by Hess Sakal, 2007, with edits in 2011 and 2023
Soulbonds, alters, headmates, people, colleagues, where does it end? And which ones should I use?
When people get themselves involved in the wild world of plurality, they’re bound to come across a lot of confusing terms to describe the members of plural groups. Different kinds of groups use different kinds of words, and this little guide is all about those terms. It’s completely biased! It’s ranty! But it had better be informative!
‘Alter’ is a controversial term among plural systems, mostly because it’s associated with medicalised forms like Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder). There are also DID systems that don’t even like the word ‘alter’. Most members of our system don’t consider themselves alters, but Zip does, since he directly split off from Yavari.
Also see: Personality
see Alter, Personality
see Alter, Ego state, Personality and Fragment
We have complicated feelings about this term. Before we learned about plurality, it’s the term we used for ourselves, since we thought we were just part of the creative process. Some people can see this term as invalidating, since it implies that there’s a central author in charge of everything, or that we’re not actual people. But we don’t think that has to be the case. Why not be a sentient character? It’s not the primary term to use, but we’re not necessarily offended by it. Whose characters are we? We’re self-writing characters.
How is someone an ego state if they think for themselves? This term includes an unspoken assumption that there’s a single ‘real person’—or that all plurals are somewhere on the median spectrum. In some kinds of median systems, there’s a singular host or main personality who feels they have distinct aspects, but not enough to consider themselves separate people.
Also see: Alter, Personality
Some groups have fragments – they’re not full people, but just scraps of memory or something. Don’t use the word fragments unless you know they’re fragments.
We use ‘headmates’ pretty often—in fact, that’s the word we use most often. We didn’t use it as much before, but it’s grown on us.
see Headmate, Soulbond
We don’t see this much, but we wish we did.
see Insider, Person
Similar to ‘headmates’. If you see yourselves as living ‘inside’ the brain or body, this term is fine for you. We’re neutral towards it. We don’t use it ourselves, but we’re not going to run you out of town. (Now, if we catch you calling us alters or personalities…)
People don’t HAVE multiples; they ARE multiples or multiple systems.
see Fragment and Personality
Person/People (or ‘colleagues’ or other terms that would be applied to people who are not in systems)
We use this term, since we see it as reflecting our individual selfhoods rather than the number of bodies we have. We may be a single legal entity, but it’s like a car. There are a lot of drivers using it.
The red-headed stepchild of ‘person’. People have personalities, but personalities don’t think for themselves. Don’t call people in multiple systems personalities. That’s just as bad, or even worse than, ‘alters’. I have a personality. I am not a personality. It’s a common pratfall though. Everyone does it, because of the ‘MPD’ name. The word ‘personality’ would be better for groups who are more median and see themselves as having several aspects or parts, rather than having fully sentient people in there.
Also see: Alter, Ego state
see Alter, Personality, Ego state
Like ‘multiples’, ‘plurals’ refers to the systems, not the individual members. Plurals are groups – they are not filled with plurals, unless they’re systems within systems.
Also see: Multiples
Originally, people used the word ‘soulbond’ to define characters from media or original fiction who spoke to a ‘host’ as a creative muse for writing. Later, the definition of soulbonding expanded to include people from media who spoke to the host, but also came out and talked to people outside the system, just as other members of multiple groups do. It can also apply to fictive members of a system (whether there’s a host or not), but there’s definitely controversy over when and how the term should be used. Not a bad term at all, for people who identified with it, if you handle it with care.