What is the Atheistic Equivalent of a “Godparent” Called?

An atheist friend has an interesting question for me. I didn’t know what to say to her, so, with her permission, I offer the question to you:

Random question: is there an atheist version of a Godparent? I know that anyone can be named as a legal guardian in the event that we die, but is there a non religious term for it? I’d like to have someone for Em and I know it doesn’t need a cutesy name, but it would certainly be easier. It was just something that passed through my mind recently and I wondered if you knew of anything.


Have any atheists developed words for this kind of relationship? Should we set out to make one? What should my friend call her little girl’s legal guardian that’s a little more intimate and personal than the somewhat formal and dramatic term “legal guardian”?

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://songe.me Alex Songe

    Some joking suggestions, because there’s nothing like black humor to traumatize a child:

    Suggested Parent Surrogate
    Family B
    Bus Factor (in the tech industry, one will have to do things in case one gets hit by a bus in the meantime)
    Second String Parents
    Guardian Understudies
    Mommy and Daddy 2.0

    I only say these because I’ve really got nothing constructive as far as a name for this kind of backup plan.

  • Kyle S

    I am a Godparent and honestly haven’t come up with another term. We refer to ours as our “godson”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/barbara.silas barbarasilas

    I rather like the Hawaiian term “hanai” which can be used for anyone you consider family who is not a blood relative. Very often it’s used for surrogate parents.

  • Duke


    • http://polyskeptic.com shaunphilly

      I love this!

  • Rabidtreeweasel

    My equivalent term is Proxy Parent and my potential adoptee is my Child by Proxy.

    • Onamission5

      I use the term Proxy Parent, although after reading Pnambic’s reply I am liking Guard(ian) Parent as well.

    • Evvie

      Weasel dear, get in touch with me sometime? I want to know how you are. E.

  • F

    Whatever you want?

    • astro

      That was my first thought. ‘Godparent’ doesn’t have any legal weight, at least none that I know of. It seems like some kind of official agreement would have to be registered anyway, otherwise the child would go into the custody of a relative. Are godparents ever relatives? If so, then it eally is meaningless.

  • Mark

    I think Uncle or Aunty is simple and good.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    The Atheist Experience covered this a few weeks ago. They didn’t have a term either. Does the equivalence go all the way? i.e. are you expected to make sure the child is raised atheist?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      are you expected to make sure the child is raised atheist?

      That would be silly. Unlike the Church where the parents might actually be lukewarm, these are self-conscious enough parents who want to have an irreligious equivalent to the godparent in the first place. Apparently they’re not in danger of raising their kid religiously.

    • astro

      Both of my parents are religious-lite, so much so that god was never really mentioned or talked about in our house. They got the idea when I was 12 that maybe we should start going to church. But by then it was too late. The phrase is ‘give me the child and I’ll show you the man” Doesn’t work for pre-adolescents

    • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com Buzz Saw

      TAE also dispelled the idea that a godparent (in the religious sense) is supposed to have any involvement with a child beyond baptism and a godparent most certainly has no legal responsibility. But…according to Wikipedia: “The modern view of a godparent tends to be an individual chosen by the parents to take an interest in the child’s upbringing and personal development.”

      So we first need to recognize that there are actually two different definitions of “godparent” so that we are not committing equivocation errors. In the religious sense of the word, there need not be an atheist equivalent. In the modern sense of the word, there really wouldn’t be as much of a need for an atheist “equivalent,” per se, as a rebranding of the term.

  • http://creatinganxiety.wordpress.com/ Xanthë

    I have this exact problem, being the atheistic equivalent of a godparent to a couple of my close friends’ children – both parents are more or less agnostic or atheistic (dad’s a non-religious, non-practicing Jew; mum’s Wiccan, but not a supernaturalist). I think we settled on describing the thing as something like “fairy godparent” to get away from the “god” connotation — which wasn’t really very satisfactory, since those three letters are still there.

    I’d be really interested in someone finding a better word for this, since the idea of the rôle is to provide a moral and ethical guide, as well as being someone those children can confide in as a friend, if there were something they couldn’t tell directly to their parents for whatever reason – and of course the whole thing with people in the movement wanting to get beyond the dictionary atheist definition is that you don’t need god to be ethical and moral.

  • Pnambic

    My son has “guardian parents”.

  • Emu Sam


    • astro

      That works too. Its like a title of honorary family membership

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    I suggest Kent.

    • Rabidtreeweasel

      *hands over the internets*

  • Funkopolis


    (Or ‘Godlessmother/Godlessfather’)

  • ointment

    I went to a humanist naming ceremony recently and they had guideparents.

  • Don Quijote


  • Gordon

    I don’t see a need to change the word any more than I need to rename Christmas or Wednesday. The origin is religious but in practical terms the meaning is not.

    • Sercee

      This I agree with (though really, any name you want is fine in my opinion). So many words are remnants of old traditions and cliches that simply don’t exist anymore. I don’t see anything wrong with using “Godparent” because the cultural reference is more important than the term “God”. Skip ahead a few generations, assuming religion wanes: “Mommy, what does Godparent mean?” “It’s the word people used hundreds of years ago when something happened to Mommy and Daddy and it was blamed on an ancient mythical figure called God.” Just like dialing a phone: there’s not many phones with dials on them anymore, but we still say that…

      Also, I decided long ago to stop fighting against “Christmas” because there’s no reason to sow dissent at my parent’s home when I visit them. I grew up with it as Christmas, and even still put up a tree, so it’s still Christmas in conversation even though, to me, there’s nothing to do with Christ.

  • http://GatwickCityofIdeas Richard W. Symonds

    Godless Parent ?

  • http://giliellthinkingaloud.blogspot.com/ Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

    German is just Pate/Patin or Patenonkel/Patentante.
    Dialect words are Good (oo pronounced as in sworn, only longer) and Patt.
    Uncle/Aunt doesn’t catch it if those people are the actual uncle/aunt of a child and you want to make clear that this is something special.
    Just remember that the whole institution is a very secular one (people to feed the youngsters in case you die) and for us it was a way to say that we want certain people to be very involved in the lives of our children.

  • Adrian Allen

    I think any adult willing to take on a role should have a clear understanding of what the parents require of that person and the role to be played and, most importantly, be willing to act accordingly.
    The religious version focuses on raising the child in ‘the religion’, but I suspect that other aspects like morality are also implied or stated.
    I would not want any indoctrination towards atheism because, a) I’m not sure it would be ethical and, b) any child not indoctrinated into religious belief is likely to be atheistic, I suspect.
    That leaves, I suggest, a focus on morality or guiding the child towards doing good and, if that is enough (beyond actually considering adoption which may be part of the plan) the parents must be satisfied with your own ethics.
    So, to label such a person – beyond ‘uncle/aunt’ which seem almost acceptable to me – perhaps ethical, moral, or good should be considered. No one seems to have considered then, “Good-parent/father/mother” as a variation on the existing religious version, but maybe it implies that the real parents may not be so good.
    Another choice, also a slight play-on-words, would be, “Guide-parent/father/mother”, and does not reflect on the actual parents’ abilities.
    That, therefore, would be my choice, Guide-Father, Guide-Mother and Guide-Parents.

  • Valance Arrow

    Bertrand Russell said that he was John Stuart Mill’s grandson-in so far as that is possible in a non-religious sense.

  • Valance Arrow

    Sorry! “Godson”

  • blehdude


  • Dorothy

    I am voting on 14 or 22. It behooves one to have caution. Words carry baggage.
    My daughters agreed that, at the ages of 13 and 15, they were getting a bargain. Mother’s husband was the introducing term, and he always called them the daughters he got with a discount. At his funeral, I was thanked for this by my daughters. He may not have been their biological father, but he was a pretty good substitute by their lights.

  • Me

    “indoctrination towards atheism”?

    Seriously? You know that teaching someone the facts is not indoctrination. Do you indoctrinate children to understand how the moon impacts the tides, or why we have day and night? Fine, take an agnostic approach if you really want to, but to subject children to all the religious indoctrination that the rest of society is going to throw at them without first giving them a foundation of truth is NOT allowing them to choose for themselves, it’s just leaving the indoctrination to people other than yourself. And it’s negligent.

    • Adrian Allen

      Me says:

      You know that teaching someone the facts is not indoctrination.

      Of course, but atheism specifically relates to the notion of god, and if you present your facts solely to promote atheism and to refute religious beliefs, you are actually indoctrinating.
      I think your more important point is that there needs to be a defence against indoctrination from other sources. I agree, but rallying a defence is not indoctrination, that is presenting the facts, making rational arguments against indoctrination.
      I stand by what I said whilst, at the same time, not disagreeing with your ambition. Perhaps the difference between us is a reflection of the society in which we live. I don’t know where you are – perhaps the US – but here in England children are very unlikely to suffer “the religious indoctrination that the rest of society is going to throw at them” and so there will be little need to fight against it.
      So, I repeat, indoctrinating atheistic belief may be unethical – but speaking the truth, educating and contradicting lies and myths is being honest.

  • astro

    Adoptive 2nd

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    I’d go with “hanai” above: it’s easy to pronounce and the definition fits. “Padrino” also sounds good. (And explaining the meaning of those non-English words would give a kid a glimpse of another culture.) Subsequent suggestions, such as “proxy parents” and “guardian parents,” are technically okay, but they don’t sound quite right. Too many syllables, and they sound contrived.

    OTOH, I never thought “godfather” sounded all that religious, especially after the book and movie by the same name.

  • Malcolm Westley

    I used vice-parent. The subtext amuses me.

  • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    Not had to think about it myself, but I have various atheist friends making other atheists “godparents” of their kids. Doesn’t seem to be an issue for them!

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.david.engler Brian Engler

    Here http://www.secular-celebrations.com/child/Newchild.htm Margaret Downey suggests terms like: … “‘guide parents,’ ‘supporting adults,’ ‘mentors’ or ‘special friends.’”

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnmichael.wells.9 john-michaelwells

    I would recommend borrowing from your heritage and use a word from another language. For example, the Spanish term for godfather is “Padrino”; and that is what my godchildren call me. It’s a term of endearment and it does not invoke god in any way. Likewise, my wife’s family in South Louisiana uses the French monikers “Paran” and “Nanan” for godfather and godmother respectively.

  • leftwingfox

    I’m partial to “Oddparents” but there’s a lot of great suggestions in the thread.

  • baal

    Mentor sounds a bit impersonal but fits.

    I’ve heard of folks using aunt/uncle quite a bit.

  • Makoto

    My family used aunt/uncle. As soon as I was able to understand the concept, I knew that they weren’t technically related (though they adopted my family name when they immigrated to the US, before I was born), but they were there to take care of me in case anything happened to my real parents.

    They also helped round out my teaching in ways my parents didn’t, playing with geology and microscopes and electronics. I’m pretty sure they’re atheist, or possibly Buddhist, but it never really came up.

  • scrutationaryarchivist

    It seems there are many options. I will echo the suggestion of using non-religious terms from other languages, especially since that gives us even more options.

    Some of these other terms can be found under “godparent” in Wiktionary.

  • Ray Moscow

    It’s called ‘godparent’.

    Seriously, I know lots of atheists who solemnly promised to raise other people’s children in the Christian faith so they could have a special relationship with that child. Go figure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/using.reason usingreason

    How about ‘rational adult’, as in a rational adult that will nurture and value the child as an individual and not subject the child to brainwashing for no particularly good reason.

  • smhll

    Here I was sitting around overconfidently thinking that atheism has not been a big deal in my life, and has not caused me to be discriminated against. (No one in my family is more religious than lightly “spiritual.) But now I remember the painful day when my 24 year old best friend told me that she was pregnant. I asked if I was going to get to be a godparent. (Pushy, yes.) Her eyes bugged out in shock and she explained to me that she thought of this as a religious role for and, thus, something I was totally unqualified for. It was unpleasant.

  • m5


  • Dolphy

    We thought hard about this for our son and didn’t really get anywhere – things like “adult life-mentor” seemed much too po-faced. In the end, one of the two friends we’d asked said she’d like to be called his “fairy godmother”. Then our other friend said he’d be a “fairly odd father”, in order to rhyme.

  • Kyle

    Eh. I’d go with godparent. No different than saying holiday or something, just an etymological point of interest.

  • baal

    Oh – fwiw, my wife and I are named as legal guardians in my sister’s (and her husband’s) living wills. My nieces and nephews by her don’t call me anything special in particular. Among other reasons for selecting me from among our large family (and extended family) is that we’re atheists like she is.

  • jamessweet

    We always just went with “godparent”. :shrug: Actually, using religious terms in secular ways seems to me to be a nice way of breaking the spell.

  • 24fps

    We have close friends who are designated guardians if something happens to us. We mostly go with “godparents”, but sometimes call ‘em “godlessparents”. It’s easier for people to understand the relationship without a lot of explanation.

  • http://surgoshan.blogspot.com/ Surgoshan

    Paralegal Guardians.

  • MaryL

    Since the godparents are often said to sponsor the child, how about “sponsor”? As an atheist, I would not agree to any involement in a religious baptism. As family or a friend, I’d attend the rite, but only as a silent observer.
    I do like the idea of Fairy Oddparents, though.

  • Rebecca Hensler

    Eh. So far I’ve just been a godless godmother. But I like the terms from various cultures that mean the same thing but don’t have religious implications.

  • Subtract Hominem

    I like hogparent/hogmother/hogfather. Mostly for the Pratchett reference.

  • Randydeluxe

    A “Fairy Godparent”, of course.

  • RRains

    I was going to suggest Codparents, but something about it sounded fishy.


  • csrster

    It may say something about me that my children are 11 and 9 and this is the first time I have ever even considered this question:-) It never occurred to us to find godparents, oddparents, or guideparents for our kids because they were never christened or insert-your-own-equivalent-ed. But if we _had_ arranged some sort of non-religious naming ceremony, I imagine the title we would have found for any godparent-equivalent participants would have been based on their expected role in the life of the child. Work out what you want from the “godparents” and the name should take care of itself.