Don’t call her ‘aunty’

Picture this: You’re a single woman in your early forties whoAunties has taken a liking to a handsome twenty-something guy who lives in your apartment building. Hey, if it works for Demi, why not you? So you gather the courage and leave a box of samosas at his door, with a note that says, “Just made a batch and thought you might like a few.”

An hour later, there’s a knock at your door. He’s standing there in shorts and a tank top, looking as studly as ever. “The samosas were great,” he says. “Thank you for thinking of me, Aunty.”

Well, that scenario probably never happened to Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan, but she’s nevertheless peeved about being called “aunty” by people she barely knows, as she states in this month’s Khabar (her piece originally appeared in India Currents, linked below).

Today, the title “aunty” is so overused and misused that it has lost its position and meaning. Indian-American children are taught that every adult female is a potential aunty; many carry this presumption to the conclusion that any adult female older than them can be an aunty. I’m not referring to school children here, but to those I see as adults, the lipsticked and bearded variety, who ought to know better. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with terms like ammayi, or cheriamma, or edathi, all specific Malayalam words that acknowledge individuals who are close family members and deserve rightful respect in the family’s pecking order. There are equivalent terms in every Indian language: terms like maami, mausi, and didi that all validate close family connections. But amongst English-speaking Indian Americans, the frequent use of “aunty” or “uncle” is more often an example of lazy speech, or a desire to bump the individual in question into the category of doddering older-other, than it is a thoughtful moniker of respect. Therein lies the problem. [Link]

Srinivasan, Director of Development at SVILC, Santa Clara County’s Independent Living Center (and aunty to Shashi Tharoor’s sons), notes the importance of aunties in our culture — “Children have always needed aunties: women who were caring and courageous enough to share in the act of mothering” — and offers some guidelines on using the term “aunty”:

If I have not known you when you were a child, and been a part of your life as you learnt and grew—I am not your aunty.

If you are an adult with or without furrows on your temples, and our paths have never crossed before—I am not your aunty.

If your children are younger than mine, or you are the same age as my grown children, but I am meeting you for the first time—I am not your aunty.

And if you’re just not sure what to call someone? Ask; don’t assume. [Link]

I’ve been called “uncle” a few times and not just by my nephew and nieces, so I’d like to offer some guidelines too. Whatever your age, you may use the term “uncle,” as long as you use it in sentences like these:

    “Sure, Uncle, I’ll babysit your children every Friday night.”

    “May I mow your lawn for you, Uncle?”

    “To my Uncle Melvin, I leave all my worldly possessions …”

And, of course:

    “Here are some samosas I made for you, Uncle.”

112 thoughts on “Don’t call her ‘aunty’

  1. Smacking a girl just because she called you “uncle”? Bit excessive surely.

    But she was fat and dark. She deserved it!

  2. Smacking a girl just because she called you “uncle”? Bit excessive surely.

    How about being smacked by a girl while you call her “aunty”? Would that be a turn on?

    Aw man, I probably just outed what alot of our parents do in the bedroom. Ewww. The thought.

  3. u can find women in their 45s with pink and brown lips calling 48 year old women auntys in kerala itself, a kind of pretention that by calling others aunties, they are feeling that they are ‘younger’ than others. some are calling others the same word auntie only to hurt them. for me people are always feeling happy by hurting and harrassing others.

  4. Wow. I’m pretty surprised by all the outrage. I’m 24 and default to uncle and aunty for all older males and females in the Malayalee community, relatives or not.

    Of course, I’m from Texas, so I also use ma’am and sir, both received well here. Only when I was in the north did I receive any shock or surprise by using ma’am.

    Are they more upset about 1) I’m calling them aunty and I’m not her nephew, or 2) calling them aunty somehow reinforces and highlights the fact that she’s not 20 anymore?

  5. I really didn’t understand all the anger behind the article. I can’t see myself calling an older Indian person by their first name and if they aren’t in your family than the most respectful thing you can do is refer to them as auntie or uncle and let them know you’re acknowledging their ‘superior’ position.

    I am at a weird point though, at 22 am I transitioning away from calling others auntie to being called it myself? Maybe I’ll feel differently when I am an auntie but I don’t see that happening anytime soon, I don’t feel like I deserve it yet.

  6. Yeah, it’s very rude to call a fellow non-relative adult uncle or aunty. Saying Sir and Ma’am are appropriate. Indian youngsters think they are being polite in saying uncle or aunty but they are just being rude. Awareness about this should be spread.

  7. And for all of those people who actually think it’s appropriate to call people names which they don’t like, they are being rather selfish and being against all ideals of polite behaviour.

  8. For me, the anger behind the word ‘aunty’ is not so much about misappropriation of terms, but about the fear people feel about the process of aging. I think it we all were comfortable with the idea that we all age, and that aging can have negative consequences in our youth-obsessed society (only if we let it, though), then we would likely see the term aunty as a sign of respect.

  9. 03322921733 jahan tak insan ki sooch khatam ho jaey jahan tak insan key pyar ki sooch khatam ho jaey jahan sey insan socchna khatam ker dey . phir ho jaey . jahangir

  10. Hi everyone……

                     What about "uncle"? The same rules should be applied to men too..... Wonder how men in their late 20s & 30s would love to be called uncle by girls in thier teens and early 20s...hmmm..