There are sons and daughters who don’t look like their parents at all. We call them “Onikko 鬼っ子” in Japanese, which literally means the child born or brought by an ogre, not by his / her biological parents.

Onikko doesn't necessarily mean derogatory. For instance, when we have a brilliant child brought up by mediocre parents, we describe the child 鳶が鷹を産んだ子 - tobi ga taka wo unda ko - a hawk born by a kite. The hawk (child) can be a kind of Onikko.

What is the expression in English for the son or daughter who doesn't resemble his / her parent in face, figure and temper though they are their parents' real child?

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    The postman/milkman/mailman?
    – Ronan
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 12:04
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    Wow, those terms sound like a really mean thing to say.
    – Christian
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 17:57
  • 3
    Mustn't say "how do you call?" rather "what do you call?"
    – Sean D
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 19:22
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    In my village, we call them neighbors mistake. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 0:21
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    We call them children. And we move on.
    – Drew
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 2:21

12 Answers 12


Usually it would be polite not to mention the fact that a child doesn't seem to resemble its parents, since this might imply infidelity on the part of the mother (not good for Susan George in the 1975 film Mandingo). But you will sometimes encounter OED's sense 6a for...

sport - a plant (or part of a plant), animal, etc., which exhibits abnormal or striking variation from the parent type, esp. in form or colour; a spontaneous mutation; a new variety produced in this way.

This noun usage derives from the (now rare) verb sense...

sport (v 8a) - of nature (originally, personified): to ‘amuse herself’ or delight in producing the variety of things in existence, especially abnormal or striking living forms; to produce such forms.

As @ronan comments, facetious "He looks like the postman / milkman / etc." is not uncommon.

There's also throwback (reversion to an earlier ancestral type or character; an example of this). But unless accompanied by a reference to a specific grandparent (or perhaps great grandparent) that the child does resemble, this invariably has negative associations (with the implicit unspecified ancestor being a Neanderthal or some other precursor to homo sapiens).

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    Great thinking on throwback, Fumble. yoichi, that's the only term that specifically means looks/is very different from the siblings "She must be a throwback! Where did she get that beautiful red hair!" "She's taller than all four sisters, must be a throwback!" "The rest are failing, but she's a straight A student, must be a throwback!" But Wait! Fumble, you say throwback is used for Onikko children. On the contrary I've only heard it used for tobi-ga-taka-wo-unda-ko children.
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 17:17
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    @Joe: As I understand it, oniko seems to be normally derogatory (unless the context implies alluringly deviant, as in "vampire girls are sexy"). Most Googled "Images" for "oniko child" have devil's horns. But Tonbi ga taka wo umu (literally: a kite breeding a hawk) looks to be invariably complimentary (to the child, if not the parents! :). I'd only use throwback positively when referencing a specific revered ancestor, and even then you'd need to be careful of the far more common negative associations. But sport is "neutral". Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 17:44
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    I've used the word changeling often enough. Heard it used often , too, regarding looks, temperament, other attributes. Usually intended with som humor.
    – Nsw
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 21:06
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    @FumbleFingers The Mule in Dune ? You're sure you didn't mean Asimov's Foundation ? You've got keep the Classics straight :-)
    – Tonny
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 22:17
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    @Tonny: Eeek! You're quite right, of course! There was I thinking senility was something I could look forward to, but it turns out to have already arrived! Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 22:39

You could use the/an apple that fell far from the tree.

This is a play on the saying "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree", meaning that children tend to resemble their parents both physically as well as temperamentally, or even in more mundane aspects such as job choice or favourite football team.

By saying it this way, you leave it up to the listener (or to context) to decide where the difference between child and parent lies and whether the difference is a positive or negative one.

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    This is a really good one. Not only it's without any negative connotations of adultery, it actively reinforces the opposite. Really nice.
    – SáT
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 20:04
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    Note that "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree" is, I'd say, usually used only negatively, specifically about criminal behaviour.
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 11:28
  • "different" or "lone" or "black sheep of the family" or "variant" (scientific) or.. ummm.. genetic malfunction? :) seriously, just brainstorming on the spot.. donkey's calf or cow's pup? or he's like "water in the desert" or "burning ice"? uh-huh the latter could have negative connotations.. and so forth :) everything doesn't have to be set in stone my friend.. go against the norms even if you know not if they don't exist :) cheers! Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 17:01
  • the most crude way to say it is bastard. foundling or orphan doesn't hold true for at least 1 parent. bastard has at least the mother in the picture. the child could have been fathered by a man outside the mother's marriage; and hence look peculiar Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 17:07
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    @EffectorDhanushanth: It sounds to me like the question is about a genetic oddity rather than infidelity. Adding that connotation at all does not fit with the question, which mentions a child who does not resemble the 'real parents'.
    – Magus
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 22:33

For the temperament side, I've seen "changeling", a reference to the medieval belief that children were sometimes stolen by fairies and replaced by imperfect magical copies. I've never heard a term for children who don't look like their parents short of technical terms such as "outlier" and, of course, the occasional term that implies that they were fathered by someone else entirely.

  • 3
    I'm perfectly familiar with changeling from archaic fairy stories, but I'm not convinced I've even heard it used facetiously in contemporary English. I'm quite certain I've never heard it used "naturally" in a conversational context. Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 12:42
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    @FumbleFingers I've heard it in conversation here in Pittsburgh (probably helps that I've got a number of acquaintances into new age fairy-based paganism shudder), but it's not exactly common, I'll agree. Personally, I think that your submission, "sport," is a better word overall. Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 12:50
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    @SeanDuggan - I've heard it commonly as well, and I'm not into anything new-agey. Just well read, and plenty of stories read to the children. Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 12:59
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    it's inconceivable anyone would use the term "changeling", in English, for what the OP is asking. it's just totally unrelated. "outlier" could indeed be used, in describing the situation, but it's not in any way a term used for it.
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 16:42
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    @FumbleFingers, Joe Blow, Changeling was my first thought too, and the term I would probably use. You don't have to believe in fairies, or that the child has come from the milkman, in order to use those terms.There are 2 films called [The] Changeling, so it's by no means an obscure term. On the other hand, 'sport' appears to be technically correct, but have you heard it used in this way? I never have. I would opt for any other answer here, including 'throwback', but never 'sport'.
    – Mynamite
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 12:00

How about, "The baby was switched at the hospital." Or, as I like to say when asked why my brother and I don't look anything alike, "Our mothers were switched at the hospital."

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    That is an outstanding suggestion. That's really the only thing I can think of like this in English, that is really close to what Yoichi is asking. GREAT THINKING. "Switched at birth" is the short version of the same thing. "Look at her compared to her sisters, must have been switched at birth!" that precisely means, 'very different from siblings'. GREAT ANSWER.
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 7:44

While I'm not a native speaker, I'd like to offer cuckoo, or maybe cuckoo child. Cuckoos are well-known to be obligate brood parasites, laying their eggs in the nests of other birds, relying on them to raise their offspring. John Wyndham uses this word in a similar sense in the title of his novel The Midwich Cuckoos.

Alternatively, taking a step back, how about the oddball of the family, or even (a bit satirically) the black sheep of the family? For example: John, descendant of a long line of parish priest, became the black sheep of the family when he became an accountant.

I believe these alternatives would not be so horribly offensive in an everyday context.

  • 1
    +1 for black sheep. It's often used figuratively to describe behavior or life choices (as in your example), but the more literal sense of "Doesn't look like all the other sheep" fits well for the question. "How did your son happen to have green eyes?" "We're not sure, he's the black sheep of the family."
    – Patrick M
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 15:23
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    While we're de-anthropomorphising, ugly duckling seems to fit the bill. Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 16:54
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    Hey Edwin -- seems unrelated? Ugly duckling means "looks ugly when young, but surprisingly turns out extremely hot". I don't see any relationship to the "the postman did it!" concept "different from siblings/parents."
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 17:00
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    Cuckoo wouldn't be a good term to use, because cuckolded is indeed the technical term for when a wife cheats on her husband and fathers a child with another man (the "postman..." thing!) This seems different to what Yoichi is asking. (Although it could result in that!) By the way on the subject of cuckolding, I recommend the amaxing scientific textbook, "Human Sperm Competition: Copulation, Masturbation and Infidelity." by Baker and Bellis.
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 17:02
  • The Hungarian term for this "one of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong" concept is kakukktojás "cuckoo's egg". There is a whiff of "cuckold" behind it, but that is not the primary meaning.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 18:32

Later: runt of the litter

Yoichi, I finally thought of a common phrase somewhat like what you say. Well for an Onikko, not the other one. If you are the shortest sibling, schoolyard language might be "he's the runt of the litter."

This is not exactly like Onikko -- but it is one subset of Onikko!

In certain circumstances, if you were translating a minor character in a novel, you could get away with "runt of the litter" as a quick substitution.

("Runt" is simply the word for an undersized farm animal (say, a pig) or the smallest (say, pig) in a litter. When you use it for a human, it's mildly derogatory, mildly comic.)

In my opinion, there's really nothing for this in English.

(I was fascinated to learn the Japanese terms - thanks for that!)

{By the way. This is a great concrete example of how Japanese (and many other languages) are incredibly less "politically correct" that today's English.}

One thing comes to mind:

"red-headed stepchild" is an unusual often-used derogatory term for - not so much exactly what you ask - but a child that is treated badly, or is really "excluded from" the family, let's say. (A little like, say, Cinderella in the story.) It is highly derogatory (or else, just used wildly humorously), and it is wildly offensive to both red-headed people and adoptees :) So don't use it :)

black sheep is not, really, close to what you're asking, it's more one who is well, a bad person in an otherwise straight family (or used in lighter ways, example all the other siblings get high marks in school)

Regarding the references to postman and similar. If you're wondering what the hell we're talking about...

It is a low-quality standing joke in English that if a child's father is not the mother's husband -- ie, she cheated on him -- then the father was "the postman" or "milkman". indeed, anytime you see someone who does NOT resemble their father, many people would make a low-quality joke regarding "the milkman". For example, they might snicker and whisper "Heh, the postman has been busy around here..."

(That type of humour very much makes me think of [Benny Hill(http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benny_Hill) and the "low quality" British TV humour of the 1970ish, such as the "Carry On..." series.)

{It would be staggeringly hard to explain the "Carry On..." series to someone from Japan, if you're not familiar with it. :) }

{Example: we had a TV series in that time period called "Are you being served?" which is set in a department store. (The title is a (incredibly lame) sexual innuendo.) Now, one of the characters had a cat at home. In English you can call a cat a "pussy", and that is also a slang term for vagina. Now, almost the entire content of the show was based on "pussy" being a pun with vagina. So, the lady in question would say "my pussy was so hungry today," "my pussy really needs a wash" and so on and on and on. ... ! honestly, that was sort of 70% of the entire comic content of the show :) }

Anyway, my point is that the "postman..." reference from the snickering Lads above, was rather in that "Benny Hill" "Carry on.." sort of poor-quality British humour of the 1970s.

{Note that, confusingly, shortly after this in the UK we/they had on TV incredibly subtle, outstanding, upper-class intellectual comedy - heh! For example to the manor born {in this case the title is an exceedingly fine play on words} which contained an unending stream of absolutely amazingly subtle humour in English, eg., Audrey points to a fireplace and says "antiques, He wouldn't know it from Adam."}

Bottom line - there's no term for that in English.

Note - Fumble brilliantly thought of throwback.

That's not a term for Onikko or tobi-ga-taka-wo-unda-ko.

But it's very often used, exclaimed, when you see or are talking about a tobi-ga-taka-wo-unda-ko.

{For example. if we did in fact use the word tobi-ga-taka-wo-unda-ko in English, you'd hear "Wow, she is such a tobi-ga-taka-wo-unda-ko - must be a throwback a few generations!"}

(Note however that Fumble asserts it's for Onikko, me, I've only ever heard it used for tobi-ga-taka-wo-unda-kos.)

  • whoops, Are you being served? was more around late 70s - but there's still some intellectual point to be made there in the arc of Brit comedy TV. You had a final sort of superb cultural flowering, until everything dissolved into ladettes vomiting on the bus stop and later baroque phases of dissolution such as "that olympics opening thing" etc.
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 17:07
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    Fumble also suggested 'sport', which is actually the term in English for this concept.
    – Magus
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 21:13
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    You interpret this an example of Japanese being "incredibly less politically correct" than English, but I can also see it as the opposite. Many responses here immediately jump to thinking of infidelity on the part of the woman, whereas the Japanese are comfortable talking of the simple fact of nature that children do not always resemble their parents in every respect (in "face, figure and temper" as the OP says), without any implicit innuendo about infidelity. (The OP seems to have needed to add "though they are their parents' real child" to the question, having not thought of it before.) Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 5:05
  • Hi @Shree! (1) you completely misunderstand me. You think I mean it is P.I. because there is an implication of infidelity. Not at all. It is incredibly P.I. to say a child is brought by an ogre. Simple. And the other one ("your parents are useless mediocre kite birds") is extremely P.I. Also simple :) (2) "Many responses here immediately jump to infidelity.." not at all, it's been pointed out over and over (starting with the OP) that infidelity is specifically what is not meant. (3) I believe your tenor is politically correct :) IMO, Japan is much less PC than US/UK/Aus.
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 11:12
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    @JoeBlow: No I didn't misunderstand you, and I wasn't thinking that. I was pointing out that, just as western people seem to think that of appearance or ability is "politically incorrect", but their minds freely wander to infidelity, the Japanese may be the opposite. It's just a matter of which aspects a culture decides are taboo; it's not a matter of one being unequivocally "less PC" than the other. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 13:48

LM Montgomery refers to a child who doesn't resemble other family members as a
hop out of kin. That's probably pretty archaic and overly idiomatic for what you're looking for, though.

  • This is the technically best answer. If only the word were more popular.
    – SidJ
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 2:40

The word you're looking for is xenogenesis, so xenogenic perhaps?


My wife and I have just such a child. He's blonde with grey-blue eyes, and my wife and I are both brunette and have hazel eyes, so the lack of resemblance is really obvious. But no, there really isn't any widely-known word for this. "Recessive genes" would be good explanation (and true, he gets these traits from one of my uncles).

There is however, a widely-known cultural joke for this phenomenon, and it's in one of the comments. "He comes from the milkman/mailman", said with a nudge and a wink. Using the word "milkman" specifically is especially coy, since milkmen just don't exist anymore, and haven't for some 40 or 50 years. When my wife says he comes from the mailman, I like to respond "but our mailman was a girl!" Any shocked looks get followup explanations about the recessive genes brought to our family by my uncle.

From now on though, I'm going to start calling him our Onikko. The English language is certainly not above stealing terms and grammar from other languages. ;)

It's pronounced "oh-NEEK-oh" right?

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    Milkmen do still exist [citation pending]. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 19:46
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    In Japanese it's pronounced "oni-kko"in all short vowel. 'Oni' means Ogre. "Ko" means a child. But you can pronounce in your own way, as we pronounce 'milk' 'miruku,''handkerchief' 'hankachi' in Japanese. It's up to you how to adopt foreign language. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 21:58
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    Yoichi - we're not like that in English-speaking areas. We want to be told the CORRECT way to do something :)
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 7:47

The word atavistic is an adjective, which means to resemble ones ancestors, and is normally used when it appears that a person doesn't resemble a parent, and often there might be a mention of a grandparent, or even beyond. The noun is atavism. It's not quite the same as the word you have in Japanese for them, or it wouldn't quite convey the same meaning, or even sound right, if you said "He is an ativism"; because it sounds too formal and it isn't as colourful.

The adverb atavistically is useful in less formal usage. You could say something like "His appearance was atavistically unlike his parents. Using the adverb here in this way would not sound impolite as it hints at a former generation, and it doesn't sound like there is a suspicion that it was the milkman. (Oh damn, I even fell into that trap too.)

  • "Atavism" is the state of being atavistic. Someone who is atavistic is an atavist, AFAIK. Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 11:43

We don't really have anything like this in English. The closest is "black sheep", which refers to someone different from the rest of the family, but usually in temperament, not appearance.


There really is no single word for this. You could refer to the child as being the reincarnation of someone he or she reminds you of. This would work well as a compliment. For example, a child who is a musical prodigy might be a "reincarnation of Mozart." "Switched at birth" is also commonly used, e.g. "I don't know where he gets that blond hair from; I think he must have been switched at birth." Personally, I often call my own child "demon spawn," but I think most parents would be offended if someone said that to them. This would typically be used to describe a child who is misbehaving, but also indicates that the child's behavior is not the parents' fault.

The "milkman's child" specifically refers to a child who does not resemble the father. It indicates adultery.

Just a note: the term "sport" is not used in the aforementioned way in the U.S., so consider location before you choose a phrase. A little more context might help you get a more appropriate answer. (I am new to this site, so I am not able to comment directly on the posts mentioning "sport.")

  • Certainly, sport indeed has the sense given by a different answer in the US, even if you were previously unaware of it. And you should not comment on other answers in your own.
    – tchrist
    Commented Apr 6, 2014 at 0:12

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