Is there a word to refer to "father" and "mother" without the family connotations?

For example, there was a guy who refer to his parents using the terms "sperm and egg bank":

They were my sperm and egg bank. That’s not harsh, it’s just the way it was, a sperm bank thing, nothing more.

What other more grammatically correct alternatives are there?

  • Ok, Progenitor it is :) – mplungjan Sep 26 '13 at 8:01
  • Father and mother are pretty neutral on the whole, I'd say. In common usage, shorter or cuter sounding words (e.g. dad, daddy, pops, mom, mama etc.) tend to have a more affectionate or endearing connotation while longer, compound phrases (like the sperm and egg bank example) tend to have a negative connotation just by the fact they separate or expunge the sense of family. Obviously, you could make up longer, flowery titles for your parents with positive connotation... but that's fairly uncommon. – Patrick M Sep 26 '13 at 13:45

I think that father and mother cannot be detached from family connotations and remain neutral at the same time, not by any stretch of imagination. And grammar has nothing to do with this. Every possible substitute will be referring to family concept this way or another.

The sperm and egg bank is not neutral, but has strongly negative connotations (at least in the context you've given).


Etymonline.com kind of reminds us about the roots of progenitor (emph. mine):

late 14c., from Anglo-French progenitour (mid-14c.), Old French progeniteur (14c.) and directly from Latin progenitor "ancestor, the founder of a family"


  • I have to disagree with your premise, and agree with AakashM. It's common, in the right context, to differentiate blood ancestry from familial associations through adoption or similar relationships. If someone referred to their parents as biological parents, I would infer that the point of saying this is that there exists (or existed) a personal and parental relationship with someone else or with no one. "Biological parent" is inherently emphatic about the impersonal relationship, and nearly implies that there is no personal relationship. – Canis Lupus Sep 27 '13 at 5:45
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    I think there is an epistemological issue involved: I don't see biological parent as a synonym to father or mother unless it is purely technical term used in scientific context (but then we won't be looking for substitutes, we'll be using the term that fits the context of the scientific work the best). – Mykola Sep 27 '13 at 9:41

The source you quote itself has a more neutral version carrying the same idea:

When speaking about his biological parents, on the other hand, he was curt: “They were my sperm and egg bank. That’s not harsh, it’s just the way it was, a sperm bank thing, nothing more.”

This is exactly the term one would expect to see when a person's family (as in, the people they grew up with) were not the sources of their genetic material.

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    Yes. 'Parent' is applied to adoptive parents. If one wants to refer specifically to a biological parent one uses both those words. 'Step-parent' is also widely in use. – user52780 Sep 26 '13 at 12:09

I think you can use this word:

  • Progenitor

Try 'parent'. In English it refers strictly to a biological father or mother. In French the same word, 'parent', tends to apply to more extended family members as well.

  • 'Parent' is sometimes applied to adoptive parents, though. – user867 Sep 27 '13 at 5:33

Forebearers, antecedents, originators, creators.

  • But they do not refer specifically to mother and father. – user49727 Sep 26 '13 at 18:32

"Folks" is the closest thing I can think of for something like this. It sounds a little quaint today, but it's still in common usage. For example, Santa Claus impersonators are trained to use it specifically because it doesn't imply any number, biological relationship, or even social relationship.

The main catch is that it's nonspecific. If you need to talk about a specific one of a person's folks, without implying biological family but still remaining neutral, I don't know of a word for that. But "folks" will do as long as you're talking about the general set.

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