Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My character's mothers: Mom or Momma

I have a dilemma, which maybe isn't a dilemma at all, but a matter of preference or background.

Me and my brothers refer to our Mom as Mom, Mommy when we were very young. My Mom and my Uncle, referred to their Mom as Mother. And, as far as I remember, my dad referred to his mom as Mother, too. When I was a child, I didn't know of anyone who actually called their Mom Momma. In fact, it was considered kind of...well, ghetto. Or country, at least among my circle of friends, family and acquaintances. Now, don't throw rocks at me, that was just my narrow-minded thinking based upon my own personal experience growing up in small town Des Moines, Iowa.

The first person I knew who referred to their Mom as Momma was a young lady I dated in high school. She had moved to Des Moines from Kansas City, and pronounced the word 'Momma' ebonically, drawling a two syllable word into almost five, which solidified my ghetto-country perception of the word. Years later, Hallmark started producing black greeting cards, and they used lines like: Happy Birthday, Momma! And I thought that was somehow patronizing. Of course, I ended up moving to Texas, where I learned the word wasn't ghetto, country, or black. It was Texan that got spilled over onto the rest of the country.

Now, I referred to my Grandparents as Grandma and Grandpa. So, I was surprised to learn that some people — a mostly southern thing, I think — refer to their Grandma as Big Momma. Don't you know, my lips would be three times their physical size, and well calloused by now, had I ever referred to my Grandma as Big Momma.

Now, I'm not condemning anyone's right to call their Momma whatever they like. It's just that now that I'm writing for children, I got to thinking about all the ways we address our Mothers and the different connotations that can be derived therefrom.


Liz B said...

Names are a curious thing, and I'm sure part of it is also region and age. My mom is Mom. When I read a book where the mother is called Mother, I think one of 2 things: it's a book written/set a long time ago, or the family is cold (because I'm interpreting the use of "mother" as cold & distancing.) Ditto for Dad v Father. (Tho for some reason a number of books I've read written in the 1950s or so use Dad & Mother; no idea why the difference.)

My grandparents were Nana and Pop Pop. Perhaps shortened now and then to Nan or Pop. At some point, a friend of mine said, "oh we used to call our grandparents Nana and Pop Pop but then we grew up and called them Grandmother/ Grandfather." OK maybe it was Grandma / Grandpa. Either way, I felt a little taken aback -- both because of my family had not "grown up" regarding those names and I couldn't understand that change.

My grandparents (from Ireland) called their parents Ma or Da.

When I read a grown person calling a parent Mama/Momma, I always assume I'm reading something either set in the south or the person using that name is from the south; being I'm from New Jersey, I guess the only times I remember hearing/ reading this is in movies/books set in the south.

Miss P AKA Her Royal Cliqueness said...


I think it's an interesting topic.

I refer to my mother as "Ma" but it comes out sounding more like "Mi" than "Mah." And, yes, now and then I still call her "mommy" especially if I'm talking about her to my father.

My grandmothers were "grandma" and "gam."

I've never used "momma." And while Maryland is the south (geographically anyway), it's not far enough south for the Big Momma reference.

To make things even more confusing, I often use the term "moms" when talking about my husband's mom and he when he refers to mine.

I'm just plain old "mom" or "Mommy" to my girls.

Anonymous said...

What you call someone is so important to character development in story yet I'm not sure you can map it to real life. For HUGGING THE ROCK, when I first began working on the book, and actually through many versions, the mother was called "Mama". I think that is how I found the voice. But it made the main character sound very young and the mom sound too nice.

In real life my mom was mom, grandma was Nana and my grandfather was Poppa.

Susan Taylor Brown