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 skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 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.

  11. fiona flynn Says:

    It is a family thing – I am from New Zealand and now live in England. My maternal grandmother who was English would not be called Grand mother or its variations, insisted on being called Big Mum. Her husband was called Big Dad. I was asked by a great nephew who never got to meet her ‘was she big?’ no was the reply, Big Mum was very petite – about 5’2” and tiny.
    My sister Ngaire was married to Bob, their children called their paternal grand parents Nana and Poppet. My second sister’s son eldest son called his paternal grand parents Nanny Ma and Nanny Pa. Sadly his father passed away young. His siblings from his mother’s second husband called their paternal grand parents Nana and Pop. This is in New Zealand so there seems to be a Nana and Pop common theme. In NZ parents are usually called Mum and Dad, as in England, though in England with its class system – not so obvious these days, ‘upper and middle class’ people tend to refer to their parents as Mummy and Daddy – even when their child is grown up or middle aged.

  12. ayooluwa victory Says:

    We say mama or iya when talking about the mother.and Baba or papa for the father.i however call my parents mummy and daddy

  13. ayooluwa victory Says:

    Also when talking to other people about them I say ‘my mum’ and ‘my dad’.saying father and mother is formal and I feel that being formal about your parents is really rude

  14. Isa Says:

    Well, I’m from South of Sweden. The standardized way of saying “mom” and “dad” in Swedish is, “Mamma” and “Pappa”. There are older versions: “Mor” and “Far”.
    Here in south Sweden we can sometimes call them (the parents) collectively “päron” (english: pears, as in the green fruit: pear). Like for example:
    “Jag ska fråga mina päron.”
    “I’m gonna ask my parents “

  15. Erika Says:

    Hi, I want to tell you about the German way to say “mom” and “dad”. The correct words are “Mutter” and “Vater”. The old way for children to say is “Mutti” and “Vati”, the modern way, surely trough British/American influence is “Mama” and “Papa” (or “Mami” and “Papi”). After the last war Germany was separated in west and east. East Germany was kept very close, the people use until now “Mutti” and “Vati”. In the west and north it is very unusual, if someone calls their parents like this, you know, their origin is the east.

    In our family we have a good convention about our grandparents. The grandma in east is “Großmutti” (“groß” means grand or great), in west is “Oma”, the grandpa in east is “Großvati”, in west is “Opa”. The origin of my mothers family is Berlin, so my children call her “Großmutti” as we called her mother “Großmutti”. The origin of my fathers family is the north-west, so we called the grandparents “Oma” and “Opa”. My children call the parents of my husband also “Oma” and “Opa”, for they came from Westfalen”. Everybody knows exact who you mean.

  16. Hermione Says:

    I’m Punjabi, and I call my mom “mama” (pronounced as muh-ma), and my dad as “papa” (usually pronounced as pah-pah). Formally it would be “mathaji” and “pithaji”, but I don’t think anyone really uses it anymore. However, I have friends that call their parents differently.

  17. Samantha Says:

    I say mommy and daddy. I’m 28 years old. In North Carolina USA.

  18. Rebecca Says:

    In the Welsh language, mother is mamgu father is Tadgu – at least that’s what we got told at school – but I’m not a Welsh speaker. In my part of Wales I called my parents Mammy and Daddy – later I used the words my mother or my father when referring to them.

  19. Laura Says:

    I’m from the Rhondda Valley in South Wales and here we say Mam, Mammy, Dad, Daddy. I’d say that 1 out of 10 people would call their mother “Mum”
    I used to struggle on finding celebration cards etc for my Mam as the cards would say Mum which is somewhat a pain the arse. Nowadays though, Mam cards are widely available which I am relieved about.
    Even though in the Rhondda we call our parents mams and dads, the further south like Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan, Bridgend etc are more common to refer to their Mam as Mum.

    So, I am gonna speak for the rest of Wales now. I can only speak as I find and I might be wrong.
    North & West Wales is where many of the people speak Welsh as their first language. I’m a Welsh speaker and where I’m from, English is first language across many homes here. South East Wales I find their accents to sound less Welsh than the rest of Wales so I’m going by pure guess that SE Wales are speaking English as first language too and refer a Mam to Mum.
    So, back to north and west, speak as I find, the Mam and Dad or Tad is common.
    North Wales has differences with their Welsh language compared to us southerners. The Welsh word for a grandmother is Nain and for a grandfather it is Taid.
    Here in the South if Welsh is a preference for what they call a grandmother is Mamgu and grandfather is tadcu… I’m gonna be honest, I only know less than a handful to call their grandparents the Welsh way.
    I call my grandmother Nanny Ann. I called my late grandfather from Scotland Grandad Archie (who I hardly saw and didn’t get to know)
    My paternal grandmother was Nan Elaine, and my paternal grandfather was Dodo. I do know many people who call their Grandparents Mam and Dad too but with their surname after. For example Mam Davies and Dad Davies.

  20. Celestine Says:

    My husband is from Yorkshire England. Him and his brothers call their mother, Mother. Apparently it isn’t posh but the common moniker in Yorkshire. They called their father Dad. All the grandchildren call them, Grandpa and Grandma. On the other hand, because I’m French, our children decide to call us Maman, Papa and not the British equivalents.

  21. Becky Says:

    I called my birth mother ‘Mom’ or ‘Mommy’ 95% of the time. When talking to others about her, it was (and still is) ‘my mom.’ If I was yelling for her, it was ALWAYS, without fail, ‘Hey Ma!’
    Before she died, Mom asked my best friend, Melissa, to take care of me and not let people take financial advantage of me. I now call her ‘Mama’ when talking to her, ‘Mama Melissa’ when talking to others about her.

    My father was ‘Daddy’ my entire life. He died when I was 6.

  22. Pami Says:

    I lived in Washington State and now in Oregon state most people in these two states say Mom and Dad.

  23. Nora L Says:

    I am an Indonesian living in the United States. My parents taught me to call them ‘Mami’ and ‘Papi’ due to the Dutch influences in the Indonesian culture. I called both my grandmothers ‘Oma’ and both my grandfathers ‘Opa’. I call my mother-in-law ‘Mama’ or ‘Ma’ for short, and my grandmother-in-law ‘Grandma’.

    When talking to people close to me or those who personally know my parents, I use ‘mamiku’ and ‘papiku’ (my mami and my papi). When talking about my parents in more formal and/or formal conversations in Indonesian, I use ‘ibu saya’ and ‘ayah saya’ (my mother and my father). When talking about my parents and grandparents to non-family members in English, I always say ‘my mother’, ‘my father’, ‘my grandmother, and ‘my grandfather’.

    The Indonesian words for mother are ‘Ibu’, ‘Bunda’, and ‘Ibunda’. The Indonesian words for father are ‘Bapak’, ‘Ayah’, and ‘Ayahanda’. Grandparents are ‘Nenek’ (grandmother) and ‘Kakek’ (grandfather). Ibu and Bapak are more common, while Bunda and Ayah are more intimate and poetic. Ibunda dan Ayahanda are very poetic and commonly used in writings or literature. The most respectful way to address the passing of one’s/someone’s parent is by using ibunda or ayahanda. Nevertheless, there are more and more Indonesian parents choosing to teach their children to simply call them ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’ nowadays.

  24. E.C. Says:

    Dominican and say Mami y Papi

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