When you’re born, the first words you speak are so often mommy or daddy. (In some garbled, gurgled form or another—translation is often required.)
So, let’s explore this commonality that connects us all and learn the different words people have come up with to describe their moms, dads, and grandparents. We might just toss in the random uncle, aunt, and cousin, too. Most of these have an unknown origin (except where cited by region.)
First up, dear Mom. And, we aren’t listing the old tried-and-true ones either (sorry mommas and mommies).
1. Momster: Like mom and a gangster. Eat all your vegetables, son, or no cannoli for dessert. It’s not personal, it’s business.
2. Mamadukes: One website says “supposedly, this is North American slang for mom because of the character, Marmaduke.” Have you ever heard of this one?
3. Tiger Mom: Recently popularized by Amy Chua, a name used to characterize mothers who ferociously protect their young. Grrrr.
4. Mommellah: This is an affectionate term for a mother, perhaps modeled on a Yiddish or Russian word.
5. Mumsy: Definitely British. “Mumsy, may we have a biscuit and some chocolate milk?”
6. Momager: Kinda formal. She might want to print this on her business cards. This is the mom that handles their kid’s finances, acting careers, modeling gigs … into their 20s and 30s.
7. Mamma Mia: Italian meaning “My mother!” Please use it as an exclamation of surprise, and the ABBA link cannot be dismissed.
8. Momushka: This is derived from putting “mom” together with the Russian word meaning “older woman,”
9. The Mothership: Conjures up the spaceship in Close Encounters. Awe-inspiring, powerful, majestic. Keeper of your allowance and the car keys for the weekend.
10. Mom Mom: You love her so much, one mom isn’t enough.
11. Mombles: Sounds Australian, though we have no way to prove that. “Hey, Mombles. How about a cold Foster’s, eh?”
12. Finger and Thumb: We don’t know if she’ll dig this one or not. This comes is from Cockney rhyming slang, as mum rhymes with thumb.
13. Momzilla: This one explains itself. Watch out, Tokyo—you’re on her list.
Like the names for our female parents, papa and its many variations were primarily imitative of the first sounds that young children produce, which include the P, B, and D sounds. Throughout the Middle East and South Asia, fathers are called baba.
Baba, dada, and papa are examples of what child-language acquisition experts call “reduplicated canonical babbling,” something universally observed as children enter the babbling phase of language accession. Reduplication is when a word, a sound, an element of a word, or a phrase is repeated.
However, as we get older, we come up with wittier (and probably more annoying) names for this lovable guy …
1. BFG: This stands for Big Friendly Guy. A little obscure, but that’s the sheer genius of it. It’s an inside thing between you both. “BFG! Ready to go to the baseball game?”
2. Mufasa: “Circle of Life” and all that. He was the king of the jungle in The Lion King. ‘Nuff said, little Simba.
3. Sarge: Does your dad hold a military rank? Or, does he run the house like a boot camp? Hopefully, he won’t put you on K.P. if you use this one.
4. Teflon Don: Another name with a bada-bing! vibe to it. Nothing sticks to this guy. You love him, and you’ll go to the mattresses for him if needed.
5. Care Bear: Big, cuddly, and colorful. Ah, c’mere, ya big lug.
6. Daddy-o: Retro, as in American Graffiti. (Kids, look it up on Netflix.) Call him this with a Dean Martin tone to your voice.
7. Homer: A tribute to the patriarch of The Simpsons. Mmmm, doughnuts.
8. Popsicle: It just sounds funny.
Fun fact: Father was spelled with a D in place of a TH until as recently as the late 1500s, though the term itself dates back to the time when Old English was spoken. Dad was first recorded in the 1500s, along with the more colloquial daddy. Pop arose in America in the 1830s. The terms themselves were certainly in spoken use earlier.
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins
1. Gramps: An abbreviation of grandfather or grandpa. Appropriate to use when he’s on the front porch in the rocker, having a snooze.
2. Geema & Geepa: Maybe a mispronunciation of the general grandma and grandpa, it’s hard to pronounce those Rs, even as you get older.
3. Grammakins: This one uses the diminutive suffix –kin(s). Seems fitting for your four-foot, big-fluffy-sweater-wearing, Kleenex-stuffed-inside-her-sleeve-cuff grammakins. “Now, come here and give Grammakins a big hug.”
4. G: So clean, so subtle, so hip-hop. “What’s up, G?” This one really depends on how plugged in your grandparent is to youth culture. The variant G-Money also works.
5. Unk and Unkie: For uncle, of course. This one is kind of unoriginal, as if you couldn’t think of anything more clever. Here, have a synonym.
5. Name–name: An easy one. Say your aunt is named Jane. She becomes aunt Jane–Jane. Simple enough with one syllable. But what if she’s named Margaret? Why, aunt Mar–Mar, of course. See, we think these things through.
6. Niblings: These are your nieces and nephews. This is a way to refer to both your nieces and nephews at the same time without exerting the energy of having to say more than one word.
7. Primo: A Spanish word for (first) cousin. Who wouldn’t want to be called primo?