I had one of those awww moments recently, on seeing an article about a bride in the United Kingdom who, facing pandemic restrictions, stood down her bridal party with its ten bridesmaids and had her two nans by her side on the big day. It’s really heartwarming to see these choices, and the way people are dealing with changes to how we celebrate.
Of course, being a bit of a pedant (it’s a curse no witch has yet been able to lift!), as well as loving the story I also had to hold back from shouting at the screen, “they’re not bridesmaids, they’re bridesmatrons”, because of course, assuming they have a biological connection to the bride, they’re almost certainly not virgins!
It is not at all uncommon for brides-to-be to find themselves being corrected on the proper title of the Maid of Honour—usually by a cranky old aunt—when the friend she has chosen happens to be married. The cranky old aunt is usually somewhat misled though. Sometime in the twentieth century, as the word maid fell into disuse, we started thinking that maid meant a woman who was unmarried, when in reality a maid is a virgin (remember how much drama Shakespeare created around Hero being a maid in Much Ado About Nothing?).
But do you really want to give your attendants a title that reflects that particular status?
The complexity of ceremonial terminology in weddings is something I’ve looked into before, in my post on the use of fiancé and fiancée. I have never heard of a bridesmaid being called a bridesmatron just because she happens to be married, which is, itself, an odd anomaly reflective of our changing values. It is also becoming more and more common for attendants to be mixed gender, and let’s not overcomplicate how to respectfully refer to a trans or nonbinary person in a wedding party! Instead, here are a few ideas I have encountered, which can give you some ideas for stalling cranky old aunts before they get started…
Bride and Groom
Possibly the least likely to warrant a change, these are the only two titles that have any legal weight. And yet, there is one further option under Australian law: partner. To honour and accurately document trans and nonbinary folk, the Attorney-General’s Department has amended forms to allow the word partner to be used instead of bride or groom.
There remains a restriction that if the male box has been ticked on the Notice of Intended Marriage, they can only be labelled either partner or groom on that and subsequent documents; and if the female box is ticked they can only be partner or bride.
Fast becoming anachronistic in a lot of contexts, the terms Best Man and Maid of Honour could be entirely gone by the 22nd century. The principle source of consternation is that the Maid of Honour title changes depending on the bearer’s status, for entirely archaic reasons. You can, of course, use Matron of Honour if your bestie is not a virgin, but many are now simply using Maid of Honour regardless of their status, and this is a subtle progress.
It is becoming more common for there to be no special status, and for all the bride’s attendants to be called Bridesmaids, or Bridespersons if there’s a male amongst them. Bridesboys is also entirely appropriate in that situation.
Similarly, a groom’s attendants may all be called groomsmen, with no best anything amongst them; but they may be called Groomspersons or Groomsgirls. Gay grooms may go a little farther and call their attendants Groomsgurls, Groomsqueens, or if your attendants are your girlfriends, Groomshags. Just chat with your attendants if you’re thinking of using one of the more socially progressive titles, because some might not appreciate it!
My favourite solution to this dilemma, though, and the one my husband and I chose to use (we were both grooms with mixed gender attendants), is simply to replace the gendered word with the individual’s name. So, if your closest attendant taking on the traditional role of the Maid of Honour happens to be called Fred, they take the title The Fred of Honour. Or if the person taking on the traditional role of the Best Man happens to be called Georgina, they take the title The Best Georgina. These titles work just as well for trans and nonbinary folk as they do for cisgendered folk (as long as you’re not using a deadname), so they are completely universal, as well as being quirky and fun.
There is no end to the coos of approval mothers and aunts provide at the sight of a child carrying rings. Page Boy, thankfully, has gone the way of the dodo, mostly replaced by Ringbearer, which has no negative implications. Flower Girls remain popular, although they’re facing stiff competition from more amusing adult male Flower Men frolicking ahead of the bride throwing rose petals and shade over the guests. The appropriateness of that may depend upon the makeup of the community gathering for your nuptuals.
My husband and I chose to follow an Autumn Princess down the aisle, who laid a carpet of autumn leaves for us.
Mother/Father of the Groom/Bride
Having opened up the wormcan for everyone else, it would be remiss of me to neglect the couple’s parents. Since Mother of the Bride as a title carries so much clout, there must be some allowance: even a hetero bride could have a biological mother and an adoptive mother or a step mother, or all three! A lesbian wedding where both have lesbian parents could end up yielding any number of mothers of the bride, and that’s before we even consider how many daddies a gay groom might have, or why!
One option for distinguishing different maternal figures is to borrow the pattern of the attendants: Matriarch of Honour or Patriarch of Honour could be used if the parent does not have a living parent themself; you probably don’t want to use Best Dad in such a situation though!
Mother of the Bride is so important a role in many communities, that it is likely they won’t be happy with anything else. But at the same time, there is no reason the title cannot be shared no matter how many brides there are, or how many mothers they have. The most important aspect of keeping these relationships healthy for what can be a stressful day is communicating expectations beforehand.
Similarly, if a bride has two gay dads, that coveted mother of the bride role most likely falls to both of them. They might prefer a playful title like the Queens of the Bride, or perhaps, as often happens with same sex parents, they have differing titles already, leading to an arrangement such as the Pa of the Bride and Dad of the Bride (or for maternal parents Mumma of the Bride and Mum of the Bride). Another solution, to avoid confusion, would be to apply the first name principle as can be done with the attendants: if your dads are known in the community as Harry and Geoff, there is no reason they cannot be titled the Harry of the Bride and the Geoff of the Bride.
Master of Ceremonies
Many people organise an MC for their reception without even knowing what the acronym stands for! Master of Ceremonies is where it came from, but it seems to have been reduced to Emcee in a lot of cases. If we had required one, they would almost certainly have been called the Master of the Revels or the Mistress of the Revels, which is a lot more fun!
One of the most important things to remember is that it is your day: it is not the day of your dead ancestors, it is not the day of Queen Victoria’s fairytale wedding, and it certainly isn’t the day of your cranky old aunt who doesn’t even know the difference between burning a bra and burning a book.
Playful twists on tradition do two things: they provide an opportunity to reference the important relational aspects of wedding ceremonies; and they acknowledge that your current reality is more important than the traditions of the past.