I came across this issue while describing in writing the relatives of a woman commonly known in the West as Princess Haya.

Princess Haya is the youngest of four current wives of the current ruler of Dubai (and the sixth person to ever be once of his wives as he divorced two of his previous wives). Princess Haya has two children, both from a union with her current and only husband (who is the current ruler of Dubai). Her husband also has had 28 other children, collectively, with his five previous wives (three of whom he is still married to and two of whom are still living but divorced from him), each of whom has at least some children from their marriage to the current ruler of Dubai.

Princess Haya is also a child of the third wife of the former ruler of Jordan. Her mother died when she was three and her father died in 1999, but so far as I know, while she was raised by her father's family, she was not legally adopted by another mother. Princess Haya is the half-sibling of the current King of Jordan and many other children of her late father. So, this is clearly a pervasive issue for her extended family. Having received almost all of her education from elementary school age to attending college at Oxford University, in England, she surely has described it to people in English many times and there must be some consensus term to use for her various kinship relationships.

Princess Haya's relationship to the current King of Jordan is called in every account that I have seen, "half-brother" (rather than "stepbrother"), and likewise the relationship of her two children to the twenty-eight other children of their father by other wives is always called "half-sibling" in every account that I have seen in English, rather than "step-siblings" (I don't speak Arabic which is her first language and the first language of her husband, so I don't know what term is used for that relationship in Arabic).

But, what is the correct term for the relationship between Princess Haya and her children's twenty-eight half-siblings who are children of her sister wives?

My first instinct would be to call them "stepchildren", but in the monogamous world, stepchildren are usually children of your current spouse who are not related by blood to your own children and your children, and the children of your current spouse from a previous relationship and your children from a previous relationship is called "step-siblings" rather than as "half-siblings."

Her children's half-siblings certainly aren't properly described as her children, however. And they are children, who are not her children, who are children of her current husband with a different wife, which is also true of stepchildren.

An almost identical issue can arise in the monogamous world, for example, if a man has a child with his first wife who dies and then marries and has a child with his second wife, and indeed that relationship historically used to be quite common.

But, the only good literary precedent I can think of that comes close is Cinderella, and the children of Cinderella's stepmother were not children of her father, so it provides little guidance. I also can't think of a term other than "stepchild" to use for this relationship

So, to recap, what is the proper term for the relationship between a wife and the children of her husband from another wife, who are related to the wife's own children with her husband as half-siblings?

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    "but in the monogamous world, stepchildren are usually children of your current spouse who are not related by blood to your own children" I disagree. If Mike and Carol Brady had had children together, they would be half-siblings to all the other Brady children, and the original girls would remain the step-children of Mike while the original boys would still be step-children of Carol. Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 19:46
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    In modern times, that negative connotation is fairly minimal. My half-brother's mother was my stepmother, and I still refer to my mother's second husband as my stepfather, in neither case meant in a negative way. I don't think it's actually that complex. A stepchild is a child of your spouse that is not related to you. A half-sibling is a sibling you share one parent with rather than two. Neither fact changes with polygamy. Whether we're talking someone married to two women, one at a time, or two women at once makes no difference. Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 21:14
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    So the children of the "sister wives" are at least half-siblings, as they share a father. However the question is what is the relationship of one of the mothers to children who are not hers? Stepmother is probably the nearest there is, at least in monogamous cultures.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 21:25
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    Dictionaries I checked don't agree well. The OED explicitly says "after death or divorce of one's own mother", dictionary.com says "of a later marriage", while Mirriam Webster just says "distinct from one's natural or legal mother". It feels like this is just something not well defined in English due to it rarely coming up. Since there isn't another word that I can tell, "Stepmother" is likely as close as you can get. Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 21:27
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    @NigelJ A "sister wife" is the most common term that I have heard used in American English, especially among Mormons, co-wives of the same husband in a polygynous marriage. Sister wives are not necessarily, or even usually, sororal wives (i.e. actual sisters of each other who are married to the same husband at the same time, something that is prohibited in Islamic polygamy but quite common in other polygamous marriage systems).
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 14:10

2 Answers 2


I don't think there is a term in English that distinguishes "child of my spouse's from a previous marriage that ended" and "child of my husband from second concurrent wife". The English speaking world has been legally monogamous for a long time, so I don't think the situation comes up often enough for there to be a strong need for a specific term.

Note also that these terms do change meaning over time. For instance, in Emma, there is a scene where Mrs. Weston is described as walking with her "son-in-law". In modern English, this would mean a man married to one of her children. But that's not who he is...she is walking with her husband's son from his first marriage, what today we would call a step-son. Characters in Emma are also much more likely to use the term "brother" to mean not someone with whom they share a parent or two, but a man married to their sister, whom we would call a brother-in-law.

So it seems that in the past, there were even fewer words used to describe relationships through marriage than modern English speakers use today. And English still for instance, doesn't have a term to distinguish between one's spouse's sibling and one's sibling's spouse, and no term at all to label the spouse of one's spouse's sibling, and those situations come up much more often for modern English speakers than polygamous situations.


what truly matters is how the mothers feel about calling these children their own as in a poly marriage, everything is shared. therefore, the children would be her children, not step or half.

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