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For a child without any parents, there is a term - orphan. Is there such a term for the opposite - an adult without any children?

This question actually comes out of a software development situation where I have nodes that relate to each other as parents and children - a parent node has zero or more children. If a child doesn't have a parent, it's refered to as an orphan node. I'm looking for a term for a node that doesn't have any children. I considered "childless", "non-parent" etc, but was wondering if there is a proper non-negative term similar to orphan?

Edit: I'm not specifically asking for a word for someone who once had children but now doesn't. While orphan implies not only that a child currently has no parents, but (as a consequence of how life works) also that the child used to have parents but lost them; the same is not necessarily true for the term I'm asking about - a term to describe people without children, regardless of whether they did once have children. Bottom line: it's not about having had but lost children but simply about not currently having children, period.

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  • An orphan is a child that has lost its parents (or, in a computing context, lost connection to its parent(s)). So the equivalent would be a parent that had children but lost (connection to) them rather than a potential parent who never had children in the first place. I think that "childless node" covers both cases. Oct 9, 2019 at 7:33
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    In programming, it would be called a leaf node.
    – Lawrence
    Oct 9, 2019 at 9:43
  • Possible duplicate of Word for grieving parents?
    – Zack
    Oct 9, 2019 at 19:16
  • @KillingTime But a child must always have had parents, so although you're right in that an orphan has had but then lost its parents, there is no situation where a child never had any parents to begin with, is there (well, depending on how you define parenting in a hypothetical artificial lab conception situation I suppose)? For the opposite relation, a person may 1) currently have children 2) have had children but they passed away or 3) not have and never have had children. So I'm not sure about the equivalency here.
    – JHH
    Oct 9, 2019 at 19:40
  • @Zadh My question was about a person not having any children, regardless of whether he or she had children in the past. A word for grieving parents would seem very connected to the latter condition.
    – JHH
    Oct 9, 2019 at 19:41

4 Answers 4

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From an English language perspective, there is nothing wrong with the word childless:

[Lexico (Oxford Dictionaries)]
Not having any children.
‘a childless couple’
‘I am childless by choice’
‘For them, a childless marriage is considered a great misfortune.’
‘He left her a childless widow at the age of eighteen.’

However, the word orphan implies a child whose parents have died unnaturally or unexpectedly. Childless covers the state of being without children, but not specifically having had a child who died unnaturally or unexpectedly.


On the other hand, in terms of the niche-specific language of computing, you might want to use leaf node.

From Wikipedia's entry on Node (computer science) (the text in bold is my own emphasis):

  • Child: A child node is a node extending from another node. For example, a computer with internet access could be considered a child node of a node representing the internet. The inverse relationship is that of a parent node. If node C is a child of node A, then A is the parent node of C.
  • Degree: the degree of a node is the number of children of the node.
  • Depth: the depth of node A is the length of the path from A to the root node. The root node is said to have depth 0.
  • Edge: the connection between nodes.
  • Forest: a set of trees.
  • Height: the height of node A is the length of the longest path through children to a leaf node.
  • Internal node: a node with at least one child.
  • Leaf node: a node with no children.
  • Root node: a node distinguished from the rest of the tree nodes. Usually, it is depicted as the highest node of the tree.
  • Sibling nodes: these are nodes connected to the same parent node.
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  • Thanks. I guess childless does work, and leaf node is an obvious candidate that I completely missed - it makes sense too! I guess my curiosity on whether there was an equivalent term in human relations took over.
    – JHH
    Oct 9, 2019 at 19:35
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If you google “reverse orphan”, you get a huge amount of hits. Apparently, this is a common question in the English language. Interestingly, this same question was asked on ELL back in 2014, and here in 2012 (which is why I marked this question as a duplicate, but am going to posit an answer here).

A number of neologisms have been suggested. For example:

  • naphro, from a TVTropes discussion (as the reverse of orphan).
  • Perspoiled, from the same TVTropes discussion, “;from the Latin "puer spoliari" which means "robbed of child", according to Google Translate.”

Recently, the term elder orphan seems to have been used to describe older people without children. However, I think this is imprecise (how do you distinguish this use from 2 child orphans, an elder and younger)?

As noted, from a strictly technical standpoint, you would use the term leaf (as in leaf node), to describe a node with no children. Of course, this would accurately describe a node that has never had a child. When talking about an orphaned node, we generally mean a node missing its parent/context (as apposed to a leaf node, which is perfectly fine). When referring to trees, we can perhaps use the typesetting convention of widows and orphans.


In some places, the Sanskrit word vilohmah seems to have been picked up to describe this situation.

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  • Naphro - it may not be well-established, but I love it!
    – JHH
    Oct 9, 2019 at 19:54
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In a graph, you might call these terminal nodes, or leaves (see for instance this document on a proposed text-encoding standard for graphs https://www.tei-c.org/release/doc/tei-p5-doc/en/html/GD.html).

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  • Please add a reference to support your answer.
    – JJJ
    Oct 20, 2019 at 10:39
  • Done. Thanks for the suggestion.
    – Jay Moore
    Oct 20, 2019 at 10:46
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I just call it being single but that simply relates to having a significant other. I dont think there is a term for it.

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    Single means not married (or, in modern parlance, not currently having a 'partner'). It has nothing to do with childlessness. Oct 9, 2019 at 7:45
  • No - neither relationship nor sexual status is connected to the number of children you have. You can be single with or without children, married with or without children or even be sexually inactive and still have children conceived through IVF or donation.
    – JHH
    Oct 9, 2019 at 19:33
  • @KateBunting it does though unless in a mind that's married to christian ideals. I mean the word's ideal meaning is subjective. The etymology does not help a lot, but still: "Compare [? *meryos "young man"] its feminine derivatives: Welsh morwyn (“girl”), merch (“daughter”), Crimean Gothic marzus (“wedding”), Ancient Greek μεῖραξ (meîrax, “boy; girl”), Lithuanian martì (“bride”), Avestan 𐬨𐬀𐬌𐬭𐬌𐬌𐬀‎ (mairiia, “yeoman”)." (see wiki/marry). It doesn't explain the word stem. The -t in "maritare, maritus" already points to an instrumental or so
    – vectory
    Oct 9, 2019 at 19:34
  • But even if in a perfect Christian utopia being single would imply not having children, this is not a two-way implication - not having children definitely does not imply being single as fertility is not connected to marital status. Besides, religion or ethics is irrelevant to the question anyway.
    – JHH
    Oct 9, 2019 at 19:47
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    @vectory Kate Bunting is correct, 'single' in relationship terms means 'unmarried' in all English-speaking countries and has been extended to include people who are not, currently, in a sexual relationship. However single women can and do bear children and single men can and do father them. Women who have children outside an ongoing relationship are called single mothers and people of both sexes who bore/fathered children while in a relationship which has since ended are considered single parents if they are caring for the children. 'Single' is not synonomous with 'childless'.
    – BoldBen
    Oct 10, 2019 at 3:26

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