AskDefine | Define orphan

Dictionary Definition

orphan adj : deprived of parents by death or desertion [syn: orphaned]


1 a child who has lost both parents
2 someone or something who lacks support or care or supervision
3 the first line of a paragraph that is set as the last line of a page or column
4 a young animal without a mother v : deprive of parents

User Contributed Dictionary



From (orfanos) "without parents, fatherless".



  1. A person, especially a minor, both or (rarely) one of whose parents have died.
  2. A child without living parents.
  3. A young animal with no mother.
  4. A single line of type, beginning a paragraph, at the bottom of a column or page.
  5. Any unreferenced abstract object.



Also orphaned
  1. Deprived of parents.
    She is an orphan child.
  2. Intended for orphans.
    She made a generous contribution to the orphan fund.
  3. In the context of "sometimes figurative": Of, pertaining to, or resembling the nature of an orphan.
    With its government funding curtailed, the gun registry became an orphan program.

Related terms


  1. To deprive of parents (used almost exclusively in the passive)
    What do you do when you come across two orphaned polar bear cubs?
  2. To dereference or unlink the last remaining pointer to any object.
    When you removed that image tag, you orphaned the resized icon.
    Removing categories orphans pages from the main category tree.


  • "orphan" in Encarta® World English Dictionary [North American Edition] © & (P)2007 Microsoft Corporation.
  • "orphan" in Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary © Cambridge University Press 2007.
  • "orphan" in Compact Oxford English Dictionary, © Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Random House Webster's Unabridged Electronic Dictionary, 1987-1996.

Extensive Definition

An orphan (from the Greek ορφανός) is a person (typically a child), who has lost both parents, often through death. One legal definition used in the USA is someone bereft through "death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents". Common usage limits the term to children, (or the young of animals) who have lost both parents. On this basis half-orphans are those with one surviving parent.
In certain animal species where the father typically abandons the mother and child at or prior to birth, the child will be called an orphan when the mother dies regardless of the condition of the father.


Orphans are commonly found in big cities because it is easier for the parents to dump them off there. It is also easier for an orphan to live in a city for its abundance of shelter and food.
  • 2001 figures from 2002 UNICEF/UNAIDS report

Significant charities that help orphans

Prior to the establishment of state care for orphans in First World countries, many private charities existed to take care of destitute orphans.
  • SOS Children's Villages is the world's largest non-governmental, non-denominational child welfare organization. Its mission is to provide stable homes and loving families for orphaned and abandoned children around the world.

Orphans in literature

Orphaned characters are extremely common as literary protagonists, especially in children's and fantasy literature. The lack of parents leaves the characters to pursue more interesting and adventurous lives, by freeing them from familial obligations and controls, and depriving them of more prosaic lives. It creates characters that are self-contained and introspective and who strive for affection. Orphans can metaphorically search for self-understanding through attempting to know their roots. Parents can also be allies and sources of aid for children, and removing the parents makes the character's difficulties more severe. Parents, furthermore, can be irrelevant to the theme a writer is trying to develop, and orphaning the character frees the writer from the necessity to depict such an irrelevant relationship; if one parent-child relationship is important, removing the other parent prevents complicating the necessary relationship. All these characteristics make orphans attractive characters for authors.
Orphans are common in fairy tales, such as some variants of Cinderella.
A number of well known authors have written books featuring orphans including Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling as well as some less well known authors of famous orphans like Little Orphan Annie and the Baudelaire siblings of the Series of Unfortunate Events. One recurring storyline has been the relationship that the orphan can have with an adult from outside his or her immediate family. Some of the most emotive works have been those featuring the relationship between a man and a boy, particularly boys that are coming of age.

Orphans in the Bible

Many books of the Bible contain idea, that helping and defending orphans is very important and God-pleasing matter. Several citations:
  • "Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan." (Old Testament, Exodus 22:22)
  • "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (New Testament, James 1:27)
  • "Leave your orphans; I will protect their lives. Your widows too can trust in me." (Old Testament, Jeremiah 49:11)


orphan in Arabic: يتيم
orphan in German: Waise
orphan in Esperanto: Orfo (familio)
orphan in French: Orphelin
orphan in Indonesian: Yatim Piatu
orphan in Italian: Orfano
orphan in Hebrew: יתמות
orphan in Lithuanian: Našlaitis
orphan in Dutch: Wees (kind)
orphan in Japanese: 孤児
orphan in Polish: Sieroctwo
orphan in Portuguese: Órfão
orphan in Russian: Сирота
orphan in Simple English: Orphan
orphan in Finnish: Orpo
orphan in Ukrainian: Сирота
orphan in Yiddish: יתום
orphan in Chinese: 孤兒

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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