A(n often male) paternal figure could use the term 'son' in a fatherly way without referring to his biological Son.

Imagine a man has been verbally abused by a customer at work. His manger might say to him:

Come here son, I have something to tell you about rude customers

Emphasis on the word I want gender-swapped

Is there a feminine equivalent for a subordinate that you respect?

From TFD

son (sŭn) n.
1. One's male child.
2. A male descendant.
3. A man considered as if in a relationship of child to parent: a son of the soil.
4. One personified or regarded as a male descendant.
5. Used as a familiar form of address for a young man.
6. Son Christianity The second person of the Trinity.

Is there an equivalent for talking to a woman in a fatherly way?

The equivalent for TFD entry for daughter does not qualify it as 'familiar'

  1. (often capital) a form of address for a girl or woman

Further more often such 'father-daughter' language patterns are negative, dismissive and lack respect.

  • "6. Informal. b. (sometimes cap.) an affectionate or familiar term of address (sometimes offensive when used to strangers, subordinates, etc.)" would work for you?
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 13:05
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    Congratulations, you have found an asymmetry. There will be more, some inexplicable. Meanwhile, you could try "young lady". The older the lady, the more likely she will take it as a comiment. Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 13:28
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    @Pureferret: What is explicable? Why one can say "son" to an unrelated person, but not "daughter"? Please do tell! Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 13:53
  • 1
    @Kris your first comment doesn't indicate the word for which the definition is given.
    – SrJoven
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 15:00
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    @SrJoven & up-Voter: The idea was to only ask whether the definition fits the OP's idea, if so the word could then be brought into the picture. Until then the word itself is a distraction. Hope you get the point.
    – Kris
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 6:33

3 Answers 3


Use her name - in the UK, there is no expression you could possibly use that would not be considered insultingly paternalistic (if used by a man), over familiar, patronising or chauvinistic. In previous times, terms such as 'dear' 'love' 'duckie' 'sweetie' 'sugar' and even darling might have been used - none would be considered acceptable today in the circumstances you describe.

  • 3
    I agree, Actually, 'son' sounds patronising to this speaker of BrE. It grates with me when I hear an older man, usually an officer or senior NCO, using it to a younger man in American war films.
    – tunny
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 19:21
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    In the US, in diners and the like, it's not unusual for this 65-year-old male to be addresses as "hon" or "honey" by the waitress, and I assume she uses the same honorific for female customers. Not clear how well this would be accepted coming from a male waiter, however.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 19:31
  • @tunny 'son' is also a little paternalistic and is almost as overbearing as 'boy'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 20:16
  • @tunny - yep, I agree. I reserve 'son', if I ever use it, for occasional use when speaking to my actual son.
    – bamboo
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 15:58
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    I agree, "son" is patronising and slightly offensive. Any attempt to find a female equivalent is almost certain to be even more so.
    – user184130
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 18:44

If you are looking for an informal word, then lass could work. But it doesn't carry the same information as to the relationship between the two people.


The gender-neutral "kid" or "child" comes to mind.

"Come here kid, I have something to tell you about rude customers..."

"Come here child, I have something to tell you about rude customers..."

The connotation might not be quite as familial as "son", but then again, I wouldn't really want anybody calling me "son" to start with... Of course, this also depends entirely on who is doing the speaking: both of the above sentences (and the original "son" sentence) could be construed as sounding negative coming from the wrong type of person.

The "correct" answer in this case is probably just to use her name.

  • "the wrong type of person"... I agree, and I think this is key; attitude and relationship are probably more important than the actual words (within limits).
    – Joffan
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 19:59
  • "Kid" or "child" would never connote respect as the OP requested.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 20:14
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    @Mitch I disagree. I hear "kid" and "child" said in a respectful way all the time. Might help that I live in the American south. But like I said, it depends entirely on who is doing the talking. "Here's looking at you, kid." Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 22:40

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