What are you supposed to call your in-laws these days?

This year could be approaching a wedding record in the US Many newlyweds have no idea what to call their in-laws.

Mom and Dad? Bill and Judy? Hello? Advice columns have tackled this etiquette puzzle for years, and it’s still showing up in homes to a surprising degree.

the pollster


conducted its first survey on the subject in recent months at the urging of a British colleague who wondered if the in-laws discord he saw on TV and American movies was real. It was. According to the July YouGov survey, 29% of couples call their in-laws by their first name, 17% refer to them as mom and/or dad, and 9% use Mr., Mrs., or Mrs. The rest don’t have relationships with their in-laws or aren’t sure what to call them.

“I struggle with what to call my in-laws,” says newlywed Lauren Coble, a 30-year-old deal strategist in Los Angeles.

Lauren Coble and her husband Pat Coble on their wedding day in 2021.


Emily Alyssa Photography

Ms. Coble says she originally called her husband’s parents “Mr.” and “Mrs.”, which he felt comfortable with given his southern upbringing. The problem came once she suggested that she use her first names.

“It mortifies me every time their names come out of my mouth,” says Ms. Coble. “So now I just avoid it.”

Amy and David Mosely kept their cool as they approached their October wedding in Louisville, Kentucky.

But Mr. Mosley, who is 29 and a clinical psychologist, admits to being a bit taken aback when Amy’s mom started making what he calls “nice offers” for him to call her “Mom.” David was raised by a single mother and says calling anyone else mom would feel weird.

“I don’t know if he realizes that I’m changing the subject and plays along, or if he really doesn’t,” he laughs.

In some cultures, what one calls family members “is very prescribed,” says Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University. In the US, she says to herself, “you have to decide.”

“Not sure what to call your in-laws?” asked a March headline in Southern Living magazine, which urged couples to tackle the “elephant in the room.” (“Should you stick with Mr. and Mrs.’s last name? Are they using first names now? Do they want to be mommy and daddy?”)

Reddit threads on the subject over the last year have sparked outbursts and advice. Throwing in the towel is one option: “You can probably get away with not calling them anything to their face,” suggests a popular comment.

That is the path that Mike Esparza is taking so far. Esparza, a 30-year-old general contractor from Los Angeles, proposed to his girlfriend, Terry Ramirez, a speech pathologist, in December of last year, but says he doesn’t know how to approach his parents.

“If they said ‘hey, just call me that,’ I’d follow it to the letter,” he says. But he says neither party has started the conversation.

“It’s a big problem for me! I never know how to participate,” says Esparza. “I’m just trying to find a language where I’m using the first person.”

Kaela Powers, 21, and her husband Ronnie Alfonso, 24, of Tampa, Fla., were married last April. As she left, Mrs. Powers avoided calling her future in-laws, introducing them as “Ronnie’s parents”.

Things got more difficult after the wedding when the couple moved into a house on the in-laws’ property.

“My husband has a large family, which makes it harder to get his attention without using names,” says Ms. Powers, a student at the University of South Florida. “After a while, I realized that it was easier to say ‘mama’ and ‘dada.’ It’s super awkward, but at least everyone knows who I’m talking about.”

Alysha Madrigal-Coleman, who married in October, dodges words entirely and resorts to body language when trying to communicate with her mother-in-law. She will only try to get her attention. “Or I can touch her arm,” she says.

Diego and Alysha Madrigal-Coleman in August.


Diego Madrigal-Coleman

Ms Madrigal-Coleman, 34, says her mother-in-law originally introduced herself by her first name. But, “I was raised to call everyone ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs. first name,’” she says. She avoided the problem during two years of dating, and the situation never resolved itself. If she is pressed, she will use a given name for her mother-in-law.

A development that seems to break the ice: children.

Jackie Morey, a 37-year-old data analyst in Philadelphia, says she’s been stumbling over what to call her in-laws for 16 years. But, “since we had kids, I’ve found it easier to get around it by calling them ‘Mimi’ and ‘Dad,’” she says.

Tim Marino, a 63-year-old IT product manager in Chicago, has successfully avoided calling his in-laws, well, anything, for more than three decades.

“I have a great relationship with them, but I still don’t always feel comfortable calling them mom and dad,” he says. “To be honest, I generally try to avoid using names for my in-laws.”

Mr. Marino became a father-in-law last August when his daughter, Lauren, got married. He is now watching his son-in-law perform the well-known verbal gymnastics.

“If my son-in-law can avoid addressing us, he definitely will,” Mr. Marino says.

“Honestly, I don’t blame him,” Mr. Marino says, laughing. “I’m not even sure what I should call myself.”

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