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Stepfather
Posted: 15 September 2008 11:34 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I was surprised to find that Etymonline said that the use of the words stepfather or stepmother to mean second husband or wife of a child’s natural mother or father was C20th and before that they meant the adopted parents of an orphan.  Is this correct?  What about the wicked stepmother in “Cinderella”, for instance?

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Posted: 15 September 2008 11:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I don’t know where that comes from.

Here’s OED, with cites back to the 8th century.

stepmother, n.

1. A woman who has married one’s father after one’s mother’s death or divorce.

c725 Corpus Gloss. (Hessels) N167 Nouerca, steopmoder. c893 ÆLFRED Oros. III. vii. §2 Heo wæs Philippuses steopmodor. c1205 LAY. 222 He {ygh}ef heo his stepmoder For {th}on lofe of his bro{th}er. Ibid. 14421 Heore steopmoder. c1290 S. Eng. Leg. 47/8 Stepmoder is selde guod. c1305 St. Swithin in E.E.P. (1862) 45 Seint Edwardes fader was {th}at his stipmoder a-slou{ygh}. 1390 GOWER Conf. I. 104 My Stepmoder for an hate, Which toward me sche hath begonne, Forschop me. 1432-50 tr. Higden (Rolls) V. 273 His stappemodyr. 1471 CAXTON Recuyell (Sommer) 83 His styfemoder. 1562 J. HEYWOOD Prov. & Epigr. (1867) 195 Thy fathers second wife, thy steppe mother. 1598 BERNARD tr. Terence’s Hecyra II. i, With one consent all stepmothers hate their daughters in law. 1611 SHAKES. Cymb. I. i. 71 You shall not finde me (Daughter) After the slander of most Step-mothers, Euill-ey’d vnto you.a1692 SHADWELL Volunteers I. ii, What is that Fathers Wife of kin to you? Clara. My true Stepmother. 1865 LE FANU Guy Deverell iv. I. 51 His mother indeed she was not; but only the stepmother of his deceased wife. 1914 J. MACKAY Ch. in Highlands ii. 49 A man might marry his stepmother.

Ah, I see where the confusion might lie. An orphan can mean (although OED says ‘rarely’) someone who has lost one parent (not necessarily both), which of course would be the case with a second marriage

That’s the only explanation I can think of.

[ Edited: 15 September 2008 11:45 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 15 September 2008 11:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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And likewise 9th century for stepfather in the analogous sense.

After aldi’s edit: Yes, I think that the other sense of “orphan” has contributed to confusion; so has etymonline and so possibly has bayard.

The OED says, in the entry on step-,

Etymologically, stepfather (stepmother) might be rendered ‘one who becomes a father (mother) to an orphan’, and stepson (stepdaughter) ‘an orphan who becomes a son (a daughter)’ by the marriage of the surviving parent.

(Note the use of “orphan” for a child who still has a surviving parent).
It goes on to say:

The concept of orphanage has recently ceased to be essential to the meaning of the step- combinations. Consequently, the relationships of step-brother, -sister, etc., may be considered to refer reciprocally to children of a later as well as a former marriage: i.e. step-brother = half-brother, etc. A step-parent may be created by marriage to a divorced or a bereaved person.

What etymonline actually says, paraphrasing this, is:

Etymologically, a stepfather or stepmother is one who becomes father or mother to an orphan, but the notion of orphanage faded in 20c.

I think it largely comes down to the fact that divorce was pretty rare before the 20th century, so previously, if your father married a woman it was almost always after your mother’s death, and vice-versa.  The great increase in divorce rates created many analogous situations in which the displaced parent was still alive, and the terminology was stretched to cover these.

[ Edited: 15 September 2008 12:04 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 16 September 2008 09:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Granted that it’s only in recent years that divorce has become commonplace enough for “step-” to be used routinely for relationships created by the remarriage of divorced people. But it wouldn’t surprise me to find that the terminology had occasionally been so stretched earlier, hwen need arose. For example, in the 16th century would anyone have said that Anne Boleyn was Mary Tudor’s “stepmother”? If not, how would they have described the relationship?

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Posted: 16 September 2008 05:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I should think that, until recently, it was fairly common for a woman to die in childbirth leaving behind a husband quite capable of fathering mor children.  Similarly, it would be common enough for a man to die leaving a wife in the same situation.  In either case the surviving spouse would very likely remarry.

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Posted: 17 September 2008 12:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’m interested that the bereaved of one parent sense applied to both the loss of a mother or a father whereas I’d have expected it to refer more to the loss of a father given the patrimonial setup of families in previous centuries. I also note the OED refers to a C.1450 quotation in which it was used (in the adjective section) to refer to a woman who had lost her husband - which does seem to be a product of a patriarchal society.

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Posted: 17 September 2008 01:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 16 September 2008 09:06 AM

Granted that it’s only in recent years that divorce has become commonplace enough for “step-” to be used routinely for relationships created by the remarriage of divorced people. But it wouldn’t surprise me to find that the terminology had occasionally been so stretched earlier, hwen need arose. For example, in the 16th century would anyone have said that Anne Boleyn was Mary Tudor’s “stepmother”? If not, how would they have described the relationship?

I can’t find anything contemporary about Anne Boleyn specifically but the word is used in that sense in the sixteenth century according to the OED.

OED also has ‘daughter-in-law’ as a definition of stepdaughter with a cite from 1530, though it says now considered incorrect

Off-topic - is the name Boleyn an alternative/older spelling of the surname Bullen - something I’ve always wondered.

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Posted: 17 September 2008 02:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Recorded in many forms as shown below, it is English but of French origins, the original nameholders being from the French Channel port of Boulogne. .............. Locational surnames developed when former inhabitants of a place moved to another area, usually to seek work, and were best identified by the name of their birthplace. There are estimated to be literally hundreds of ‘English’ spellings of this famous name and these include Bullen, Bulleyn, Bullion, Bullon, Bullin, Boleyn, Bollen, Boullin, Boullen, Bullan, Bullant, Bullene and Bullent.

Surnames Database

It’s stated on other sites that Anne’s family altered their spelling of the name from Bullen to Boleyn when they rose to prominence, considering the latter form ‘more elegant’. (No cites given for that though).

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Posted: 17 September 2008 06:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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For example, in the 16th century would anyone have said that Anne Boleyn was Mary Tudor’s “stepmother”?

I wouldn’t take the royal family, particularly that of Henry VIII, as representative of normal familial relationships. Royalty do things differently than the rest of us. During the period of Henry’s marriage to Anne, Mary was deemed as illegitimate, no longer styled a “princess,” and banished from court. She wouldn’t have been considered to be related to Anne at all. I’d look to more “normal” people to see what the usage was in the 16th century.

Do people refer to Camilla as William and Harry’s “stepmother”?

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Posted: 17 September 2008 07:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Googling “Camilla royal stepmother” turns up lots of examples of her being so described, including e.g. this from a Daily Mail article about her decision not to attend a memorial service for Diana last year:

Camilla, they said, had always been reluctant to attend the service but was persuaded by her husband and his advisors that, as the wife of the future king and stepmother to Diana’s sons, she had every right to be there.
...
Princes William and Harry, who unwittingly provoked the latest royal crisis by inviting their stepmother, are also deeply unhappy.

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Posted: 17 September 2008 08:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Dave Wilton - 17 September 2008 06:04 AM

During the period of Henry’s marriage to Anne, Mary was deemed as illegitimate, no longer styled a “princess,” and banished from court.

IMO that was a political/legal move aimed at securing the Anglican succession and may not have had an effect on how people thought of her in daily life - though I can’t find any contemporary material on the subject. It wasn’t the first time an heir to the throne had been declared illegitimate - Edward IVs sons (the ‘Princes in the Tower’) were, half a century earlier - the Tudor family and their supporters seem to make something of a habit of it.

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Posted: 17 September 2008 11:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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IMO that was a political/legal move aimed at securing the Anglican succession and may not have had an effect on how people thought of her in daily life

True, but a lot depends on what is meant by the “people.” The common folk probably didn’t concern themselves with the subject of royal succession much and if they did were unlikely to leave a written record. Those in court or in high society marginally connected to court probably avoided the subject as much as possible and if they had to say something about it would be extremely circumspect and politically correct in their vocabulary to avoid a stint in the Tower or worse.

Divorce/annulment, while certainly not common, was hardly unknown in the Tudor period, especially among nobility who were continually using marriage to position themselves politically. The unusual thing about Henry’s annulment from Catherine was that the Pope did not grant it. Typically, if a king wanted an annulment, he got it. There should be plenty of other non-royal examples from the 16th century that one can examine to see if “stepmother” was applied to those cases.

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Posted: 17 September 2008 11:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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"Do people refer to Camilla as William and Harry’s “stepmother”?”

To my mind, the word connotes someone who, at least for some time, was in loco parentis: that one would not normally consider someone one’s stepmother unless she’d acted somewhat as a mother (other than the mere fact of marrying the father). Fantastic wickedness notwithstanding, to call someone a stepmother is to acknowledge that they are a member of one’s immediate family.

Could be wrong, no doubt there are a stack of counterexamples.

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Posted: 17 September 2008 11:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Just so I am clear about what has been said in this thread:

are we saying that step- always referred to what it refers to now (someone who marries one of one’s parents), and that the reference to orphans relies on an archaic meaning of orphan in which one parent remains alive..

or are we saying that formerly the meaning of step- was broader, such that it could also denote the relationship between a person and a parentless orphan adopted by that person?

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Posted: 18 September 2008 05:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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The former (at least as I interpret it).

There is an open question as to whether step- was used pre-20th century in cases of divorce or annulment where both parents survive and one remarries.

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Posted: 18 September 2008 11:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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JFTR, the Dutch cognate stief- is (and was) always used in the second marriage context. Parents of an adopted child are called ‘adoptieouders’.

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