Mothering

Ten Alternatives To Calling Your Daughter A Princess

6.8K Flares Filament.io 6.8K Flares ×

I believe labels can be powerful in both harmful and empowering ways. This is especially true for young children who are developing an inner dialogue with themselves, one they’ll live with for the rest of their lives. As a mother of daughters, I choose my words with great care. I want to use words that will encourage an appreciation for their bodies, a deep sense of self-worth and an overwhelming sense of being wholly loved. Labels are something we all use on a daily basis without even realizing it which makes them a perfect place to start examining the language we use.

My kids hear everything. Even when they ask me to repeat myself a dozen times, I know it’s not unlikely they heard me the first time. Which is why it’s not just what I say in conversation with them that matters but also what I say about them in conversations with others and what I allow others to say about my kids.

A perfect example is when a stranger says hi to my daughters while we’re out running errands. It’s not uncommon for one or even both of them to smile, reach for my hand or move closer to me and leave the stranger’s questions unanswered. In moments like these, many adults will chime in, “Oh, she’s being shy.” Shy, shy, shy. I loathe that word; it makes me want to light my hair on fire. Of the vast spectrum of emotions my child might be experiencing, did it ever cross your mind that perhaps they’re simply being cautious with a person they don’t know? Perhaps they want to warm up to you at their pace and not yours? Perhaps, and this is a biggie, it has nothing to do with you and they’re just hungry and tired and don’t have it in them to engage in small talk? Shy is a label I no longer tolerate around my children.

It’s easier for me to identify the irksome language other people use to label my children than it is to notice my own labeling faux pas.

Every night I kiss my girls and whisper sweet nothings in their ear. I always end with “I love you, princess”. I’ve been saying it, with some solid regularity, since they were born. The other night I caught myself saying “princess” and really had to stop myself. We are not anti-princess in our home. We are mindfully selective of these royal “role models*” and how they influence our daughters. We love Merida. Not so keen on Adora. We’re team Tiana, all the way. Cinderella? Meh. Am I depriving them of some life changing experience by not letting them glorify the Disney princess squad** in our house? I don’t think so.

I’ve explained to my daughters how what and who we surround ourselves with plays a big part in influencing us. So I tell them if they like princesses, choose the ones with admirable qualities. Choose the ones that empower them as little girls. None of this putting your life on hold until prince charming comes around. Fooey.

Shy is specifically negative while princess is positively vague. Not exactly the way to celebrate precisely how great my daughters are. I want there to be no doubt in their minds that they are always enough just as they are. So I bid adieu to “princess” (as well as shy) and welcome words that rejoice in the gifts they were born with, the gifts they’re still figuring out that I’m so luck to witness.

Here are ten positive labels, ten kickass alternatives to calling your daughter a princess.

daughter labels

it's your turn

Let me know in the comments – what empowering labels do you use with your young women?

*Princesses as role models – Disney princesses not so much, at least not all of them. Certainly my first choice for role models for my girls are real women, from history, our neighborhood, our family. But let’s keep it real. We, as parents, do not get to choose their role models. We can give gentle guidance but ultimately they will choose. I provide my girls with value based reasoning and we discuss each of our opinions. It would be foolish of me to think princesses do not in some way impact my daughters. 

**Our family’s choice to be mindfully selective in the princess department is a choice we make based on our values. It is not ever a commentary on anyone else’s choices for their family. This, of course, applies to all parenting choices. My best friend’s daughter is a huge Disney princess fan and we’re still total BFFs. Her family, their values, their choices. My family, our values, our choices. Simple.

6.8K Flares Twitter 50 Facebook 2.8K Pin It Share 4K Filament.io 6.8K Flares ×

84 Comments

    1. I couldn’t agree more! I learned the value of this kind of compliment after reading Nurture Shock and it made so much sense. Such a simple thing but some serious impact.

    2. I just learned about this recently. That, in calling a child smart, a parent can stunt their intellectual growth and curiosity because the child then remains focused on always proving they are smart.

  1. My daughter is not a princess fan, which has made this much easier. But a few words we use:

    Resourceful
    Funny
    Strong
    Ninja
    Determined

    and my favourite: Powerful

    1. I love that. We are just beginning to explore mythology and they’re slowly grasping the concept of the gods & goddesses. Adding it to the list!

    2. Ugh, no. Bestowing any superlative on a child who hasn’t earned it is distorting their sense of reality and, by extension, their ability to succeed and thrive in the world. I think we can all agree that no child has earned the title of God/Godess (except maybe one or two, depending on your religion). This is just as bad a title as princess.

      I’m on the fence about smart — research has indicated that effort is a better indicator of success than intelligence/aptitude, so I lean toward agreeing with the above advice. On the other hand, sometimes people, including children, really have brilliant insights, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with acknowledging that insight by calling it smart.

      We all want the best *for* our kids, but to get the best from them, and to teach them to get the best for themselves, we need to provide accurate reflections of their actions, not downplay OR overplay their accomplishments OR failures, beyond what’s age appropriate, and let them know that they’re loved regardless of anything else.

  2. I call either of my daughters “Beautiful” followed by addressing each one by name (IE: “Beautiful Ann”), especially when I say good morning and good night.

    By our definition at home, “beautiful” means the following: It’s about the words you speak, how kindly you treat others, how much you love yourself, and the love you have in your heart for all things.

    1. It’s so powerful how you add each of their names afterwards. It’s those kinds of simple gestures which will embed themselves in their memories.

  3. I call my daughters my “pixies” because they’re fun, playful, capable, imaginative, curious, intelligent, cute and mischievous. My mother-in-law has even taken to calling them her “Grandpixies.” It’s a fitting term of endearment for us because our girls are feminine but don’t adhere to the stereotype of all things girly.

    When I had my first daughter, I always thought of her as being this magical little being that changed my life forever. It was the same when our second daughter arrived. “Pixie” is just so fitting because it’s a magical kind of being, one that isn’t thought of as being prissy-princessy or too rough-and-tumbley-boyish, so for me, it’s the perfect term of endearment to let my girls adapt & interpret how they wish.
    Melissa T´s last blog post ..BBC Radio 4 – Book at Bedtime, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

    1. What a great name. And so many books that celebrate bunnies so it’s easy to celebrate her at storytime =)

  4. 100% concur. When my daughter was in the princess phase, we did a lot of dress-up, read books like The Paper-Bag Princess or The Princess Knight, and talked about people like Princess Rania of Jordan (among many, many other types of play). We did not then, and do not, call her “princess”, for all the reasons you mention. (And, equally, I do not label nor do I allow others to label either kid “shy”. Maybe, “he’s taking a moment to size up the situation.”)

    Instead of “princess”, at bedtime I will say, “Good night, strong girl,” or something that refers to what she did that day – “good night, slugger” [after a day of playing baseball]; “good night dolphin girl” (doesn’t always have to be an adjective, but something that reminds her of a fun/cool/positive thing she/we did that day, like going to an aquarium and talking to dolphin trainers). I also make it a point to discuss her strengths with others, within her earshot (“She’s really good at 3D puzzles.”)

    My sense is that for boys there isn’t a single word universally used to define them – not every boy is “doctor” or “prince”, but “princess” is quite common. Noted this yesterday at pickup when one of the grownups greeted both her kids with “My princess!” I’m all for expanding the options, both fictional and aspirational, for both boys and girls.

    1. Excellent point about boys not being trapped into a few specific labels. Young girls deserve to be given the opportunity to relish in all the amazing things they are.
      ps. Yes to celebrating what they’ve done each day! I find discussing our day at bedtime always makes things cozier for us, brings closure.

  5. I’m with you 100% on the princess thing, but not on shyness. As a formerly shy girl and now sometimes shy woman, I have never thought of “shy” as a negative. Shyness is simply another way of relating to the world. Shy can be either good or bad.

    1. I agree. I do not think shy is a negative at all. However, when strangers generally use it to label a young child who is not engagin with them, I believe it carries negative connotations. It’s within that context that I’m not a fan. I don’t think introvert & shy are interchangeable but closely related and I believe they are beautiful ways to see the world. Thank you for stopping by!

  6. I call my girls lots of different things, but most of all they’re called a piece of work, they’re good and bad qualities all rolled into one. They can be the sweetest girls in the world, but could rip your throat out at the drop of a hat if provoked.
    Heather @ Kraus House Mom´s last blog post ..Summer Fun

  7. One of my mother’s greatest gifts to me was telling me that people are lucky to have me in their lives. :). I was raised with the belief that my presence made a difference, and that I would bless people with my compassion.

    1. Wow that’s beautiful. Who wouldn’t want to be reminded of what gift they are to the world? Smart mom you’ve got there!

  8. Oh my yes! The most common statement I hear when out with my 4 boys and 1 girl is: “at least ya got your girl.” As if the 2 boys that came after her are of less value. Then they go on to call her a princess and tell her she won’t have to share her room or her toys – as if this is a good thing and makes up for only having brothers and no sisters. Which for the record, isn’t something that needs to be made up for! And the last time I checked sharing was an admirable action that we want children to do. {stepping off my soapbox}
    Stephanie Kay´s last blog post ..Parenting the Tween Years for the First Time

    1. People always mean well but I think they don’t very often listen to what they’re actually saying!

    1. Spunky always makes me think of Punky Brewster who I idolized as a kid. We could all use more spunk!

  9. Love this post! I don’t have daughters, but I do have 2 nieces. Adjectives I love to shower them with are:

    – Radiant
    – Healthy
    – Strong
    – Sparkling
    – Magical
    – Genius/Brilliant
    – Wonderful

    As nicknames, I use empowering phrases related to a fun event that happened that day, or in the past:

    – Ms. President
    – Flying lizard
    – Wild one
    – Super girl
    – Magical dancer
    – Funky pants
    – One-of-a-kind

    And anything else that steers clear of appearance-based, limiting nonsense!

  10. I only have a son, but I teach other people’s daughters and sons in ballet class. It is not appropriate for me to call them nicknames really, but I do refer to most of them as ‘sweetpea’ – one of my favourite flowers. None of them have ever asked me what a sweetpea is, so far! I did used to call them all ‘pumpkin’ but realised one day that pumpkins are round, and none of my dancers are, so that wasn’t appropriate and I stopped.

    1. I always have used Strong and Brave in complimenting and encouraging both my son and daughter, and now my grandson and granddaughters. When something is hard I tell them they can accomplish it or overcome it because they are strong and brave and good thinkers. When they do it I remind them they are hard workers and were able to think it through. Letting them know I honor their achievements helps them accomplish more.

  11. I love this. I’m not yet a mom, but I can draw from what my parents called me. Growing up, I was never referred to as a princess by my parents but I was told that I was strong willed, smart, bold, focused, determined, sweet and friendly.

    Things they said about me that I wish they hadn’t was that I was bossy, impolite, too loud and a chatterbox/motor mouth (I got chatterbox and motor mouth a lot). I know, of course, that these were innocent comments on their part but I think it resulted in my being very self conscious about being the real me from a very young age. I still catch myself editing myself and holding back from being the assertive person that I naturally am inside to keep from “stepping on anyone’s toes”. I think all of these comments came from my parents’ image of what a polite young girl should act like. I think some other great advice for parents of young children is to encourage the vibrant aspects of their natural personalities. Please hold yourself back from acting annoyed. I still can remember my mom telling me I was being annoying when I sang things I was doing at 3 years old (yes, I used to sing things randomly like Jess on New Girl… and I still do on occasion) and I still can remember the sting of my dad calling me motor mouth (even though he’d say it with a grin). That’s not to say I don’t remember the times they celebrated me and my strengths, but those negative comments can go a long way, and it may be surprising how far back a woman (or man) can remember them. My first memories are from turning 2.

    And, to finish off this novella, I hated not only the shy comment from strangers, but the quiet comment. People who didn’t know me at all and had just met me would often times think that if I wasn’t super engaging and talkative from the moment they met me that I was “quiet”, which is so far from who I am, it’s laughable. But hearing those comments from strangers from a young age makes you wonder and doubt the real you.

    Bottom line: I think the language we use with children should be all about lifting them up and encouraging the people they were created to be, not just who we think they should be.

    1. Oh Kelly, if and when, you will be an incredible parent. I can relate to everything you said. Little things my parents said in passing, without thought, always had an impact. I’m very conscious of what I say to my girls. I’m not perfect and sometimes I can say things like my parents but, if I catch myself, I’ll apologize or talk about it with them. Here’s to lifting our children up!

  12. I named my daughter Judith because I loved the name (my Great-grandmother was called that) But I also love the myth in the Bible according to which Judith beheaded Holofernes in order to save her tribe… She was a princess ! And I will tell this story to my baby when she gets old enough 🙂

    1. It’s wonderful to connect our children to stories they might find strength from! And what a great story to share.

  13. I love your article! I’ve been struggling to come up with a nickname for my baby girl other than squidge, so this has given me food for thought. I named her Isadora because I think it’s a name fit for a prime minister, and I hope she changes the world for the better one day 🙂 I also loved the stories I heard about how wild Isadora Duncan was in her time, and if she grows up to just please herself then I’ll be happy, no matter what she does. I’ve taught her father to call her strong or clever before he calls her pretty, so I hope we’re on our way to bringing her up as an empowered woman.

  14. Ps, having just read my comment back, it doesn’t sound very compassionate does it? Although I want her to please herself in life, I do hope that she will be kind, compassionate and caring – although those qualities seem to be taken for granted in women, whereas being brave and strong and putting your own needs over those of say a boyfriend, aren’t.

  15. I’m not a mom, but I am a daughter and my parents called me kitty, warrior, astronaut, and a large amount of the time prince cal. I liked princes adventures more than the princess stories

  16. I’ve finally settled on a nickname for my daughter. Now I just can’t believe I didn’t think of it earlier, it’s so naturally her. She’s my lioness. She so fierce and determined, and I hope she’ll grow to be strong and proud too. So, lioness it is 🙂

  17. My daughter is “The Princess Who Saved Herself.” We got it from a song – have you heard it? If not, you have to google it!

    We even used it to teach her how to swim. She “falls” in the water, and then has to “save herself” by swimming to the side with no help. =)

    One thing that makes me very uncomfortable is when people make a huge deal about my daughter (or any little girl, for that matter) being pretty. Can we PLEASE not instill in her, at the tender age of 3, that the most desirable trait to possess is beauty? Some of my earliest childhood memories are of people commenting on my looks. I had major self-esteem/insecurity/vanity issues as I grew into a woman. My very happiness was contingent upon whether or not I believed I was perceived as beautiful. I still fight it every day.

    I love your thoughtful posts. I found you through Scary Mommy. =)
    Kristen Mae at Abandoning Pretense´s last blog post ..My Cervix is Going to be Featured on an Episode of “Hoarders.”

  18. I’m glad we can still be friends. I’m totally with you on using other words for our daughters. At the same time, my girls love the Disney Princesses and while Merida is their favorite, we have found traits in all of the princesses that are admirable.

    While Cinderella could have been stronger in standing up for herself, she was written in a time when without a father or a husband you were stuck. She wanted to respect her elders and remain dignified. Cinderella was never portrayed to me as waiting for her prince to rescue her, but rather a young girl who had lost her father but had a heart of gold. Her care for animals and those in need are things we emphasize with our girls, and that what the prince saw in her was her heart. We actually talk about how lucky they are to be alive today, when they are not constrained as women were in the past.

    I think if our girls love princesses, we can find examples in all of them, however out dated, to show more than just outward beauty. Now, I know, your post was not about Cinderella, I just have spent a lot of time talking to the girls about character traits in terms they want to talk about…Disney Princesses.
    Brittany´s last blog post ..The Handy Dandy Vandy Packing Packet Printable

  19. My name is Princess I am not born from a royal family actually very poor family and my mother says I have been given this name by a Royal Prince who on that specific day was visiting the hospital an on that I was born that was in 1973/10/04 and ask my mother to call me Princess,what can that mean?

  20. I am so tired of this conversation. As the mother of three boys I am constantly disappointed in posts like this. Really the number choice on your list is warrior. What would happen if I called my boys that. The feedback wouldn’t be good. In my experience girls are not hard done by. We’re so worried about girls self esteem and confidence that we leave boys far behind.

    1. Yeah, we leave them so far behind that, despite the fact that girls perform academically better at earlier ages, men earn the most, and are overwhelmingly disproportionately represented in the top positions of the top companies…oh, wait, not quite such a bad deal they have after all!

      1. Ms. Megibson has a point, however, so does Sue Glenn. Boys seem to be left behind in a different way. They are called “little man” and are told to be tough, not to cry, to “be a man”. In the end, their self esteem and their ability to express their feelings is compromised. You can theorize about nature vs nurture, but I think that it has already been proven with girls that appropriate nurture changes a whole lot. Equipped with the knowledge that girls’ lives have been radically changed (for the better) by removing the metaphorical behavior box women were placed in, I think that parents need to apply the same tactic to boys (if they are not already).
        Furthermore, I’m sick of the boys vs girls argument hat seems to often break out in the comments of posts like this. Please realize that if life is better for women it will be better for men. It’s not a football game: No one wins if someone else loses. Life is about cooperation, not competition.

  21. Really appreciate this article! I’m writing a speech rallying girls from Long Island to defy the stereotypes associated with the new reality show Princessses of Long Island, and this was helpful for inspiration! Thank you for promoting empowerment
    Rachel Ilana´s last blog post ..Suddenly Single

  22. Having read this I thought it was really enlightening.
    I appreciate you spending some time and effort to put this article
    together. I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of
    time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worth it!
    Rebecca´s last blog post ..Rebecca

  23. Thank you so much for putting together these great ideas. I especially love “curious.” But I do feel very sad that the number one name on this list is “warrior.” A warrior is someone who is trained in armed combat and warfare. Even if you say, “I’m a warrior for peace” it still contains the word “war.” As someone who has dedicated my career to getting people to solve their conflicts without violence, I’m saddened that our society thinks it’s ok to promote warriorism. My daughter is strong and powerful, but I don’t want her to think that means she needs to use brute force to express her power, and that’s what “warrior” implies. With all due respect to the women in the armed services, I believe that calling our young and impressional children, boys and girls, “warriors” will not help us create a peaceful world, but only glorify violence.

  24. Thank you! This was a great post and your words helped me to explain to others what we have been doing with our daughters since they were born. We have been trying to live a life that didn’t give in to Disney telling us our girls had to like princesses, be princess and think like a princess everyday. There are so many other ways for our daughters to have meaningful play and I am empowered by your words. Thank you!

    1. Oh, I’m terribly late to replying but this made my day today and way back when you first posted. I know how hard it is to be able to explain some of the choices we make as parents. It can be something we feel incredibly passionate about but for some reason difficult to articulate so I’m honored I could help put words to what you’re doing as a parent!

  25. As a future dad (sometime next May) I have been dealing with the fact that if I have a baby girl I would like to encourage her to become an empowered woman. One who is confident of herself, brave, responsible, friendly, helpful, and aware that effort pays. I want to encourage my daughter to understand that some day shell will find her “partner in life” and not her “prince charming”. Not calling her princess isla something I expectación as well as treating my wife with respect and not patronage

  26. I love to tell me Children that they are a beautiful gift to us. And add to the statement, Especially the boys, look how strong these muscles are.. How their eyes sparkle, voicing the qualities I capture of their, gentleness, intelligence, their depth of understanding. I think they are great!! Run with it, your good at it! See them beam.

  27. I tell my daughter how much she is loved. By me, God, her dad, her extended family… she has a lot of people who care about her. I hope that is empowering because it tells her she will always have support.

  28. Have you thought about how to deal with people who always comment on your daughters appearance? My daughter is “pretty” or “beautiful” by our societies standards and people always say “she is so pretty, beautiful, lovely eyes…. Its not a terrible thing but I always want to say back, yes but she’s also intelligent, curious, kind, athletic… I don’t want her to think that pretty is the only definition that matters. What are your thoughts?

    1. My daughters are constantly bombarded with strangers telling them they’re beautiful or cute or some other comment on their appearance. First and foremost, I’ve told them to be gracious, just say thank you. I’ve debated whether to tell them to say something like – “Thank you. I’m pretty and I’m smart, etc. etc.” I worry about sending them the message that there’s something wrong with being/feeling beautiful, that a compliment on their appearance isn’t valid without mentioning something else. Because if someone said they were smart, I wouldn’t encourage them to also mention that they’re cute. So I’m mulling that over so for now they just accept a compliment graciously.

      1. My Father told me, say thank you, then compliment them on something subtle, like a piece of jewelry, or the way their shirt gives the light back to their eyes…

  29. My daughter and granddaughters are princesses and I expect them to act accordantly. They are children of God, who is the Lord over all and therefore princesses, who are expected to shine their Father’s glory in all they do. What higher purpose can a person have? And what can give more self worth.

  30. I like to tell my daughter she’s pretty–because she is! But when I compliment her appearance, I always follow that up with “but even better, you’re pretty on the inside!” And we talk about what makes someone pretty on the inside: smart, brave, kind, etc. etc. What a blessing to sit on the front row watching a girl become a young woman.

    1. “What a blessing to sit on the front row watching a girl become a young woman.” Couldn’t have put it better myself!

  31. We do use the nickname Princess in our home. I remember it applies to more than just Disney icons. Princess Diana, one of my mother’s favorite role models, was a perfect example of that. She was brave and altruistic, as well as beautiful, kind and compassionate and ALWAYS a lady. That is the definition of princess in our house and we wear that title with pride.

  32. I called my boys- and their two best childhood friends, my best friends similar in age daughters- my Troop, or Crew, or mini-Monsters (I was always the mommy-monster to my sons, and their almost-sisters called me Auntie Monster)… Or if they were being smart Alecs I would call them my Brat pack.

  33. Hello admin, i must say you have very interesting content
    here. Your page can go viral. You need initial traffic boost only.
    How to get it? Search for; Mertiso’s tips go viral
    76Kenneth´s last blog post ..76Kenneth

  34. I see you don’t monetize your page, don’t waste your traffic, you
    can earn additional bucks every month because you’ve got high quality content.
    If you want to know how to make extra money, search for: Mrdalekjd methods for $$$
    FirstVeda´s last blog post ..FirstVeda

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge