How Do You Say "Mother" and "Father" Where You Live?

mother fatherThere are many variations in different languages of "mother" and "father".  These are formal words that people use when referring to their parents.  But most words used to address our parents directly are less formal.

In the US, most people don’t say "mother’ and "father" when talking to their parents.  Even when I was a kid and people spoke more formally to adults, not many kids would address their parents that way.  Although you do hear people speak this way in very old movies.  It seems old-fashioned.  Nowadays, we say "ma", "mom" or "mommy" when addressing our mothers, and "da", "dad" or "daddy" to our fathers.

I asked Frances Turnbull who grew up in South Africa, and now lives in England, what they call their parents in those countries.  Here’s what she wrote:

South Africans adopted a lot of Americanization, so I grew up with "mom" and "dad", although more Afrikaans people go with "ma" and "pa". The UK generally goes with "mum" and "dad", the Irish with "mam" (mammie). Down south (towards London) it’s pronounced "m-uh-m", whereas up north (towards Scotland, Manchester) they pronounce it "m-ooh-m". Personally, I call my own mother "mom" (all UK Mother’s Day cards are to "mum"), while my daughter calls me "mum", pronounced "m-ooh-m".

Bolton, near Manchester, has a gorgeous dialect, but they are very particular. When my daughter started school doing the alphabet, they specially asked me to learn to say "u" as "ooh" because my daughter was getting confused (they think "uh" sounds too close to "ah"). So bus is "b-ooh-s", and look/cook/book sound like the "oo" from "boot"… as well as other peculiarities (hair as her, so, u comb ur her …). As for "mother" and "father", I have never met anyone who uses them in that sense, and as I understand it is used when kids are raised by nannies.

I asked Monique Palomares about what they call their parents in France.  Here’s what she wrote:

We typically say "father" and "mother" as "papa" and "maman". We don’t use "père" or "mère " on their own nowadays, you can only find that in literature. Maybe in some high class circles they do, but the man in the street says "mon père" and "ma mère" when talking about his parents, but address them as "papa" and "maman" or however they say it in their family. I address mine as "pa" and "ma" and say "papa" and "maman" about them to my siblings and other relatives.  I refer to them as "mon père" and "ma mère" to everybody else.

Please let us know how you refer to your "mother" and "father" in your language and what you call them when talking to them. 


Mama Lisa

Monique Palomares works with me on the French version of Mama Lisa’s World.  Frances Turnbull is the owner of Musicaliti, children’s music and movement sessions and shows in Bolton, UK, using percussion instruments and fun games.

This article was posted on Monday, February 25th, 2013 at 12:01 pm and is filed under Countries & Cultures, England, English, France, Ireland, Languages, Scotland, South Africa, United Kingdom, USA, Words & Phrases, Words for Mother & Father, World Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

10 Responses to “How Do You Say "Mother" and "Father" Where You Live?”

  1. Uly Says:

    Words for parents in languages all over the world tend to be variations on mama/amma, baba/abba, papa, dada, or nana. This, of course, is because those sounds are the easiest for babies to make, so when the little kid starts babbling mamamamama the proud mother goes “aw, he knows who I am!”

  2. Uly Says:

    As explained by dinosaur comics, and then further argued in the comments here.

  3. Kat Says:

    I’m the South in America and it’s common for girls to call their father’s Daddy even into adulthood (boys usually go with Dad). Boys and girls often use Mama for their mother even in adulthood.
    Obviously this isn’t universal, but it’s very common. Otherwise people typically use Mom and Dad.

  4. Rachel Says:

    I’m in Australia and I call my parents “mum” and “dad”. When I was little, I called them “mummy” and “daddy”, but I haven’t really done that since I was perhaps six or seven at the latest. Sometimes, if I’m whining or complaining, I will call my mother “mother”, but that’s rare. My sister still says “daddy” when she wants something.

    When speaking ABOUT them to people who aren’t members of my family, I would say “my mother” or “my father”. But I know that other teenagers will refer to their parents as “mum” and “dad” even when talking to someone else.

    However, I know that my father, who grew up in somewhat upper-class English society, referred to and called his parents “mummy” and “daddy” right up until they died. I will refer to himself or my mother as “daddy” and “mummy” when talking to my sister and I, and seem to want us to call them that, but… We won’t.

    Also, my sister and I have been known to call out parents other things, mostly based on which language we’re learning at that time. We called them “omma” and “abba” (Korean) for a bit, and it’s also quite common to hear us say “mutti” or “vati” (German). As I’m learning Gaelic, I also use “a mhàthair” (uh-VAW-huh) and “athair” (UH-huh) sometimes. We also use “ma” a lot for our mother. But I don’t think that sort of thing is common in Australia.

    I agree with Uly – in most of the world, the words for “mummy” and “daddy” tend to be variations on “m” “b/p” “d” and “n”, just because those are the first sounds a baby can pronounce.

  5. Linda Says:

    I live in South Africa and call my mom “ma” and my dad “baba”. Depending on which language I am speaking. I used to call her “ma-ke” when I was a kid.

  6. Bee Says:

    I am from Pennsylvania, and we call our mom, “mum” and it’s pretty normal around here. I noticed in the West of USA we hear it said as mom or mother.

  7. Meg Says:

    My Mom is silly. She’s “Mom” and has been her whole life, but after visiting Scotland because of her Scottish heritage, she signs all emails and cards “Mum.” She has pushed this on us for years, and I’m not sure I understand it. It’s kind of like the way she insisted the grandchildren called her what her mothers name was “Grammy” until it became natural for them to do so.

    This, though, really touched my heart. I called my Dad “Dad” my whole life. However, when he began wasting with Stage IV cancer, a child quality of emotions came out in me, and I began calling him “Daddy.” I’ll never forget the first time he heard me say it. We were talking on the phone, and he was going to pass the phone to Mom. I said “I love you, Daddy.” And replied “I love you too, Meggie.” Yet when he passed the phone to my Mom, I heard his voice, constricted and choking, sobbing, barely getting out the words “She called me Daddy!” It’s remarkable how the word you use to refer to your parent is so very powerful.

  8. Lisa Says:

    That’s a very moving story Meg.

  9. Shai Says:

    Meg your story made me tear up a little. Your dad sounds like a really nice and loving father

  10. Frazier York Says:

    As far as I am aware, there are only three places in North America that say “mum” AND “pup”–Canada, eastern Massachusetts (William F. Buckley, for instance, wrote a book about his parents called “Losing Mum and Pup”) and western Pennsylvania (with the main exception of the far northern areas of Meadville and Erie.
    In the case of western Pa., it would seem that may be part of our somewhat isolated archaic Scottish/Northern England dialect usages, which is why we also say “nebby” (for “nosey”), and “redd” (for “rid” or “clean”)–this last used in Jane Eyre–along with a tendency to drop the infinitive in clauses, for example, “My car needs fixed” (rather than “My car needs TO BE fixed.”) There is also the medieval English word “Jag” for something sharp or prickly, hence the term “jagerbush” for a “thorn bush.” If any linguistic or dialect professionals could weigh in on the US mum/mom issue, I think it would be very helpful to us. Thanks.

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