The other name game

Having thoroughly considered children’s names, I then innocently said:

Of course, we also have to discuss what our children should call us…

This may seem a non-issue to many, but I was brought up to call my parents (and grand-parents) by their first names – I realise this is fairly unusual for biological parents, although interestingly step-parents often automatically fall into this category.

May’s instant reaction though was to tearfully respond:

I’m not going through this hell to not have someone call me ‘mummy’

Ah. It seems I was right there is a need to discuss, but (as usual) I hadn’t realised it would be an emotional issue.

There is a specific reason why this first name approach was adopted in my family. It dates back to when I was a babe, and my grandmother started calling my mother ‘mum’, as in ‘Mum, does H need his nappy changed?’ (! ). Understandably this rather freaked my mother out.

I don’t think that the parents calling us ‘mum’ weirdness is likely to be replicated in this generation. However, I actually quite like the first name thing and really feel awkward having to refer to my parents by some form of ‘mum’/’dad’. The only mild disadvantage has been that I’m so used to it I automatically refer to them by first names to friends and unless they know they won’t understand I mean one of my parents.

So, what are the options? Can a compromise be reached? Will our relationship survive? [stop being over melodramatic – ed]

It’s an issue that has caused some debate, concern, sanctimoniousness and downright scary advice:

1. It is essential that your child show respect for your role as a parent. If your child attempts to blur that parent-child relationship by calling you by your first name, put a stop to it. 2. A child usually has many friends, but usually only one or two parents at home. Parents need to demand respect for the important role they are playing in their child’s life. [my emphasis, but honestly… it really comes across as ‘if they dare… slap ’em down’! ]

‘Disrespectfulness’ is often cited (in varying degrees of rationality), which I must confess I don’t really get (although in some cultures it might be, I guess) – kids can and will find ways to be disrespectful no matter what they call their parents.

I’m going to reserve the rest of my thoughts and feelings and our ideas/conclusions for a follow-up post [you’re such a tease – ed] as I’d like to hear May’s readers’ opinions, experiences, anecdotes and wise words first.


31 responses to “The other name game

  • Amy P

    You could be Mummy and Papa H? Though that makes you sound like a grandfather or stepfather (I called my stepdad Daddy Bob–still do, actually). I can see May’s point, certainly–even if I hadn’t been raised to not use adults’ first names without permission. Our girls (well, at least the 7-year-old–the 18-month-old I’m just guessing ;-)) call Tom “Papa”, because he doesn’t like “Dad” or “Daddy”. I’m either “Mom”, “Mommy”, or sometimes “Mama”. We just didn’t bother with the formality of “Mother” and “Father”, but I don’t know why (I do know that I’d call my mom “Mother” in similar circumstances to those that would get me called by first and middle names (though not first, middle, and surname–that’s really being in trouble!) but not until I was an older teenager and adult, I think.)

    • May

      Oh yes, my mother is variably ‘Mum’ for ordinary, ‘Mummy’ for cute, ‘Mama’ (Victorian English style – m’MAH) for being arch with, and ‘Mother’, quite snappishly, when I am administering a scolding. I used to do all of the above when I was about five, too, apparantly.

      ‘MOTHER! Come here and explain yourself at once! My permission slip has NOT been signed and ISN’T in my satchel!’

      God, I was unbearable.

  • a

    In theoretical terms, I think Mom and Dad (or Mum, as the case may be) simply come about due to the fact that those sounds are easiest for an infant to say. I mean, imagine trying to teach your infant to call you by your first name if your name is Theodore or Jennifer.

    In practical terms, you can certainly be Mum and H. Or Mum and Dad. Or Hortense and Phillip. Whatever. I didn’t notice that May insisted that H. be Dad…only that she was going to be Mummy.

    We are definitely Mom and Dad around my house. My girl started out being fascinated by people’s names (learned behavior from daycare), but it soon turned to a dominance issue. Now we have issues about who gets called what. So, the little insolent one has stopped calling me by my first name and has started referring to me (occasionally) as Private Lastname (because my husband, who is in the Army, does that once in a while, thinking he’s funny). You’ll certainly know the difference between trying out people’s names and disrespectful behavior.

    • H

      No, May’s not insisting I be Dad, but if it’s Mum and H people may get the impression I’m a step-dad… guess I need to work out what bothers me most…

  • a

    Also, the little menace decided this evening that she would be calling me “Mother.” Factor in behavior to your discussions and drive yourselves thoroughly crazy!

  • wombattwo

    This is actually quite a dilemma in our hopefully future family too. My husband is Chinese, I am English, so what do we do? We’d thought about getting him to speak Cantonese to said infant, so hopefully they would be bilingual, or at least have better language skills than I do. But do we then use the English mum and dad, or the Chinese which appears to be Mee and Ba (in his family anyway). I’m not sure about the spelling. Are the grandparents Grandma and Granddad or something (not sure what) and Akung?
    The other issue in our family is that his parents expect me to call them mum and dad (or Mee and Ba) and find it actually rude when I attempt to call them by their first names. But I just can’t… I was brought up to only call my mum and dad, mum and dad. So I manage to get by without calling them anything at all…
    I’ll be interested to hear what you come up with!

    • Ben Warsop

      Can you pretend that “Mee” and “Ba” are family nick-names not translations of “Mum” and “Dad”. It’s not as if that’s what you call your parents.

      Justa thought.


    • H

      Oh, that is awkward wombattwo – as I thought, there are some issues in certain cultures. Never thought of it as a cultural issue in the English speaking world, but perhaps I’m just blind to that…

  • The cheerleader

    I called my mother ‘mummy’ and my father ‘John’ for exactly the same reasons as H: my mother would say ‘what time is John coming home’ and John would say ‘where’s Mummy?’. It drove my mother to distraction as she though everyone would think he was my stepfather.

    I always liked ‘Ma and Pa’. Very Little House on the Prairie.

  • Ben Warsop

    I like Ma and Pa and tend to refer to my now deceased parents as “my Ma” and “my Pa”. But I only started doing that as an adult. It’s useful because it indicates the relationship to other people. On the other hand, I tend to refer to Ma by her family nick-name in discussions with the extended cousin-hood, and her parents by their first names. As I child they were Mummy and Daddy, Mum and Dad, occasionally Mother or PaPaa, never first names.

    Is it something to do with a dippy-hippy upbringing? I’ve come across other hippy-kids who refer to their parents by their first names.

    Names are not the the make or break in ensuring that the parent/child relationship is based on mutual respect (with intermittent rebellion and exasperation added into the mix for variety). They may be an indicator, but they’re not the cause.

    And then there’s the question of what children themselves decide to do. My niece used to refer to my sister fairly often by her first name, which amused everyone. Especially when she was five and being particularly scathing. I must ask my sister if she still does.

    No help of guidance here, I’m afraid.


  • manapan

    I’ve always called my mother by the traditional names: Ma, Mom, Mommy, sometimes Mummy Dearest if I need a big favor. But when I was little and I’d wander off in the mall, every woman turned around if I just yelled for “Mom”. Calling for “Mom Nadine!” was much more effective. That’s why I like Amy’s idea.

  • carole

    Another bilingual household, but I am always Mummy in both languages and my parents are Grandma and Granddad, while we always use the Dutch equivalents for the Dutch side: Papa, Oma and Opa even when speaking english. It actually makes it less confusing rather than more!

    I’m also with the earlier poster who said that our words for mum and dad in almost any language are the sort of noises a baby says first. Also da da tends to procede ma ma, so if H wants to be the first one your future child refers to by name, perhaps that is something to bear in mind…..

    I don’t necessarily think first names are disrespectful, but I wouldn’t have picked it myself. Hope you can come up with a compromise!

  • Hairy Farmer Family

    Coming from the road a little less travelled, as per usual: I’ll take whatever I can get. I’m just pleased he can say anything recognisable! Harry made me wait for my ‘Mum’, and we’re still working on ‘Mummy’, as he simply can’t make an ‘ee’ sound yet. ‘Dad’ used to be a very clear ‘Daddad’ but is currently undergoing an odd morph into something like ‘Deirt’. But I digress, also as per usual.

    I love the validation. As May so rightly feels: you earn the right to really savour the title. But when my own mother is talking to Harry about me, I do occasionally have a twinge of ‘peculiar’, as it sounds rather odd coming from her. And I stumble over calling her ‘Nanny’ to Harry, too, although that’s simply because my brain freewheels too much.

    But I have occasionally, to everyone’s horror, called John ‘Dad’ when Harry isn’t part of the conversation. That’s… well, that’s a bit wrong!

  • Amanda

    I’ve always called my parents some variation of Mom & Dad. I also call my husband’s parents Mom & Dad when I’m speaking directly to them. I think, as with all other aspects of parenting, you have to do what’s best for you and your family. I definitely don’t think a child is being disrespectful by calling a parent by their first name, if that’s how the child is raised.

  • Valery

    yep, as a step-parent I’m called by my first name. I’d be horrified to be called stepmom. occasionally, in a moment of confusion, I get called papa. And that’s ok with me, as it makes me feel I’m part of their fathers side of the family. Or sometimes DP gets called mama, which makes me smile as proof he is part of their primary care.
    But I’m firmly in the camp of only kids using mama/papa and not parents addressing each other (or themselves, EEEEk)

  • bkwyrm

    I always called my parents “mom and dad.” Oddly enough, my spouse and I have had to start calling one another “Mommy” or “Daddy” (depending on who’s speaking, or course), as our three year old was beginning to call us by our first names.
    Said three year old also believes that “Mama,” “Daddy,” “Grandma,” etc. are TITLES rather than names. Anyone who has children is therefore “Mommy so-and-so” or “Daddy such-and-such.” It gets…..a little confusing.

  • Heather

    I have never been around kids that call their parents by their first names, so that concept is strange to me. I think it is fine if that is what you want but it would seem disrespectful to me if you wanted to be Mom/Dad/Whatever Title and the child refused and instead called you by your first name.

    I definitely think that if May wants to be Mummy, she should be. She has totally earned it.

    But I also think that just because she is Mummy doesn’t mean you automatically have to be Daddy if that isn’t what you want. But, people might also assume you are the step-father too…

  • Heather

    Oh, and now I call my parents and my In laws some version of Grandma or MeMaw or Papa – whatever their chosen title is…so that it isn’t confusing to my child or nephews…

  • Twangy

    The JB tells me whenever any kind of anything approaching a sex scene appeared on the TV his parents would start to address each other in loud, urgent voices thusly:

    Mother, it was wet out today! And Mother, I saw Danny Jimmy in town!

    I find this very funny, not sure exactly why.

    My parents are Ma and Da, also Mazie and Dazie, Magser, and Pop, and so forth, depending on the mood. They don’t seem to mind. I think I’d be the same.

  • katie

    My cousins called their parents by their first names. We all laughed at them and I now think they use “Mum” or “mother” (not for both of them – my uncle died of cancer a few years back).

  • Melissia

    We just use the word ” your” in front of Mom or Dad when addressing the kids and have never called each other Mom or Dad. After all, we each have our own parents. As such we each address our in laws by their given names and each call our own parents by mom and dad and our kids call their maternal grandparents by Grandma Joyce and Grandpa George ( as per their choice) and then their paternal grandparents by their less formal choice of Grandma and Grandpa.
    One the kids are of a certain age, about 4 maybe? they start to begin to figure out relationships and we used to just say that I was not my husband’s mother etc and vice versa. It sounds a little stiff to write out, but it worked for us and was never an issue with the kids but we never had an issue with people calling us Mom and Dad all the time either. One time was usually all we would have to say just call me Melissia and people usually got the hint. Of course, knowing me I usually did not answer to someone else calling me mom, unless it was my child, just to make my point.
    In the South we have a theory that if people call you things like honey, or any other overly familiar endearment instead of your name it usually means that they cannot be bothered to either learn or remember your name. So I would never call a stranger with children Mom nor would do so to anyone I know and thus I would also consider it rude. But that is just maybe me!

  • Solnushka

    We’ve gone for the Russian version of Mama and Papa, and with the English names for grandparents for the English grandparents, and the Russian word for the Russian grandparent, although B’s mother will refer to my mother as Babushka, and indeed that in Russian culture every woman and man of a certain age is called Babushka/Dedushka also, which I find confusing and irritating. I don’t think I could bear to call her ‘Mum’ in English or Russian, because she’s not, so I sympathise with wombattwo there.

    Luckily, B calls his mother by her first name and sometimes by her first name and patronymic (like May’s use of ‘Mother’), so I am not called upon to. I’m not sure why he does this. I must ask.

    My parents were Dad and Mum, who I increasingly called ‘mother’ in my teens in what I suspect was a dredfully patronising manner designed to signal a certain amount of disdain. I have never thought of them as their first names.

    I have also rebeled against B’s mum trying to teach my son my name, and I am pretty sure I would be against him calling me my first name.

    I think for me it’s all about the idea of special relationships between mothers and fathers, children and grandparents.

    My mother is not one of the people who gets to call me that, although she does talk about me to my son like that, which is fair enough as I call her Granny when talking about her to my son.

    What I find most horrible is when random people like healthvisitors or shop assistants start calling me Mum. Determiners I want to shout. Insert a determiner. It’s asmost as bad as ‘baby’ (rather than ‘your baby’ insentences like ‘… and baby will scream bloody murder for the first three months’ in baby manuals).

  • Betty M

    We get called Mummy and Daddy or Mama and Dada by the kids My parents are called Gaggy and Papa by them. My husband calls my parents by their first names. I still use Ma, mum or mummy and dad or daddy. The husband uses their first names. My mother called mY grandmother Mummy but for her and my aunt who did the same. I’m told it didnt feel weird as they both called their own parents something completely different (maman and baba in my mum’s case). Coming from a mixed background i tend to the view that each side gets called what is culturally appropriate to them and you just have to live with it even if it seems odd to be calling two lots of people mum. One of my cousins went through a phase of using her parents first names.she was teased mercilessly about it at school and soon stopped. Not sure any of this is of any assistance beyond another set of data points.

  • Taming the naming of parenthood « Nuts in May

    […] Uncategorized — H @ 6:04 pm Thank you for all your comments on my last post regarding what children could/should/may call their parents. I promised a follow-up post with more discussion on my issues and our ideas for a possible […]

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