Words for Mother and Father are Similar around the World

mother father baby 1910-5Many words for mother (mama/nana) and father (papa/baba) are similar in many languages around the world. Linguists believe this is related to the first sounds that babies make. They’re the sounds that are the easiest to create… m, p, and b and the open vowel a.  The people who are around the baby the most (moms, dads and often grandmothers) naturally have attributed the meanings of these sounds (i.e. ma, pa and ba) to refer to themselves.

Check out some languages there are where "mama" is "mother":

English, Mandarin Chinese, French, Swahili, Quechua, Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Croatian, Dutch, Faroese, German, Greek, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Swiss German, Ukrainian, Dialectical Arabic/Maltese, Yoruba, Hungarian


Ma – Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, Kutenai, Vietnamese 
Maman – Persian, French
Mam – Welsh
Mader – Lombard
Madar – Urdu
Nana – Fijian
Ana (reverse of nana) – Turkish, Uyghur
Anya – Hungarian
Amma – Telugu, Malayalam, Tamil, Konkani, Tibetan, Nepali (spelled aama), Navajo, Sumerian and Basque (all spelled ama)
Imma – Hebrew
Mawa – Sinhalese

Interestingly, in Georgian, "mama" means "father".

Check out some languages where "papa" means "Father":

French, Russian, English, Hungarian, Latin, Italian, Spanish, German, Cree, Hindi, Venetian, Dutch, Norwegian and Swedish (spelled pappa)

Languages where "baba" means "Father":

Mandarin Chinese, Persian, Urdu, Bengali, Konkani, Swahili, Bangla, Luo, Kiswahili, Yoruba, Greek (babbas)


Abba – Aramaic, Hebrew
Abbu – Urdu
Apa – Hungarian
Appa – Tamil, Korean, Tibetan
Ama – Tagalog, Filipino
Pa – Khmer
Ba – Vietnamese
Bapa – Malay, Indonesian

In Georgian, "deda" means "mother".

Some of these terms mean grandmother (like nana in English).  Check out words for grandmothers around the world to learn more.

Please share the words you use for mother and father in your language in the comments below.

Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Sunday, November 29th, 2015 at 3:55 pm and is filed under Countries & Cultures, England, Languages, 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.

3 Responses to “Words for Mother and Father are Similar around the World”

  1. Funke Gesinde Says:

    Pleas note that ‘baba’ also means ‘father’ in Yoruba language. Thank you.

  2. Lisa Says:

    I’ll add that. Thanks Funke!

  3. Juno Says:

    Tata means father in Romanian and táta means dad in Czech.

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