New Parent Nomenclature Problem

"I don't call him daddy, but he takes care of things
When you pick me up on Friday, are you gonna bring me anything?
Oh, don't worry Dad, you know, it don't matter what we do
Cause I don't call him daddy, he can never be like you."
Doug Supernaw, "I Don't Call Him Daddy"

A character is taken in by a Parental Substitute of some sort, usually of a more permanent variety such as an official foster parent or step parent, and they're considering calling them "mom" or "dad" despite the lack of biological connection. Agreeing to call them "mom" or "dad" will lead to a perceived level of closeness than simply calling them by their first name, but also may lead to the protagonist feeling like they're shunning their birth parents, who is definitely not the person raising them. It typically causes the protagonist tons of angst and is a handy device for exploring the familial dynamics between the characters.

Compare/Contrast You're Not My Father, Happily Adopted, and You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious. May be related to lingering feelings from a Parent with New Paramour situation.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In When Marnie Was There, Anna calls her foster mother "auntie". A Crowning Moment of Heartwarming ensues towards the end when she suddenly addresses her with "mother".
  • One of the character in Death Parade regrets that he refused to refer to his step-mother as "mom" when he was alive.
  • In Magi – Labyrinth of Magic, Alibaba seems to have never quite come to terms with meeting his birth father; even when he gets a vision of his dead parents, he starts to say "Father" but then switches to "Previous King of Balbadd."
  • According to supplementary material in Lyrical Nanoha, it took a while before Fate could comfortably call Lindy "mother" instead of just "Lindy". Reflection (taking place about six months after her adoption) has this as a minor subplot, and she manages to make the switch after Lindy saves her from Levi's Coup de Grâce.

    Comic Books 
  • In the wake of Batman: No Man's Land, Barbara Gordon laments that she never did get around to referring to Sarah Essen, her father's second wife, as "mom" before she died even though she respected her a great deal.
  • Superman's foster son, Chris Kent, refers to Lois Lane as "Mama Lois".
  • Black Canary's adopted daughter, Sin, was trained as an assassin under a cruel martial arts master known as Mother. Since the name had negative connotations for her, she addressed Dinah as "Sister" instead.

    Fan Works 
  • Fanfictions for My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Fanfic sometimes take on the issue of how Twilight and Spike view each other. It is a sort of Parent/Sibling/Assistant relation. Official material seems to have settled on "Assistant" and he calls her "Twilight" in-show. In fanfic just about anything goes.
    • Twilight was mentored by princess Celestia during her youth. As such it is a common topic to explore just what their relation is. Mentor/student? Second mother figure? Princess/Subject? Friend? That Twilight herself got a promotion to princess doesn't make things easier.
    • A few fanfictions featuring Rainbow Dash adopting Scootaloo have brought up this question. Though often there Scoots sticks with calling Rainbow Dash by name.
  • In secooper87's Adventures of a Line Hopper series The alternate timeline daughter of the Doctor and Buffy Summers calls the Doctor her "father" as, biologically that's what he is to her, but calls the inter-dimensional being that raised her "Dad" and is very adamant the two terms are not interchangeable. After she begins to be raised by the main-universe Buffy, she calls her "Mom" although had to remind herself to call her that for sometime. A lot of times she'll start to call out for "Buf-I mean-Mom"
  • In the Emergency! fic Lost and Found, Roy and Joanne are mama and papa to John's infant daughter Melissa, intending to adopt her after John is abducted and feared dead and her mother doesn't want her. They show her pictures of John and she recognizes him as dada when he is found and brought home. In the sequel, "Reclamation," a psychiatrist tells the couple to find a new designation as John takes his place as the baby's father. The Honorary Uncle thing doesn't work, though, and they end up remaining Mama Joanne and Papa Roy.
  • In a now-deleted The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan / Winx Club crossover fic, Anne Chan was so close to her deceased mother that she refuses to call her stepmother her mother and even screams at Layla for accidentally referring to her as such. In the previous crossover, a sign that Alan was under the enemy's control was him accidentally saying "mom" instead of his stepmother's first name. (Though another Chan Clan fic also explains that Scooter and Mimi are the only ones who call her "mom" due to the rest being old enough to remember their birth mother.)
  • In I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC, Harley Quinn hooks up with the Green Goblin and moves into his house, and Harry has this forced on him.
    Green Goblin: You know how you mother is about these things.
    Harry: She's not my mother!
    Green Goblin: Hey! You apologize to New Mom right now and make her a margarita!
    Harry: You're not even married!
  • While not a problem in the canon, it's a fairly popular story device in the Phineas and Ferb fanwork community that Candace originally refused to recognize Laurence as her dad at the beginning of their relationship before moving into the Daddy's Girl relationship she has with him in present day.

    Films — Animation 
  • Implied in Up. When Russell mentions how Phyllis told him to stop calling his dad, Carl asks why he calls his mother by her name, to which Russell confusedly replies that Phyllis isn't his mother. Carl quickly works it out in his head and shuts up about it.
  • In The Lego Batman Movie, Bruce Wayne accidentally adopts Dick Grayson, with Batman sharing custody as his co-dad. (Yeah, Dick actually bought this.) He uses a string of "Dad" words that Batman continually rebuffs, but eventually allows "Padre," since it can also mean "buddy." (Presumably he's mixing it up with "compadre.") Of course, near the end:
    Batman: Don't call me "Padre." Call me...(Dramatic Unmask) "Dads."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Sand Lot main character Scotty's mother had just married a new man he doesn't connect with off the bat. After gaining new friends and learning about baseball, he begins to find some more common ground with him and says in the closing narration he soon had no problem calling him "dad".
  • Step Brothers plays this for laughs.
    Brennan: I'm not gonna call him Dad.
    Nancy: Brennan, you're 39 years old. I wouldn't expect you to call him Dad.
    Brennan: Well I'm not going to, ever! Even if there's a fire!
  • Shaun of the Dead has the recurring line, "He's not my dad, he's my stepdad" from Shaun about his stepfather Phillip. It stems from Shaun viewing Phillip as a Jerk Ass, rather than the Jerk with a Heart of Gold he is. Before turning into a zombie Phillip tells Shaun he's always loved him and Shaun finally acknowledges Phillip as his dad.
  • In The One And Only Andy's new mother-in-law tells him to call her Mom, but his father-in-law (who doesn't especially take to him) won't let Andy call him Dad. They're "Mom and Tom."
  • Picture Perfect: While we never see Becca and her stepmother interact, Becca is obviously resentful since she calls her "the step-monster."
  • In Halloweentown Marnie's widowed mom, Gwen, meets the mayor of Halloweentown, Kalabar, and it's clear from their interaction that the two used to date. Marnie is currently angry at her mother, so she keeps bringing this up, at one point quipping that if the two get married, she's not calling him "Dad."
  • In Enchanted, Edward addresses his Wicked Stepmother as "Mother" the first time he sees her, but switches to "Narissa" once he realizes her true colors.
  • The Thief: Little Sanya's widowed mother Katya has taken up with Toljan, a thief. Toljan and Katya both insist that Sanya call Toljan "Daddy". Sanya refuses, calling his quasi-stepdad "Uncle Toljan". Meanwhile, Sanya has visions of his long-dead real father. Near the end when Toljan is being taken away to jail. Sanya runs after the prison van, saying "Daddy! Don't leave us!" The voiceover reflects that after that, Sanya never saw the vision of his real father again, because he had "betrayed him."
  • In Boy, the title character initially addresses his estranged father Alamein as "Dad," but Alamein asks his not too, saying that it feels weird. Instead he suggests that Boy call him "Shogun." (Alamein may be a deadbeat and an aspiring gang leader, but he is also a massive dork.)

  • Earth's Children:
    • In Clan of the Cave Bear Ayla sees some Clan children using a special sign which means "Mother" and starts using it on Iza, who is deeply touched.
    • in The Mammoth Hunters: Ayla teaches Rydag, a Clan child raised by Cro-Magnon humans, some Clan sign language including Mother, which he then uses on the woman who is taking care of him.
  • Natalie's children in Catherine Anderson's Bright Eyes are officially adopted by Zeke Coulter and have no problem seeing him as "dad" due to their biological father not having been the best guy around. Isaiah even mentions this to Laura when the kids make an appearance in My Sunshine. On the flip side, as much as the Harrigan children love their new stepmother Dee Dee they never call her "Mom" or any variant. Dee Dee, who helped raise the Harrigan kids as their housekeeper for years before she married their father, is unfazed by this, knowing how much their mother meant to the family.
  • The Haunting: Barney and his siblings always refer to their stepmother by her given name. Them calling her their mother is a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming for the book.
  • At the end of The Mysterious Benedict Society, Reynie is confused on what to call his new adopted mother Miss Perumal. He believes "Mom" doesn't feel right and thus ends up calling her "Amma", which is Tamil for "Mom".

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Brady Bunch: Greg, Peter and Bobby call their stepmother, Carol, "Mom" immediately; likewise with Marcia, Jan and Cindy, they address stepfather Mike as "Dad." (Indeed, the concept of stepmother and stepfather was downplayed, only referred to in a couple of episodes during the first season, and by the end of that first season, its as though they had always known Mike and Carol as "Mom" and "Dad."
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures:
    • Luke is very quick to call Sarah Jane "Mum", but she asks him not to because she's new to the whole parenting thing and isn't quite ready for that level of closeness. They get over it by the end of the second serial and she's "Mum" to Luke for the rest of the series.
    • Luke's Suspiciously Similar Substitute/adopted sister Sky on the other hand, calls Sarah Jane by her first name. The series was canceled due to the untimely death of the lead actress before it could be farther explored as to why.
    • In the serial "The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith", before Luke meets Peter Dalton (Sarah Jane's boyfriend) for the first time, he wonders if he is going to call Peter "dad". We never see what he decides to call Peter, due to the wedding's... interruption... at the hands of the Tenth Doctor, and Peter's subsequent death.
  • Diff'rent Strokes: When Willis and Arnold start living with the man who eventually adopts them, they call him Mr. Drummond. They eventually ask his permission to call him Dad, which he gives (even before he officially adopts them). The explicitly do not call him Papa, which was their name for their biological father.
    • Later in the series, when Drummond remarries, Arnold and Willis (and Kimberly, too) refer to Maggie by her given name, even though she is their stepmother. (The only one that gets the term "mama" is Arnold and Willis' biological mother.) Maggie's son, Sam, always addresses Drummond as "Mr. D," even though he is now his stepfather.
  • All in the Family: We never see a flashback epiosde about how they arrive at this, but Mike calls his mother-in-law "Ma" (as does his wife/her daughter) while he usually calls his father-in-law by his given name, though there was one episode in which they were drunk he addressed Archie as "Dad", with no repercussions.
  • On Sirens (US), after Cash starts dating Hank's mom, he tries to get Hank to start seeing him as a father figure, suggesting several possible affectionate term that he could use.
  • Webster: the titular kid refers to the woman who adopted him as Mam. Because it was "close to Mom."
  • On Roseanne, David lives with the Conner family for a long time, during which he calls Roseanne "Mrs. Conner." In one episode, he admits to thinking of her as his mom, which she finds sweet; he asks if she'd like him to actually call her "Mom," and after a moment of thought, Roseanne quips that she'd rather her own kids call her "Mrs. Conner."
  • A variant on Gilmore Girls—Rory's dad has been somewhat flighty in his involvement, and now she's meeting his parents for the first time since she was a baby. Right before they come in, she wonders what she's supposed to call them—Grandma and Grandpa? Mr. and Mrs. Hayden? Their first names? It doesn't really matter, since it turns out they're disinclined to like her no matter what she tries.
  • Kutner from House had his parents killed in front of him when he was six, and then was adopted by a wealthy family. Given the circumstances they're understanding that he prefers to call them by their names and don't push the subject. Eventually after a couple of years he started referring to them as "Mom and Dad" and even changed his last name.
  • Averted in ''Sons of Anarchy". When we meet Jax and Clay, it is clear that Clay has been married to Jax's mother, Gemma, for many years. However, despite the fact that Clay often calls Jax "son", Jax always refers to Clay by his name. It's possibly due to the fact that by the series' timeline of when JT, Jax's biological father, died, Jax was already a teenager and had known Clay for years as JT's best friend. Later, when Jax and Clay are more often at cross purposes, Jax begins to correct people when they refer to Clay as his father and he explicitly tells Clay to stop calling him "son."

  • Doug Supernaw's song "I Don't Call Him Daddy" is about the biological parent on the other side of this debate reflecting on the new father figure in his son's life now that his wife has remarried. In the chorus his son tells him
    I don't call him daddy, but he takes care of things
    When you pick me up on Friday, are you gonna bring me anything?
    Oh, don't worry Dad, you know, it don't matter what we do
    Cause I don't call him daddy, he can never be like you.

    Web Animation 
  • In Teen Girl Squad, So-and-So once refers to her stepmother as "Judith" in a very sneering tone.

    Web Comics 
  • In Something*Positive, Rory decides to start calling Davan "Dad" in this strip. Davan isn't anything "official" in regard to Rory (they checked), but he's been a Parental Substitute for as long as he can remember.
  • In this El Goonish Shive strip, socially-awkward Noah struggles with what to call his adoptive guardian Mr. Raven, who had recently admitted he considers Noah to be family. Noah previously called Raven "Sir" despite the latter not liking that.

    Western Animation 
  • On The Cleveland Show, Roberta and Rollo refer to Cleveland by his first name, while Junior more respectfully refers to Donna as "Miss Donna."
  • On Phineas and Ferb, Phineas and Candace refer to their stepfather, Lawrence, as "Dad." Ferb would presumably refer to Linda as "Mom" or "Mother" if he talked enough for this to ever come up.
  • The Legend of Korra gives us this exchange between Baatar Sr. and his mother-in-law, Toph.
    Baatar Sr.: ...So, how have you been, Mother?
    Toph: I told you never to call me that.
    Baatar Sr.: :-(
  • On Dan Vs., Chris tries calling his in-laws "Mom and Dad," despite the fact that they don't like him. Elise Sr. lets him, but Don dryly corrects him.
  • On one episode of The Simpsons, Milhouse's dad gets annoyed that Milhouse refers to his mom's current boyfriend as "Weekday Dad."
  • On the South Park episode "The Poor Kid", Cartman is put into foster care; when he asks Mrs. Weatherhead if she's his "new mom," she replies that he can call her "Mom" if he wants. She will not, however, tolerate his whiny behavior the way that his real mom does.
    Cartman: Oh, hell, no! Mom! Dad's being mean to me! Mooom! MEOOOM!
    Mrs. Weatherhead: My name. Is not. Meom.
  • Inverted on King of the Hill; at one point, Bill gets engaged to Luanne's mother. They break up by the end of the episode, but apparently he still introduces Luanne as his "daughter" for a while. He's needy that way.
    Peggy: The parent-child bond is very strong, even when it is not real.
  • In the Steven Universe episode "Drop Beat Dad," Sour Cream addresses his stepfather by his first name, "Yellowtail," in the opening scene. However, once Yellowtail proves to be a more competent parent than Sour Cream's biological father, he switches to "Yellow-Dad" and then just "Dad."
  • In Batman Beyond "Earth Mover", Terry's friend Jackie addresses her legal guardian Bill Wallace by name. Noticing her friends' confusion, Jackie clarifies that Bill simply took her in after her father Tony disappeared. Bill for his part doesn't seem to mind this one bit possibly due to lingering guilt over his role in Tony's accidental "death" and covering it up. After the harrowing events of the episode, Jackie finally accepts Bill as her new father and calls him "Dad".

Alternative Title(s): Call Me Dad Dilemma