A parentless child is referred to as orphan but is there any term for the opposite case? The parents who have lost their child.

Childless is NOT I'm looking for -that's without offspring and may mean that the couple is infertile.

  • 4
    this was previously asked on ELU. There is no single exact word in English, probably because for most of the history of the language, the vast majority of parents lost at least one of their children before they were 5. Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 19:07
  • Related question I asked, except he lost his wife as well as his child.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 11:58
  • This is on the same level as an english.stackexchange.com question. Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 19:35

3 Answers 3


Although I agree that there is not a pre-existing word in English for this condition, I came across a term while researching the US gun violence situation. It was coined by Professor of English & Law Karla FC Holloway in 2009. It has been picked up by a number of people in the mass and social media, and was recently re-posted at the Duke University website.


“Vilomah is a name for the grief we represent. It might sound odd at first. But we have grown used to the word "widow." It's not much different, and it shares the same etymology. And unfortunately, these days can give us ways and means abundantly to grow accustomed to a vilomah. A parent whose child has died is a vilomah.”

Many words in English are derived from foreign sources, and at some point must enter the lexis before they are accepted. I am not sure if it will stick. Hopefully there won’t have to be a reason to use it: as has been noted, it describes a situation which goes completely against the order of life, and violates every sense of what is right.


The closest that you are likely to find is bereaved. Although this does not exclusively apply to the loss of a child, it can be used for the loss of any close relative.

  • -0.5! I know the term 'bereaved person' but then it's not what I'm looking for.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 11:36
  • 3
    @MaulikV I don't think English has the exact word you're looking for. That's probably why Chenmunka went for "the closest that you are likely to find".
    – user230
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 15:16
  • @MaulikV Your comment is an example of "biting the hand that feeds you." Perhaps you will reconsider it.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Mar 22, 2014 at 21:40

I agree with FumbleFingers, that there is no such word in English. In addition to the reasoning FumbleFingers gave, there is also the connotation in English that the orphan is a (legal) minor child. Someone who grows up, and has children, and then their parents die would generally not be considered an orphan.

I believe the reason for the connotation, as well as lack of the corresponding word for a parent who has lost their child, is that in many cultures (possibly universally), a minor child who is orphaned has been a special legal state for millennia, necessitating a special term for them.

Losing ones parents happens to (almost) everyone, so is (eventually) a default condition.

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    This might be good as a comment, but it's not great as an answer. While it's interesting speculation, it doesn't offer any supporting sources or any information beyond what FumbleFingers has already mentioned.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 22:40
  • Thank you ColleenV, I will take your comments on the scope of answers vs answers. (Although it makes the reputation limit to comment even more annoying, but that is a separate matter).
    – sharur
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 23:12

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