The Meaning of “Mama”


I’m in a few business groups for mums, and recently I got into a discussion about branding and using “mummy” vs “mama”. My feeling was that I found “mummy” or “mommy” infantilising when used to refer to a grown woman, but for some reason, I find “mama” empowering”. A lot of other people echoes my sentiments, but nobody could really nail down exactly why.

Part of it is the context in which they tend to be used. Think about terms like “mommy blogger” or “mommy wars” which are used in a condescending way to speak about mothers. But “mama” feels a bit more… earth mothery? Like “relax, mama, you got this.” But that’s still not really getting to the heart of why?

Last week, I think Nikolas has maybe helped me get closer to the answer. A few days ago, he learned his first word: “mama”. (It was Luella’s first word too – so I’m counting it as a pretty big victory). As Lu has been quick to point out though, “he says mama for everything!”

It’s true. My previously very independent little bub, now squeals “mama mama”  any time he wants something out of reach or gets stuck trying to crawl. When he wakes in the night or from a nap he calls out “mama!” When he’s hungry? “Mama!” When he wants a cuddle? “Mama!” When he’s sick and sniffly and it hurts to cough? “Mamaaaaaaa!”

The disgusting face of a boy who loves his mama.

The disgusting face of a boy who loves his mama.

“Mama” has been his first indication that he’s trying to communicate something, other than crying. It’s specific. It’s not just “help me” – it’s “mama, I need you.”

“Mummy” on the other hand… It’s what kids start saying when they go from adorable babies to whiney, needy toddlers. It’s what Luella calls to me from the bathroom when she needs help wiping her butt. It’s when the novelty and cuteness have worn off and you feel like you spend your entire day serving various snacks to a tiny tyrant. “Mummmmmmy!!! I need to tell you something.” Followed by a non-sequitor story about a bird she saw at playgroup yesterday that made a funny noise.

And this is not to put down my eldest child. Because there are plenty of lovely quiet moments, when we’re snuggling under a doona on the couch watching a movie. And what does she murmur to me and she lays her head on my arm? “I love you, mama.”

Somehow, even my 3 year old knows it to be true. It just feels good to be called Mama.

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