which probably eliminates the need for a "starter."
You say "need", KK, as if there are some rules you have to follow. All we're really talking about is the progression of courses if you happen to serve that way. You recognize this in a restaurant. If you want to follow suit, just arrange the courses the same way.
On the other hand, if you serve family style, as is apparently the case, everything just goes out on the table at once (except desert, of course), and you avoid the whole problem.
Siduri's comments about the Italian system are right on track here. You begin with an antipasti (comparable to our appetizer), then proceed to the primo (first course or starter), secondo, etc. But fit this into your own kind of service. As she notes, although pasta is a main course here in the States, it's a primo in Italy. The portion size is nothing near what we serve. Instead, it's a small amount that gets you ready for the courses that follow. Typically, 3 oz of pasta serves as a primo.
Keep in mind that a formal course progression usually has little to do with how you serve at home. We just don't engage in that sort of gluttony anymore, where you have as many as 12 courses. The word "course" can be confusing, though. Let's say you served a progression that included salad, soup, the main plate, and desert. We would call that four courses. But, in fact, in a formal progression, there is no such thing as a plate divided in three, as we commonly serve. Instead, there would be a fish course, and a beef course, and a vegetable course, and..... well, you get the idea.
Even when serving family style there often is a progression of courses, even though they may not be called that. When I was growing up, for instance, Mom always served the soup or salad before the main meal. So we would, in effect, have three courses: the starter (soup or salad), the main meal (always a plate divided in three), and desert. But if anyone ever referred to them as such I'm sure mom would have looked bemused at best. I'm not sure mom even knew the word appetizer. When people showed up, you just automatically put out some noshes and something to drink.
What I'm saying, at base, is that it almost doesn't matter what you call each course. The goal should be to make you and your guests happy through food. If a progression of courses accomplishes that, that's what you do. If family style works better, then you serve that way.