Mum or Mom or Ma or Mam – what do you say?

Mum Mom Ma Mam Meaning DifferenceDo my kids call me Mum or Mom? I’m a mum and a mom because I’m a dual national – British and American. So are my children…they used to call me Mum, actually most of the time Mummy, until we lived in the USA for a couple of years. Then I started hearing the American version Mom. Now that we’re back in the UK once again I’m Mum or Mummy.

Of course, a big influence on what they call me and how they spell my name is their children’s books. US books all talk about Mom and Mommy whereas British books will have a mum…or perhaps mam…or…

Sometimes my daughter enjoys addressing me as Mama.

But a British mother can also be a mom

But a British mother can also be a mom. Or a mam. Or a ma. It depends on the British region or country – England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland – on what spelling or pronunciation is used for the pet name.

In Birmingham and the West Midlands, in England, most say and write mom. Even the local newspapers and schools spell it as mom. Although Mother’s Day occurs on a different date in the UK, Brummies and Americans would both be sending cards to the “Best Mom.”

Forget Mum or Mom, in northern England they usually like calling their mothers Mam. The pronunciation, of course, will vary for Mam whether you’re a Northumbrian or Geordie. This term of endearment for mother is also very common in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In Ireland Ma is also frequently used instead of Mam.

In Wales kids would call for their Mams. After all the Welsh word for mother is mam.

Charles might be the Prince of Wales but he calls the Queen ‘Mummy.’ Listen here to Prince Charles paying tribute to Mummy.

Mother’s Day

While we’re on the subject Mother’s day is on different dates in the US and the UK.

Mothering Sunday in the UK takes place on the fourth Sunday of Lent in the Christian calendar. It originated in the Middle Ages when families and people returned for an annual visit to their ‘mother’ church in their home village or parish. Mother’s Day in the USA takes place on the second Sunday of May every year. This tradition started when a woman called Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother on 12 May 1907. Of course there are many traditions globally celebrating women and motherhood.

History and origin of Mum, Mummy, Mommy,Mom, Momma…

My kids call me Mummy. Whether you’re a mom in the West Midlands or a mam in Leeds, you might also be called mommy or mammy.

“In terms of recorded usage of related words in English, mama is from 1707, mum is from 1823, mummy in this sense from 1839, mommy 1844, momma 1852, and mom 1867.” Online Etymology Dictionary

The English word mamma or mama did not make an appearance until the end of the 17th century. Then mum started being used in the 19th century. In 1823 “where’s your mum?” first showed up in literature according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Although royalty now talk about their mums, originally it was more commonly an affectionate term for working class mothers. Mothers have been called Mam since the 16th century per the MacMillan Dictionary of Historical Slang.

Mommy is believed to have been a variation of mamma that first occurred in the 19th century. Sometimes it was spelt as mommie. The daughters call their mother ‘Marmee’ in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, published in 1880. As the book is set in New England’s Concord, Massachussetts, many argue that ‘marmee’ was actually pronounced ‘mahmee’ (in other words ‘mommy’) by Alcott as local accents were non-rhotic. In other words ‘ar’ is pronounced as ‘ah’ and the ‘r’ sound is dropped.

‘Mom’ has become the commonly used pronounciation and spelling in the USA. It’s also widely used in Canada as well as South Africa. By the 1950s Mom was so widely used that a small business became known as a ‘Mom and Pop’ store.

Little or big M?

And do you use a capital M or lower case m when you’re writing about a mum or mom or ma or mam? Apparently I should write about a mum but use Mum when it’s a proper noun.

I call my mother Mum, but as she’s American she signs letters and cards to me as Mommy.

Mum, mom, ma, mam, mummy, mommy, mama, or mammy, no matter how you spell it or pronounce it, they’re still our mother.

Do you say mum or mom or ma or mam or … ?

35 thoughts on “Mum or Mom or Ma or Mam – what do you say?”

  1. This is actually a very interesting article. As I was born and lived in Guyana, South America for a few years before migrating to Canada I have always been calling my mother “ma” or “mammy” and I still do to this day. Sometimes I’ll switch to the Canadian term and call her mom but hardly. Your article makes perfect sense as I remember 50 years ago British used to rule Guyana. A great history lesson learned ineed! ?

  2. I’m a Geordie – Northern England. One daughter calls me mam, the other daughter say mum (she’s a bit posh) and my son calls me ma.

  3. No, we don’t use the spelling “MOM” in the UK AT ALL. Whoever wrote this has no idea. I know, I’m from the UK.

    1. Ah you’ve wrongly assumed that there are no Moms in UK. Oh dear. I’m sorry but if you visited Birmingham and the West Midlands you’d find lots of Moms who are indeed British and not American or from elsewhere 🙂 In fact they get rather annoyed at such assumptions. Here’s one of many such comments from Netmums forum: “Here in the West Midlands the words Mum and Mummy are frowned upon as they look and sound wrong, thankfully our local schools teach our correct spelling of Mom and Mommy and the kids still come home with handmade cards with out correct Mom and Mommy Spelling on…. We in Birmingham and the West Midlands get annoyed when people wrongly think we are using American words, when the word Mom and Mommy aren’t American they were British to start with”

  4. I always call my mum ‘Mumma’ because she sort of taught me to say it. I suppose it’s a mixture of ‘Mamma’ and ‘Mummy’. My mum’s Australian, so that’s probably where it came from. A few times she’s asked me why I don’t switch to something more grown up, but I’ve already put up with enough name changes in my family and I don’t need another one! CX

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  6. You’re absolutely correct in saying that British Mother’s are not all Mums.

    In the West Midlands of England you will very likely here Mom used by the locals.

    Up North is mainly Mam. I have family up in the North of England who say “Me Mam”… So cute!
    (Sadly though some have switched over to Mum) : (

    Obviously I’m partial to Mom, and am called Mom by my kids, as I have a long line of family history from the West Midlands. It’s where I grew up, part of who I am!

    Mum is used down in the South of England, and to be honest it wouldn’t work for me. (Sounds a bit overly pronounced and harsh in the midland accent)

    We do make our own sentimental cards for these “Mommy” occasions. The kids really love that!

    The English language in Britain is quite broad due to the many different dialects; which in turn results in differences amongst other words too.

  7. I’m from the North East so I would say Mam or Ma. My children call me mum or mummy because we live in Northern Ireland and everyone over here seems to say mum/ mummy, or they do in this part of N.I at least.
    I prefer Mam though, and wish the kids called me Mam but I didn’t want them to sound too out of place.

  8. In the north-east of Englan it is MAM and always will be,my husband has fallen out with his sister because she has started saying mum ever since she started going out with a Yorkshire man. We were brought up with mammy,ma and MAM and now most card shops have mum,so i make my own cards. Mothers day is this Sunday so HAPPY MAMS DAY EVERYONE IN THE UK XXX

    1. Yeah here in Liverpool it’s Mum or Maa. Quite fun that we have so many variations in the UK.

  9. I recently had this discussion with a friend from Leeds when he asked why I call my mom ‘Mom’. I am from just out side of Birmingham and all I have ever known is to call her ‘Mom’

    It’s tough to find birthday cards in the UK which do say ‘mom’ and not ‘mum’. I might suggest Clinton’s start selling regional dialect cards.

    1. Quite a few don’t realise that there are lot of Moms in England! It’s pretty ridiculous to have to buy US cards with Mom on them to send to Moms in UK!

  10. I’m British, originally from the West Midlands, and I’ve always called my mom “Mom”, just as she called her mom “Mom”, and so on and so on. I had one teacher (not from the Midlands…) when I was about five who used to “correct” my spelling of “mommy” to “mummy”. My mom told me to tell her that mummies wear bandages and chase Scooby Doo around. 🙂

  11. very interesting post, my guy calls me Mommy and I write it capitalized since it’s technically “my name”. I I fear the day he calls me Mom, that will be day he is grown up. I always wished me called me Mama…to me it’s very southern and respectful. No matter how big a boy/man is…Mama always seems right coming out of his mouth.

  12. Interesting. Here in Bavaria both of mine call me either Mummy or Mama. My In laws have lived in Floriday for almost 20 years, and my brother in law still calls his Mom Mum! 🙂

  13. Very interesting post x my boys call me both Mum and Mummy….although being of mixed parentage they call their dad …Abba xxx

  14. Being Swedish, I’ve tried to get both my kids to call me mamma, but only my two year old uses it regularly. And I love being called mummy too, so it doesn’t really matter. I do a double take whenever my daughter tries to be smart and calls me mum though (maybe because it sounds more grown up than mummy and I’d like t=her to remain little)

  15. I’m Mummy or Mum. I can’t stand my youngest son calling me Mom. Sorry. I could deal with Mammy but not Mommy. :-/ it’s a recent thing, and because of watching American tv. … Its been picked up.

  16. My boys call me mummy and I also call my mum. Mummy! Although when they want. Something it’s more like. “Muuuuuummy!” :–)

  17. I say Mummy to refer to myself to my children – but they insist on calling me Mamma. I call my mum ‘mother’ but that’s just because I know that she doesn’t like it!

  18. This is an interesting one – I should be moving to the US to be with my husband at some point (I hope!) so any children we may or may not have will be born and brought up in the US. I will not mind the ‘Mum’ / ‘Mom’ difference (or at least I think I won’t) but I suppose I should get used to the difference. I am all for the ‘Mom’ though as that will be the norm.

    Thanks for your comment via the Silent Sunday post!

  19. Interesting post! I only recently realised that people in the West Midlands said ‘mom’. My parents are originally from Warwickshire and would sometimes say ‘mam’. We are in Gloucestershire where everyone says ‘mum’ or ‘mummy’. Oh, and I use a capital letter when I’m addressing my Mum, but a lower case when I’m just talking about a mum. So I think I’ve got that right!
    Popped over from MBPW.

  20. Hi Kriss! Followed you back to you blog =) I’m Filipino, currently based here in England (husband is British, my daughter also has dual citizenship) but we eventually plan to settle back in the Philippines sometime in the future. We have a strong American influence back home, so I say Mom and spell it with an “O” not “U”. Why change it just because I’m living in England? I speak and write the same way. I use the word “while” and not “whilst”. Once again, why change this right? It’s all the same anyway. All the best, Dean.

    1. That’s interesting that Mom is used in Philippines. Mum is used in Australia whereas Canadians seem to either use Mom or Mum. Thanks for sharing!

  21. My daughter calls me “Mummy” and I call my mum the same. At least to her I call her Mummy, but when talk about her I call her Mum as “Mummy” always sounded babyish to me when I was younger, and now I think it makes me sound too posh

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