There has been considerable debate about the terms that mental health service providers use to refer to the people who are resident in their services. Some have argued that the labels used to refer to people can be stigmatising or empowering, but no study has examined the views of users of secure psychiatric services. This study aimed to establish preference for terminology among a sample of people resident in three secure hospitals. A survey of 100 randomly selected individuals, stratified to ensure gender representativeness, was conducted. 'Patient' was the preferred term of 42% of respondents; 'client' (20%), 'service user' (17%) and 'consumer' (2%) were less popular. Preference did not vary by gender, age, diagnosis, legal status, ethnicity, security level or length of stay. On the basis of preference alone, there is no case for rejection of the term 'patient' in secure mental health service provider communication and literature.