by Hess Sakal, 2007, with significant edits in 2011

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
‘Alter’ is a controversial term within the plural community. Most systems who don’t use the DID/MPD paradigm don’t use it, and the use of terms seems to be split amongst people who have more traditional forms of multiplicity. Here, there is no host or main person, so how can we be alternate to them? It’s most commonly used in the DID/MPD community, and should not be used to describe members of groups that don’t fit that paradigm. But then again, there are a lot of DID groups that don’t even like the word ‘alter’. I’d just recommend using this word with extreme caution, and not using it for us. I know some systems who use the word, but it’s not the one we prefer for ourselves.

Also see: Personality

Alternate personality
see Alter, Personality

Aspect
see Alter, Ego state, Personality and Fragment

Body-mate
see Headmate

Brainmate
see Headmate

Character
A character doesn’t think for themselves unless they’re a soulbond. Call me a ‘character’ and I’ll kick your arse. The fact that I can write for myself says that I’m not just a character. We used to call ourselves characters, though, like some other groups called themselves alters. That’s our guilty little having-just-come-out vice. It’s like eating McDonald’s before you discover what good food tastes like. (Sushi, anyone?)

Ego state
Yet ANOTHER psychiatric term that ASSUMES that there ARE NO OTHER SENTIENT ENTITIES in plural groups. How is someone an ego state if they think for themselves? Unless a group has a main person who seems to change states without someone else ever actually showing up and thinking for themselves, ego state is just as bad as personality and alter. Not for us!
Also see: Alter, Personality

Fictive
see Soulbond

Fragment
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.

Headmate
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.

Headvoice
see Headmate, Soulbond

Inhabitant
It’s a pretty good term, and it’s rather flexible. It can refer to members of a gateway system or a non-gateway system, and it can refer to DID-paradigm groups and non-DID groups. If you’re new to plurality and aren’t quite ready to use the word ‘people’ to describe the ones you share space with, then inhabitants is a good one. (God, I wish the psychiatrists would promote this one instead of ‘alters’ and ‘personalities’.)

Inside people
see Insider, Person

Insider
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…)

Multiples
People don’t HAVE multiples; they ARE multiples or multiple systems.

Muse
see Soulbond

Part
see Fragment and Personality

Person/People (or ‘colleagues’ or other terms that would be applied to people who are not in systems)
In my opinion, people is the best word for fully conscious members of multiple systems.

Personality
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

Personality state
see Alter, Personality, Ego state

Plurals
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

Soulbond
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 forward 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.