Some of you love the word, and some of you detest it, so here’s my opinion about using accurate terminology, along with a few weigh-ins from several parents, a donor, and a few donor-conceived people.
A hot topic of discussion on the Donor Sibling Registry has always been terminology. We even devoted an entire section to terminology in our book Finding Our Families. Most of the discussions have revolved around the terms used for the gamete seller: e.g., donor, father, biological mother, donor dad, sperm seller, mother, genetic parent, bio dad, genetic mother, biological father, etc. But there hasn’t been too much discussion about others born from the same “donor” ... until now.
The feedback that I have received indicates that while some parents of young children like the term, many donor-conceived people do not like cutesy words like “dibling” to describe themselves or their half-sibling relationships.
“I think the problem with the term dibling, and its continued use, is that it marginalizes DC individuals and underscores the way many of us feel society views us. We are whole people, not dumplings or diblings — we have real feelings and desire acknowledgement as being biologically connected to the families to which we are related.”
Explaining to people that you are a donor-conceived person, or that you have half-siblings, is factual, and accurate. Using a word like dibling only calls for explanation, and labels the person as something “different.” I have found that even for young children, accurate terminology can be very important. Children are not diblings, they are just children. They are donor-conceived people, and most of them have half-siblings, other people born from gametes (sperm or eggs) from the same genetic parent. They have half-brothers and half-sisters, not “diblings.”
Adopted people who connect with their half-siblings don’t call them adopt-iblings. They refer to them as siblings or half-siblings, even though they didn't grow up in the same home.
Personally, every time I see the word I want to say dumpling.
One mom gives some insight:
“I think it is also done to make things easier for the non bio parent. I know for my wife there are insecurities about that, like being afraid that recognizing those relationships as real will make hers less valid. Luckily, though, my wife works through those issues privately with me and does not let it trickle down to our daughter. She prioritizes our daughter’s right to her own narrative and placing her own importance on relationships. Our feelings don’t matter in this. This is our daughter’s life. When we chose to conceive her this way, we agreed to respect her right to define her family in whatever way feels right to her, and to support her in that any way we could.”
And from another mom who uses the term:
“Without that word [dibling] my daughter would have had to wait years to meet her brothers & sisters. The D word provided a term that left all parties comfortable.”
But it wasn’t “all parties.” It was parents who might not have been comfortable connecting if not somehow lessening or defining the relationship as somehow “different” by calling the half-siblings something other than what they actually were.
A few more moms chime in:
“Using made up words to describe a relationship diminishes the situation. With my daughter I have always used words that parallel those she hears to describe all other family relationships she knows. It’s hard enough to feel different without having words like ‘dibling' to fictionalize the relationship.”
“My son refers to his two half sisters as ‘my sisters’; he doesn’t like dibling or half sister or any other term for it. He has bonded with them and has a good relationship with them. He refers to the donor, whom he has met in person a few times, as ‘My Dad.’ I always referred to him as ‘the guy who donated for us to have you.’ Kids choose their own names for their relationships and they should be able to call them whatever they are comfortable with.”
“For those of us who feel strongly about the human rights of DC people to frame their genetic relationships in life and public debate around words like ‘dibling,’ I found it incredibly helpful to reach out to my online civil rights communities and share with them the ‘otherness’ that’s created around DC folks. These are groups that include a large number of POC [people of color], adoptive parents with POC children, LGBTQ parents. The idea of DC extended family is new to many of them, but they understood without explanation that it’s the fundamental right of the person in the group, in this case the DC, to name their relationships. Many also expressed that the word ‘dibling’ requires much more information than half-siblings or siblings as it’s not universally used to describe familial relationships.”
This mom likes the word:
“When I explained donor siblings / half siblings to my (then) 5 year old daughter, she came up with diblings and loves it. She thinks it makes her special and her relationship with her half siblings special. I think that it was great as she was jealous of her friends at school who had a dad as she did not and this gave her something special to hold on to. Our group from our donor (about 26 and counting) all use the term on our Facebook page. That said, all the kids are under 10 (I think) so maybe that is a factor.”
A few more adult donor-conceived people weigh in with varying opinions on terminology:
“As a donor conceived person, I reiterate that I am not offended by the term ‘dibling,’ I just think it’s stupid. It’s just an abbreviation for donor sibling, and I honestly cannot stand any more acronyms and abbreviations. To the parents and donors in this group, you can use whatever words you want to describe your child’s or offspring’s half-siblings from the same donor. But I just feel this word isn’t going to catch on.”
“Diblings is a stupid f-n word. Sorry, I’m more blunt than you.”
“I’m DC and while I haven’t found any half-siblings that aren’t directly connected to my donor, dibling doesn’t sound that dumb. I don’t know if I’d use it, but I don’t see anything wrong with other people using it. DC siblings ARE different. There’s nothing wrong with being different, it’s just who we are.”
“Had one sister, now I have two. Dibling is an awful word.”
“While I don’t think that the term is used maliciously, as a DC person people rarely take my plight or struggles seriously. Often times, if the subject is broached, I am told that I should be grateful that my mother wanted me so much that she sought out sperm donation. I don’t know if any other DC persons agree with my feelings, but to me the term dibling perpetuates the frivolous viewpoint many outsiders have regarding those who are donor conceived. We are marginalized and treated like a punch line in pop culture (the movie Delivery Man, Joey from Friends donating, etc), so this terminology contributes to the continuation of making ‘light’ of our circumstances.”
“It does not bother me when other people use it. I would not tell you what to do in your own life. Besides, it’s just a word. However, my opinion of the word is that it is confusing and that it implies that the relationship between donor siblings is less than that of siblings raised together. Some might say that this is true. But even if it is true, the negativity of the implication makes it derogatory and offensive to some people.”
“We don’t need a ‘special’ term. Special terms are often created to label differences. DC people already feel like they are different and are often viewed as a less authentic family member by those to whom they connect through DNA. At the worst, using the term perpetuates the belief that those who are donor conceived are not ‘real’ members of a family (there’s enough evidence of that on this site based on the rejections DC individuals often experience when attempting to reach out to their biological family members). At the least it is a superfluous name that unnecessarily gives credence to those who believe that we are different and that we should be proud of our differences. I would never tell a person of color or of a specific ethnic group that they should embrace terminology that (though not malicious or insulting) minimises or classifies their identity. This situation is no different. Can you imagine if there was a word that was pushed upon another marginalised group and when they complained they were told that the word makes them special and they should embrace it? I don’t know how else to explain the problems DC individuals have with the word dibling.”
“A lot of very passionate views about this term. It seems it’s almost hurtful to some. As a 44 year old DC person, I would never call my sister my dibling. I think it sounds silly or stupid. I call my sister either my sister or my half-sister. It doesn’t need to be complicated.”
And finally, from an egg donor (whose children are half-siblings to the children created from her donated eggs), after listening to parents of young children defend the word:
“Instead of jumping to defend a term that doesn’t in any way describe yourself, listen to the people who your label is about, and how they do not like it. Realize that your own child might also grow up to hate the term that says her biological half siblings are less than enough to be called what they actually are. Years ago parents were told to not tell their children they were donor conceived. Then as those children were finding out as they were older and started speaking out about how it hurt them so much, it changed the way many parents are now parenting DC children. They are telling them from young ages, the truth of their conception, because they learned it was best for their child to honor their truth. Some parents still believe in keeping that a secret, even though research shows it isn’t the best way.
You and other DC parents have the benefit to learn from DC adults, when they tell you that your cute term is not a good one. It offends and hurts them. All I am saying is learn from them so your DC child doesn’t look back as an adult and ask you why you ignored sound advice, research that shows it is best to correctly identify relationships. Like other DC parents, you can learn a better way to use correct terms and be honest. Dibling is not a correct term. It is slang for half sibling, who isn’t really your sister/brother. While you now think it is cute, you are being told it isn’t, but rather it is harmful. So please by all means do what you want for your family, because a stranger on the internet doesn’t live with you. Your DC children do, and they are the ones affected by your choices.”
As we continue to redefine family on the Donor Sibling Registry, we all need to be very aware that the words we choose to use to describe our families say a lot about how we think and what we value. We will probably never all agree on donor family terms that make everyone happy. But in the meantime we can be acutely aware about how the terms we use affect donor-conceived people, many of whom already struggle with the fact that they have been deliberately cut off from half of their first-degree relatives, ancestry, and medical histories.
Our language will certainly continue to evolve. Parents (and others) owe donor-conceived people the respect of using terms that do not make them or their familial relationships any “less than” people and relationships in more traditional families.