Both spellings are correct. Aunty is more frequently used in Britain, while Auntie is more often used in America. They can each be used in either country.
This article will tell you the origins of the term, what it means, how to use it in a sentence, and its informal and different meanings around the world.
They are derived from ‘Aunt’, the formal noun, meaning sister of either of your parents or the wife of the sibling of either of your parents. You can have maternal (on your mother’s side) or paternal (on your father’s side) Aunts. Auntie and Aunty are both informal uses of it.
If your grandmothers or grandfathers have sisters, they are your mother or father’s Aunt, making them your ‘Great-Aunt’. The term itself means ‘mother-like’ – and its genus is the Latin word ‘Amita’.
Examples of it in the informal use, with either spelling, are:
‘I asked Aunty Pat if I could have a biscuit.’
‘Auntie Pat turned up at the door laden with parcels.’
‘Great-Aunty Pat is coming to the wedding’.
Are there informal meanings of the term?
It’s been used as a colloquial term for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) since the 1950s – ‘Auntie Beeb’, implying a beloved but prudish relative. Australians use the same term for one of their major broadcasting channels, ABC.
It can also be used informally as an affectionate term for any close female friend of the family. For example, you may call your mother’s best friend ‘Aunty/Auntie Jo’.
Are there other meanings globally?
In Asian and African cultures, the term ‘Auntie’ is also used as a formal mark of respect for any female elders you know – not just blood relatives.
Both cultures use it as a term of respect when talking to an obviously older woman. It needs to be used with care if it’s a stranger as she could be offended by the inference of age.
Can the meaning be controversial?
Some African Americans find the use of it as a term of respect for elders controversial as it can be seen to promote ageism.
It also has historical racist connotations, as it was used as a form of kindly address towards enslaved black women in the American South. It’s linked to a famous American brand of pancake mix called Aunt Jemima, with packets featuring an African American woman.
She was a concept created by two white men in the late 19th century – 25 years after the Civil War ended. It’s understood to be based on the stereotypical enslaved black woman on the Southern Plantation.
It led to the brand name being used as a derogatory term and the company rebranded in June 2021 to move away from this.