The tradition of calling your parents' friends, acquaintances and sometimes their associates, “aunty” or “uncle” is common in many cultures, but for the purposes of this discussion, I will be focusing on the use of these titles in African and Caribbean cultures. Using the titles “aunty” or “uncle” for anyone other than the siblings of your parent’s is an affectionate and endearing way of showing respect in these cultures. For me, as a British-born woman of Ghanaian origin, it is so deeply engrained that if ever I encounter a woman, who is both black and looks about the same age as my mum, I will instinctively call her “aunty”. This habit stems from childhood when my mum would introduce a person to me and before I could ask who they were, she’d have prefixed their name with “aunty” or “uncle”. Yes, my family is unique – I have almost 40 aunts and uncles (mainly thanks to my maternal grandparents having 30 children between them), suffice to say I already have more than enough aunts and uncles, so what was this great need to collect more!?
As a mother, I am now beginning to ask myself if I should leave this tradition in my past. I don’t want my children to think every adult they encounter is deserving of their utmost respect purely due to their age. Respect is a two-way street and calling an adult “aunty” or “uncle” mainly serves to cast the child into a state of inferiority based on age, and warrants control by the adult over the child. I’ve seen this happen, so for me, it’s time to start doing things differently.