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Do I call my friend's mother aunt Mai or mother Mai? She is a compassionate woman of no relation. And if the woman is very old and of no relation may I call her grandma Marla or what?

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You would not call a friend's mother "Mother Mai". You would just use her name.

Suppose your friend's name is Mary Collins, and her mother is Sue Collins. As a young person, speaking to an adult you might begin by calling the mother "Mrs Collins". It would then be likely for the mother to say something like "Please call me 'Sue'." And then you would call her "Sue". (But never "Mrs Sue")

Mary Collins: (to Imogen) Come and meet my mum! (to her mum) Mum, this is Imogen.
Imogen: Hello Mrs Collins. It's nice to meet you.
Sue Collins: It's nice to meet you too Imogen, and please, just call me "Sue".

When speaking in the third person (ie talking about Sue Collins instead of to her) you might say "Mary's mother". A native speaker might use "Mary's Mum" in the second person too, as a kind of joke, and a way of defusing the slight tension that a teenager would feel talking to an unrelated adult.

If you are an adult, then you would probably just use "Sue". The context would be different as two adults don't normally recognise any particular difference in status even if one is older.

In some cases, a very close family friend might be called "aunty". If this is the family tradition you can use it. But in general you should never use "mother", "Aunty" or "grandma" for anyone except your mother, aunty or grandmother.

If you are not sure what to call your friend's mother, then "mother Mai", or "auntie" is too familiar. If you are not sure, just stick to names.

  • Could you state a location for this answer? It is somewhat incorrect in my area. – Deolater May 28 '19 at 13:49
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    True in most of the the UK, I think. In a few families children will call their parents' friends Aunty X or Uncle Y, because it is felt that Mrs X is too formal, but using first names does not show enough respect. I think that's a minority thing though. I certainly never did it. Grandad etc. could only be a term of abuse if the person concerned wasn't actually your grandad. – user96060 May 28 '19 at 16:47
  • Yes, if you know this to be the case that is possible. If you need to ask then don't call a friend's mother "auntie" – James K May 28 '19 at 18:23
  • @Deolater UK, but I think this goes for most anglophone countries. I understand that "auntie" is quite common in Indian English. – James K May 28 '19 at 18:32
  • @Minty While there are some who will use "Auntie X", that is following established family tradition. Even those people wouldn't use "Auntie" when speaking to a friend's mother for the first time. It is implied in the question that the OP doesn't yet know what to call this woman, so she is a person that the OP has only just met. – James K May 28 '19 at 18:35
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Different cultures will have different ideas about this. When I was growing up, only an actual relative ever got called "Auntie", but in the situation you describe, my wife would certainly have called the woman "Auntie".

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You have several options on how to proceed:

  1. Decide for yourself, according to the social rules in your area / country.
  2. Ask your friend how it is best to call those women.
  3. Ask the women themselves how they prefer to be called.

Sometimes people have special preferences about how they want to be called, other times they are happy when they are called in an original unexpected way.

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This varies a good deal by regional and familial custom. In some families in the US, it is common for close family friends to be referred to, particularly by young children (say under 10) as "Aunt Joan" or "Uncle John" even though there is no genetic relationship at all. I was, for a time, "Uncle David" to the children of friends who were also neighbors. As such children grow up, sometimes these familial titles are retained, and in other cases they are dropped.

It was at one time common, at least in certain parts of the US, for a recently married couple to address their inlaws with titles of "Mother" or "Father" + surname. So if John Jones married Jane Smith, he would address her parents as "Mother Smith" and "Father Smith", and she would address his parents as "Mother Jones" and "Father Jones". As the couple aged, fist names might or might not be substituted, at the invitation of the inlaws. I haven't heard this in actual use since the 1970s, except in fiction set in the 70s or earlier, but Judith Martin, writing as "Miss Manners" listed it as an available form in the late 1990s.

Occasionally a person will be known to the children of an entire neighborhood as "Mother Judy" or "Grandma Beth" or some similar form. At that point this has become a nickname, and can be used when acceptable to the subject, like any other nickname.

Of course "Father" is commonly used as a title for Catholic and Anglican priests, and "Mother" for an abbess or senior nun. But that is not really the same thing.

Oh I should mention, when a young adult or near-adult is in authority over children, such as a camp counselor, the form "Mr John" is often used, or at least it was when I was young enough to attend such institutions. In novels set in 19th century England (and earlier) I also see the form "Mr. John" used by servants to refer to a younger son of the family.

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