Papa and mama (pa-PAH, ma-MAH)


New Member
This is mainly a question for native speakers of British English.: how much are the words mama [məˈmɑː] and papa [pəˈpɑː] still used in normal everyday usage, and by which "classes"?

I know that American stress and American usage differ. Also, please answer seriously, not just with stereotypes about the dowager duchess from satirical films. ;)

So, whose child would use the words today:
- the 12th Earl of Humphdydumph's?
- Mr and Mrs Henry Dubble-Barold's?
- Pam and Julian Fulham's?
- Trish and Dave Nooliritch's?

Or would they all rather say Mummy and Daddy, Mum and Dad, or something entirely different?
  • tepatria

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Welcome to the forum Karlchen.
    The use of mama and papa is pretty much a family's choice. It does not seem pretentious to me, simply a matter of choosing what you want to be called. I know families where the parents are divorced and the step parent is called mama or papa to distinguish from mom and dad, or vice versa.


    New Member
    Thanks for the welcome, happy to be here!

    I've seen this with reference to homosexual pairs, too.

    But as you write Mom, do mean in the US and Canada, with Poppa and Momma stressed on the first syllables?


    Senior Member
    English, UK
    No English person uses Papa or Mama any more, but in Victorian and fin de siècle times these, with the stress on the second syllable, were common forms of address, along with Mater and Pater used by those forced to learn Latin, and affectied beings with ideas beyond their station.
    Prince Charles, no doubt calls his mother, Mother or Your Majesty and Ma'am on ceremonial occasions, and adresses Prince Philip as Father.
    The middle classes, particularly those of the feminine gender, tend to use Mummy and Daddy, whereas we plebeians, proletarians and peasants say Mum and Dad. However, among speakers of the London Cockney dialect you wil also find Ma.
    From the Midlands northwards, Mum becomes Mam (not to be confused with American Mom) and in Wales, Dad is often Da. And Scots has fayther and mither, with fiercely rolled R's.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    I agree with tepatria about North America--it depends on the family. Even then perhaps the region.

    My mother, my father, and my stepfather all call their respective mothers "Mama," stress on 1st syllable, but call their respective fathers either "Dad" or "Daddy."

    I, however, like most of my friends, refer to my mother (in conversation about her) as "(my) mom" but always call her "Ma'" when talking to her, and I call/refer to my father as "Dad/(my) dad."

    So speaking for southern Louisiana, I'd say that "Mama" for the mother was quite popular up until recently, but "Papa" for the father is almost never used anymore ... at least not that I've heard.

    Strangely enough, "Papa" is actually pretty common for the grandfather.


    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I haven't heard anyone saying 'mama' and 'papa' (stress on the last syllables), other than in period drama on television. But we know someone who calls his English grandmother 'grandmama' (that's grand-muh-MAH).


    British English
    I refer to my parents as mum and dad. Mummy and daddy would only be used by small children. Nobody I know would ever use mama and papa in real life, only for effect.
    (I am a commoner by the way)


    Senior Member
    My BE credentials are nil, but I'm definitely a card-carrying AE commoner with earth under my nails. My children call me and their mother Papá and Mamá, with no worries about how odd it probably sounds to other AE speakers. We raised them bi-lingual and the Spanish terms seemed most comfortable to them. Now they are adults, and continue to use Mamá (or sometimes Mom) and Papá. I'd say this is atypical for AE speakers in general, but not unknown among families that speak Spanish at home. There are some thirty million Spanish speakers in the U.S., so that's not exactly a rarity.


    New Member
    Interesting - hadn't thought of that!

    Is that the Spanish way, [ma'ma] and [pa'pa], or the English, [məˈmɑː] and [pʰəˈpʰɑː]?


    English - U.S.
    I know you were looking for speakers of British English, but that's exactly how my mother pronounces it when she's talking to one of her parents (my grandparents). She addresses her mother as ma-MAH and her father as pa-PAH. I'm not sure about the origin of this pronunciation, seeing as me, my parents, my grandparents, and my relatives for many generations back have all spoken only American English at home.


    Senior Member
    This is a monolingual forum, buy I'll sneak in one quick comment. The way my sons pronounce the terms, the two vowels have the same sound. The first a is identical to the second, accented a.
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