To my knowledge,

There is no single word that describes a "person who has lost a child."

We have "widow" and "widower" for a person whose spouse had died. We have "orphan" for a child whose parent or parents have died. Source

According to the quora question, the closest word is in Arabic: ثَكْلَى (thakla) which translates as "bereaved mother."

Though bereaved does not adequately describe 'loss of child' as it's definition is:

[to] be deprived of a loved one through a profound absence, especially due to the loved one's death.

My questions are:

  • If there is a word, what is it?
  • If there is not a word, what word would Shakespeare have made up to convey the idea?

1 Answer 1


There are a number of related, now-obsolete terms that Shakespeare might have used, all related to the Latin orbus meaning bereavement. These include most notably1

† orbity, n. Obs. A bereavement, esp. the loss of a child; the state or condition of being bereaved. Also (esp. in later use): childlessness. [Attestations from 1597 to 1804]

† orb, adj. Obs. rare. Childless. [Only two attestations, one in 1607—spelled orbe—and one in 1660]

Neither of these is an exact parallel for terms like widow or orphan, however. Interestingly, the latter of these shares an Indo-European root with orbus. Perhaps Shakespeare could have coined a parallel term orban for parents bereaved of their child(ren).

Alternatively, some compound term might work; perhaps something like orbe- mother for a bereaved mother.2

1 Definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary: OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2017.

2 Other possibilities, but these are pure invention: orbant or orphent, combining orb or orphan and parent; orbither, combining orb/orbity with mother/father.

Unfortunately, many possible options are problematic for modern English-speakers, due to the similarity to the unrelated words orb and orbit. One possible solution would be to stick closer to the Latin, for example mater orba or orba mater. A question on the Latin SE might get more plausible suggestions along these lines.

  • How is this relevant to contemporary English?
    – Lambie
    Apr 8, 2018 at 15:36
  • @Lambie the OP asked what word would Shakespeare have used.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 8, 2018 at 15:46
  • @Mari-LouA Actually, it says what word would Shakespeare "have made up". Also, there are several searchable, full-text Shakespeare sites. So, it's a guess, right?
    – Lambie
    Apr 8, 2018 at 15:56
  • @Lambie, the body of the answer is not a guess, it's part of the attested history of the language. I took the reference to Shakespeare to mean the OP was interested in archaic/obsolete terms from approximately Elizabethan times, in addition to current terms. The site allows questions about the history of the language. The "guesses" are in a footnote, as they are, in fact, purely opinion, which is not a great fit for the site.
    – 1006a
    Apr 8, 2018 at 16:28

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