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What should I have my baby call me?

Long before Baby can talk, new parents dream of hearing that sweet little voice cry out for them, calling out …what? In the deliberation about what to name Baby when she arrives, what your name is going to be can sometimes get lost in the shuffle for a while, but as soon as Baby starts making sounds, it becomes a pretty important topic.

What children call their parents is both a highly emotional, personal thing and hugely culturally influenced, both in terms of time and space. This means where you live and where your family comes from plays a part, and modern associations do too, as some names cycle through phases of sounding old fashioned.

In the US, there has been a movement, starting in the ‘90s and moving through to the present, that presents ‘mama’ as an alternative to ‘mom,’ ‘mommy,’ or ‘mother,’ for example, as a kind of signpost for alternative parenting styles, and has since spread through the parenting-blogger community. In that vein, Strong Families, a nonprofit from the California Bay Area made a move starting in 2011 to rebrand Mother’s Day as “Mama’s Day,” complete with its own set of more customized cards designed to celebrate family structures not usually depicted in media or mass-culture. This includes young parents, single parents, same-sex parents, immigrant families, and families with incarcerated parents.

Depending on whom you ask, what they grew up with, and what their associations with their own parents is, both ‘mom’ and ‘mama’ can be considered frumpy, or can be thought of as the more modern-sounding choice. There is, confusingly, both more and less variation when it comes to names for fathers, though there are certainly less heated debates around which they choose. The variation comes from the consonants: mothers, at least in English-speaking cultures, are pretty much always stuck with the ‘m’ sound, while fathers generally get their pick between ‘d’ and ‘p,’ and the word ‘father’ itself throws another consonant entirely into the mix.

Whether mom, mommy, mama, mami, ma, madre, mum, or dad, daddy, papa, papi, or pops, the important thing is that the parental ‘name’ you end up with is one that both you and Baby are comfortable with.

No matter what you decide, just remember that it won’t be too long before Baby is out in the world and able to make her own decision about how she chooses to refer to you.

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