adopted one is Gertrude, and Hortence is not in a direct child-like relationship to the OP since it's not the OP but Gertrude who has guardianship of Hortence.
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Old 12-01-2019, 11:39 PM
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I really started to get irritated when my I spent months listening to my friend complain about his wife (they eventually got divorced), talking about how she should act because she was "MY wife" in a highly possessive tone.

I've never introduced my girlfriend as "My girlfriend xxxx". I usually introduced her by name only as I feel it made her stand as an individual. On the rare occasion, I would introduce here as "My better half, xxxx". If people asked if she was my wife, I answer no, we're not married, but might hold her hand a bit tighter or move closer to her to indicate she's more than just a friend. Thankfully we've gone beyond the days of "This is Mrs. lingyi" without any sense of individual identity besides that.

I've never been married and the introduction may have changed if I were, but especially today where same sex marriages are legal in many states, I find it especially pretentious to say "My wife or my husband xxxx" or make presumptions or inquiries as to the relationship. Thankfully we've gone beyond the days of "This is Mrs. lingyi" without any sense of individual identity besides that.

The introduction of relatives changes depending on on the relationship. I would use a diminutive "My" to introduce a sibling or cousin, but a more formal stronger "My" when introducing an elder such as my parents, grandparents, aunt or uncle to enforce their seniority and my respect for them.

Part of this is the underlying formal and informal speech patterns of Japanese (which I don't understand or speak) which are subconsciously ingrained in me. Ironically a number of my aunts and uncles had nicknames that could only be used within the family (half of them, I don't even know their given names) and I've only referred to them as Auntie or Uncle outside the family.
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Old 12-02-2019, 01:32 AM
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She's your daughster.
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Old 12-02-2019, 01:55 AM
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. . .This Thanksgiving is the first we have spent with Hortence, though not at all the first time we have interacted with her. We are happy welcoming Hortence into our clan, it is just so confusing coming with a way to describe her that is succinct yet not impersonal. Family friend doesn't really work. Granddaughter doesn't work. Gertrude's half-sister is biologically accurate, but leaves out a lot of information.
In the context of Thanksgiving, I don't think the question arises. Presumably everyone in the extended family knows the relationships here; you don't have to explain them to anybody, and I can't see any compelling need around the Thankgiving table to be classifying and categorising everyone into a neat, recognised and easily-named relationship to yourself. Besides, Hortence is mainly there not because of her relationship to you but because of her relationship to Gertrude, and you can safely leave the two of them to work out the language they are comfortable with to name that relationship.

Outside the thanksgiving context, I agree with what others have said. The primary consideration here is what Hortence wants. By your account, she calls Gertrude and her husband "Mom" and "Dad" and it seems they are, in fact, the parental figures in her life, and at least one of them is her legal guardian. Consistently with that, proceed on the basis that she thinks of you as a grandparent and therefore think of her as your granddaughter, unless she indicates that she would prefer something else. If she has a relationship with her biological grandparents (you don't mention them in your OP) and is uncomfortable with you encroaching on that, then go with step-granddaughter. It's not technically accurate, but it's close enough to the substance of the relationship.

This has the added advantage that it avoids adding to your son's problem by letting him think or feel that you regard Hortence as a daughter or similar, and therefore as his sibling. He evidently hasn't yet accepted that Gertrude can think of Hortence as her little sister - that's a whole other problem for you - but he should find that much easier to accept than the idea that you think of Hortence as a daughter.
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Old 12-02-2019, 01:56 AM
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Obviously different levels of explanation are appropriate in different situations, but my thought was you could say "She's our daughter's sister" with a slight emphasis on "our". If someone said that to me, I'd understand they were half sisters through a different parent. YMMV.

I'm a big fan of glossing over stuff that's irrelevant. I'll misrepresent the heck out of relationships to, say, cashiers who are just making small talk. This came up frequently when my daughter was small and I was in a new relationship with a man who wasn't her father - they'd look at the two brunettes with the red headed child, and ask where the hair came from. I'd just say "My dad", because no one cares, honestly, and that was enough of the truth for people I don't know.
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Old 12-02-2019, 01:58 AM
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Just call her your niece. She's younger than you, related to you (sort of) but not directed descended from you? Niece is good enough.
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Old 12-02-2019, 12:03 PM
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Just call her your niece. She's younger than you, related to you (sort of) but not directed descended from you? Niece is good enough.
Seconded. Niece is a good non-specific catch-all relationship. There are plenty of cultures where aunt/uncle is a loose title for a respected older person. Niece/nephew just takes it in the opposite direction.
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Old 12-02-2019, 12:39 PM
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All this depends on who you are talking to. If it's just a curious stranger you can say whatever you want. In this case daughter, niece, or even step-daughter are perfectly acceptable, the specifics of the relationship aren't important. You can be more specific for people who are developing a closer relationship with the family.

There are also a lot of informal cousins out there. It tells someone there's a family relationship without any details about how close. There shouldn't be an assumption that a cousin is a first cousin blood relative, just some member of the family with a less direct relationship than son or daughter.
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Old 12-02-2019, 01:01 PM
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It might actually be easiest to just ask Hortence how she'd like you to refer to her. In all but legal/medical type situations, most people aren't going to question your relationship or even need to know. ....
(bolding mine)
I chimed in to say much the same.

Some ramblings:

In American-style English, there isn't a succinct term for this kind of relationship. Maybe settle on something like "niece" or "grandniece"; niece strikes me as right because "daughter's sister" is awfully close to "sister's daughter". A niece isn't necessarily biologically related anyway - if the person is related to your spouse (e.g. your wife's sister's daughter is still your niece). So that kinda fits the bill.

Step-granddaughter also works - admittedly the steps appear to have been designed by Escher, but the effective relationship is grandparentish (she calls your daughter Mom).
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Old 12-02-2019, 01:09 PM
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Another bit of rambling: If you marry someone who has a child from a former relationship, you would refer to that child as your stepdaughter / stepson whether you were involved in raising that person or not.

If your ex has a child later on, you're not really considered that child's step-parent, right?

Ignoring the OP: that's the relationship your wife has with Hortence. Not-quite-a-stepmother, though they could argue that is a possible title.

What does your wife call Hortence? What does Hortence call your wife? Grandmother? Auntie? something else? If that's been sorted out, then you can take your lead there.

Hopefully Wolfgang can come to terms with the naming and realize it all has nothing to do with his relationship (however fraught it was / is) with Gertrude.

And good on Gertrude for taking in her sister and providing a stable place to live.

Last bit of rambling then I've got to go back to work:
If she wants to start calling you Bawpaw (because her sister/mom's kids do), it'd be nice if you let her do that - it would probably really make her feel welcomed.

Last edited by Mama Zappa; 12-02-2019 at 01:12 PM.
  #34  
Old 12-02-2019, 01:34 PM
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. . . There are a lot of relationships that don't have specific names. I am trying to come up with terms for my sons' mothers-in-law. We are all friends, but we are also now grandparents to some of the same children. There should be a name! Like, co-madre, or something. . . .
I've always thought that we should call our relative's in-laws our out-laws. Somehow, I've never suggested it to anyone.
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Old 12-02-2019, 01:47 PM
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Just call her your niece. She's younger than you, related to you (sort of) but not directed descended from you? Niece is good enough.
This thanksgiving I was talking to my MIL about my nephew's wife and I called her my niece-in-law. Everyone was confused.
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Old 12-02-2019, 02:03 PM
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Human relationships are complicated. My mom went and got herself a couple of grandchildren without asking my sister or I. There's no blood relationship at all, nor any sort of direct or indirect legal connection, but her relationship to them is definitely the same sort of relationship as between a grandmother and grandchildren. They refer to her as their "godmother", but she doesn't, because being Catholic, that term has a more specific meaning to her that does not apply in this case. I refer to them as her "honorary grandchildren", which mostly gets the idea across.

And sometimes people invent new words for relationships. For instance, in my family, one's cousins' cousins on the other side (to whom one is not directly related) are "turkey cousins", because we joke about the family of such whom we most often visit with being a bunch of turkeys.
  #37  
Old 12-02-2019, 03:33 PM
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Thank you for the responses.

I never refer to my daughter being adopted unless there is some need to identify her as such. There is also no "step-" anything required. She is my daughter, full stop. Period. The fact of her biology is irrelevant to that fact.
My sentiments exactly, as someone with similar relationships in my own family.
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Old 12-02-2019, 03:42 PM
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Apologies for the sidetrack, but this thread has reminded me: after Patti Boyd divorced George Harrison (amicably), she married George's closest friend Eric Clapton (with George's blessing, not that anyone needed it). George then referred to Eric as "my Husband -In-Law."
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Old 12-02-2019, 04:55 PM
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I've always thought that we should call our relative's in-laws our out-laws. Somehow, I've never suggested it to anyone.
Neither my brother or I are married to our respective life partners. My mother calls them (the life partners) her daughter and son out-laws.
  #40  
Old 12-04-2019, 04:44 PM
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Hortence wouldn't happen to be red-headed, would she?
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