Mary Killen

Your Problems Solved | 9 April 2005

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Dear Mary...

A number of correspondents wrote in regarding the problem (26 March) of what to call the unmarried mother of one’s son’s child. Here is a selection.

Q. Oh Mary, I love it when you go all family values! Yes, yes, you are so right to stop the rot! Partners forsooth! Even worse are married couples where the husband refers to his ‘wife-companion’. Well, that’s rather touching but still icky. Anyway, mischievously, may I suggest that the word ought to be pronounced as if French, i.e., imprégnée? That would give it a little style. ‘This is Carlotta, Nevil’s dear imprégnée!’

And practically, may I suggest: ‘This is the mother/father of my grandchild?’ There’s a little hauteur in that, and a little humour and everyone realises why one is saying it, presumably.

B.T., Montana, USA

A. Thank you for making these valued points.

Q. I sympathise with your

correspondent who deprecates the term ‘partner’ for the unmarried mother of

her son’s child. I wonder whether the

term ‘daughter-out-law’ (which I have heard on a number of occasions) would acknowledge, in a manner which she might find satisfactory, that a familial, although not legal, relationship


S.J., Otham, Kent

A. Thank you for this suggestion. However, it is not entirely satisfactory since it lends a whiff of criminality to the liaison — undesirable if the person concerned is a parent of one’s grandchild.

Q. The French, as always, have the answer: their newspapers regularly refer to those living together unwed as, respectively, ‘concubin’ and ‘concubine’. In the latter form the word is familiar in English — its primary definition in Chambers is ‘a woman who cohabits with

a man without being married’, and it derives from the Latin for ‘lying down together’.

J.S., Padbury, Buckinghamshire

A. Thank you for this suggestion which might suit a rather glamorous couple, although for many tastes the images conjured up might be overtly intimate, especially in later life.

Q. How about calling the woman ‘my

son’s common law wife’ with the

emphasis on the word ‘common’? This might provide the impetus he needs to dignify his ‘partner’s’ position through marriage.

Name and address withheld

A. Thank you for this suggestion. It is clear that ‘wife’ is by far the most satisfactory term with which to refer to the mother of one’s child.

If you have a problem, write to Dear Mary, c/o The Spectator, 56 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LL.