How to Choose Your Non-Binary Parent Title

How to Choose Your Non-Binary Parent Title - Photo Illustration by Michela Buttignol

Verywell / Michela Buttignol

For many new parents, coming up with their child's name takes an enormous amount of energy. For nonbinary parents, we also have to think about restructuring how parenting is perceived. Doing so comes with deciding on what we want to be called by our kids

The representation of nonbinary parents in media is far and few between. There are some examples: children's book "My Maddy" by Gayle E. Pitman, "The Natural Mother of the Child" by Krys Malcolm Belc, or "Like a Boy But Not a Boy" by Andrea Bennett show what it’s like to navigate parenthood as a nonbinary or gender-nonconforming parent.

But on the whole, nonbinary parents have to sift through many resources that are filled with gendered language as we try to figure out our place within that. In many ways, this gives us the freedom to explore and write our own rules for each of our unique journeys into parenthood. 

When I began thinking about what my child was going to call me, I wasn’t sure where to start. Elana, a nonbinary parent in California, had a similar experience. “I had a hard time deciding on a parenting name," they said. "I tried Googling what others had done and didn’t find any that felt like a good fit. I’ve gone by Zizi as an aunt/uncle title for years but couldn’t land on something that felt right for me.” 

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are places you can pull from to find your parent name.

Let Your Child Choose

Some decide to let their baby assign them a name. I quickly decided against this when my baby started reaching for me and saying "mama" around 6 months. For many folks, this results in almost hybrid names like Mapa and Dama. Or, you can get something more aligned with incoherent baby babble that ends up fitting like Zaza or Baba. 

If you’re a new parent to an older child, this might be an even easier process that you can have a bit more input on. Giving your child the agency to decide what to call you, and allowing them to decide what to be called in return, can strengthen and improve the mutual respect of your relationship

Draw From Your Heritage

Many languages have space for gender-neutral parenting titles. Obi, for example, means parent or heart in Yoruba. Maybe a gendered term feels better for you if it’s in another language. The name that I decided to be called is Pare. Simply, it is just a shortened version of "parent," but I love that it also doubles as the word pere in French, which means dad. For me, that hint of masculinization that not everyone might catch felt like a perfect way to honor my French heritage and the masculinity I feel more aligned with in my gender experience.

“I wanted something that was about our relationship with each other,” says Elana. “I finally found the word omi. It’s a Japanese name and I think it also means 'grandmother' in a Northern European language. But to me it wasn’t too masculine or feminine, it didn’t make me cringe, and I liked the way it sounded similar to a first parent word like Mama or Papa. It just clicked. Now my kiddo calls me Omi like it’s the most natural thing in the world—and I absolutely love it.”

Make It Up

Not aligning with the gender binary already gives you permission to lead a life of creating your own path. So why not take this opportunity to make up a word that feels good for you? Some parents decided to go with mashups or even shorten words you may already be using for yourself. 

Take the word nonbinary, for example, and shorten it to words like Nobi and Nopa. If you use gender-neutral pronouns like ze/zir, maybe Zaza or Zizi fits. Don’t be afraid to experiment, even if some of the words feel silly at first. Silly words are just new words, and there is always room in the expanse of language for you to feel validated as a parent. 

Reimagine Mom or Dad

Just because "mom" and "dad" are so heavily gendered in our society, it doesn’t mean those words have to fit the arbitrary boxes either. My partner is also nonbinary and decided to be called Dad because they wanted to challenge what being a dad can look like. Sometimes, dads wear dresses! And our child knows that they can too! 

For many people in different situations, choosing what they want to be called is about safety. Sim, a nonbinary parent living in Texas, decided to go by Mom. “I knew daycares and elementary schools are particularly conservative around here," they said. "And I didn’t want to put my kid in the position of having to defend me in a culture war, or opening her to bearing the brunt of strangers’ transphobia before she even understood what gender is.” 

A Word From Verywell

Remember: Whatever choice you make is a good one. There is no wrong answer. Whatever you choose to be called will rock your world the first time you hear your child say it. Regardless of the skepticism you may face for rethinking the binary labels we have for parents, your kiddo is going to be the last person to judge you for showing them what it means to be authentically you. 

By Sage Agee
Sage Agee is a queer, nonbinary writer living in rural Oregon. Ze spends zeir time raising a small human and making homes for snails. Ze has written for Parents, Autostraddle, Giddy, and has poems published in Goats Milk Magazine, Warning Lines, Honeyfire Lit, Sledgehammer Lit, Impossible Archetype, TheTideRises, Pareidolia, and more. Zeir poetry was nominated for the 2021 Best of the Net Award.