In English is there a synonym for "godchild" (or the gender-specific versions) without a religious connotation but without necessarily having other specific connotations?

All the words I'm coming up with mean (or at least imply) that the child is living with me, or that I'm acting in loco parentis in some way. I don't want that.

  • "orphan", "foster child", "adopted child": these all mean that the child has lost his or her natural parents and is living with a different family or in an orphanage.
  • "protégé": this is closer, but to me it still implies that the child lives with the mentor rather than the parents.

What I am looking for is something that describes a similar relationship to "godchild" (i.e. I care about the child's well-being, but he lives with his parents, not with me) without actually having the religious connotation or implying anything about the child.

(As some commenters mention, "godchild" is sometimes used outside of a religious context these days, but it still carries that connotation; it can't really be separated from its origin.)

  • 3
    I'm a little confused by what you mean by "without implying anything about the child" ~ can you elaborate on what you mean by that? (Also, as a side note, Wikipedia mentions "Today, the word godparent might not have explicitly religious overtones. The modern view of a godparent tends to be an individual chosen by the parents to take an interest in the child's upbringing and personal development." That's certainly true in movies like The Wizard of Oz and The Godfather.) :^)
    – J.R.
    Dec 27, 2012 at 20:17
  • As J.R. rightly says, you have to elaborate on what you want. A foster child would be the equivalent without the religious connotation and foster parent likewise. Dec 27, 2012 at 20:23
  • @J.R.: thanks for the comment. The modern view is exactly what I mean, but even though it doesn't have religious overtones it still has the connotation, no? Perhaps protégé comes already closes to what I want? Dec 27, 2012 at 20:32
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    I get that you don't want to imply a religion-based relationship, but I don't understand what it is that you do want to imply. Is this for a child who is living with you, or just one that you occasionally see/buy presents for?
    – Marthaª
    Dec 27, 2012 at 23:49
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    Dick Grayson was always Bruce Wayne's "youthful ward". Dec 28, 2012 at 21:41

7 Answers 7


Both my children, and my four nieces and nephews, all have 2-3 godparents each.

All except one of the godparents are also aunt/uncle to the protectee, if it were felt necessary to avoid the word "god". But despite the fact that all bar none of the godparents are staunch atheists, I don't recall anyone ever objecting to the standard terms godson, goddaughter, godparent.

So far as we're concerned, a godparent is primarily someone charged with taking "greater-than-might-otherwise-be-expected" responsibility for the child's development of a "moral compass". There's often an implication that the godparent is first choice for "adoptive parent", if the biological parents meet with disaster - but that's got no legal significance in the UK, so it's really just a symbolic role.

As @John Y says, for many today the god in godparent has no more religious significance than the x in xmas, or the christ in for chrissake. So I would cite the fact that we don't bother to popularise an alternative "secular" term as evidence that most people simply don't feel a need for it.

  • Hey, thanks. This is pretty good to know. Basically being a non-native speaker of English some of the connotations are, well, foreign to me ;) +1 Dec 30, 2012 at 18:33
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    @0xC0000022L: You should bear in mind that I speak as a Brit. It's probably fair to say the "public profile" of Christianity is higher in America, so religious connotations are more likely to be consciously perceived in the US than in the UK. Dec 30, 2012 at 18:37

In UK in the past, the child would have been called a ward and the adult a guardian, but such situations don't really arise any longer.

  • Still a nice and interesting answer Dec 27, 2012 at 20:53
  • "ward of the state" and "ward of the court" is still used here in the US when a child is put under the protection of a legal guardian. Dec 27, 2012 at 21:57
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    But, those all imply custody whereas a godparent typically is simply a friendly adviser or mentor to a child.
    – Jim
    Dec 28, 2012 at 5:45
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    @Jim: this is more or less what I meant not to imply :) Dec 28, 2012 at 13:29

"Charge" is another term used for a child under the care of a non-parental adult:

From The Macmillan Dictionary:

[countable] formal

someone that you are responsible for and take care of

Ex. "She didn't like it when her young charges started crying."


The term godchild is getting to be about as inseparable from God as Christmas is from Christ. In other words, godchild is practically devoid of religious connotation when used among secular company.

If you absolutely must avoid the term, the most common way to express what you are after is to use a phrase such as "like a son to me" or "as if she were my own".

  • I know people with no apparent religious affiliation or practice who refer to their godchildren.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 28, 2012 at 19:38

Generally such people (at least in parts of North America I'm familar with) are referred to as "uncles" or "aunts". There are meanings of these words that imply a specific blood relationship (siblings of a parent), but that isn't nessecarily the case. It often refers to someone who has roughly the same kind of relationship to the child as a blood uncle or aunt would: IOW they have a close relationship with a parent, care about the child, and might even watch him or her for a while to help the parents out, but are not ultimately responsible for them.

For instance, when I was very young, I had an "Aunt Judy", who was simply the woman who happened to be my mom's roomate in college.

My dad's best friends were all referred to as "Uncle {insert-first-name-here}".

I recently read a piece of fiction written by a Canadian (I'll try to look up the specifics when I get home) where all the women in an extended family were referred to as "aunt" or "auntie", and the men "uncle", regardless of the actual kin relation. So I know this isn't confined to the USA.

  • My personal experience echoes this, including referring to the daughter of friends as an "honorary niece". Dec 28, 2012 at 17:11
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    Yup: my niece has (in addition to me) an "Uncle" John as well as an Uncle Chris, and an "Aunt" Tina as well as an Aunt Kate. (Names changed to protect the innocent.) However, I'd note that this is for the pseudo-parental relationship, not for the pseudo-child-like relationship that the OP asked about. I.e. while my niece can call my sister's best friend's husband "Uncle John", John is not likely to refer to her as his "niece", not even with implied scare quotes around it.
    – Marthaª
    Dec 28, 2012 at 20:29
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    @Marthaª - That's right. Generally the child has no compunction about calling the adult an aunt or uncle, but the adult has trouble describing the relationship and either has to use a full-blown explanation, or say something along the lines of "I'm her uncle Joe" (iow: transform the discussion back to the child and work from there)
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 30, 2012 at 0:33

I see it is possible, (at least in sociology) to use the word pater for 'godfather':

"Cultural Anthropol. A man who assumes legal and social responsibility for a child (not necessarily his biological offspring); a legal or official father. Opposed to genitor." (OED)

  • 1
    As noted in the clarified question, the OP does not want to imply current responsibility for the child, merely the sort of "if worse comes to worst" "I'll be there for you" type of theoretical future responsibility that comes with being a godparent.
    – Marthaª
    Dec 31, 2012 at 23:56

Protégé is exactly the word you want.

The dictionary has:

a person who is guided and supported by an older and more experienced or influential person

"Guide and support" is exactly what a godparent is supposed to do.

Literally translated from the French it means protectee or "one who is protected".

In general it does not carry any connotation that the protégé lives with the protector.

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