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Not every mother is into being called Mommy, and some fathers want a handle they don't have to share with every other dad on the block. When it comes to what children call their parents, one size definitely does not fit all.
A our site survey of nearly 4,500 parents revealed that families – many of them a mix of moms, dads, stepparents, adoptive parents, and birth parents – use all kinds of creative variations on the usual names for parental figures. And dipping into the our site Community, we found the same thing.
Top names for moms and dads
Traditional parent names are still the top choice for our site parents. Here's how they rank for mothers:
And for fathers:
Alternatives to "Mom" and "Dad"
About 1 in 10 families head in a different direction and use nicknames ranging from conventional variations (Ma, Moms, Papa, Pa, Pop) to all kinds of quirkier choices.
Inspired by cultural traditions. Mum or Mummy may replace Mom in families with ties to Great Britain. Baba is used in cultures all over the world, from China to Pakistan to Africa, to address fathers. Tato is Ukranian for Dad. And so on – these are just a few examples from a world of possibilities.
Personal preferences. "My husband doesn't want to be called Dad, Father, or Papa," one expecting mom says. "He thinks he should be called 'Badger.' No clue where he came up with that!"
From the mouths of babes. Kids often make up a nickname for a parent all on their own.
"My little ones call me Mommily and Mudder," says one mom. Another reports, "My son calls me Sweet Miss Mommy McGree. I have no idea why!" Another loves that her son calls his father J-dad (real name: Jason). "It sounds so cool, like JLo."
We heard from other moms whose kids call them Mutta, Mama Bear, Momsies, and Zoomer. And dads reported being called Futta, Dadzo, Pop Star, Popsicle, and one of our favorites: Papa New Guinea.
Adapted for same-sex parents. In families with two moms or two dads, getting creative with parent names serves a practical purpose: It's a lot less confusing if one household doesn't have two parents called "Mom" or two called "Dad."
One mom says, "I started seeing my partner when her children were 1 and 3, and it was the 3-year-old's idea to call me Mama B (my name is Brittany) and my partner Mama A (Amber)." Another writes, "My aunt and her Dutch partner are named Alice and Annaliese. To the kids, they're Mumma and Mummaleise."
We also found these pairings in the our site Community:
Mommy/Mom & Mama, Mama & Mo, Mommy & Mum, Mama & Ima (Hebrew for "mother"), Mama T & Mama J, Mommy & Maddy, Mommy & Lolly, Mama & Amou (Portuguese for "loved one"), Mommy & MG (Momma Ginny), Big Mama & Little Mama, Momma & Mumsy, Mommy & Opie (for "other parent"), Mommy and Motina (Lithuanian for "mother"), Mommy & Nommie, and Mommy & Dami ("mixture of daddy and mami") – to name just a few.
Names for stepparents, caregivers, and other parental figures
In 20 percent of families, our survey found, the kids have at least one parental figure in their life other than a mom or a dad – like a stepparent, a parent's boyfriend or girlfriend, a godparent, or a nanny.
While first names are a common choice for labeling these special relationships, more than 60 percent of families use something different.
Culturally inspired options. A family's heritage or the local culture can create a graceful option here.
One mom writes, "We followed our French ethnicity and went with beau-père for stepfather (shortened to Beau) and belle-mère for stepmom (shortened to Bella)."
If a beloved nanny helps take care of the children, many families keep it simple, calling her by her first name. But parents in the South report that adding a "Miss" before a nanny's first name is the norm. Others go with a more familial "Auntie" so-and-so.
Kid-created names. Children come up with or latch on to names we never would have expected. Some examples from our survey respondents and community:
"My stepchildren sometimes call me – affectionately – MESM (most evil stepmother)."
"My stepkids call me by a nickname my husband has been using since they were little: Pop-Tart."
One mom remembers, "Growing up, my best friend called her stepdad 'my Dave.' As in, 'I don't know, I better go ask my Dave.' It worked well as a substitute for Dad because it sounds so similar but was unique to their particular situation."
"My kids call their nanny Mimi because they can't pronounce her real name. Mimi has the nice touch of being similar to Mommy, but different."
"Our nanny has been with our son since he was 6 months old. She has a long name with the first syllable "zee." When he started talking he could only say "Zee," and that became her name in our family. We all call her Zee now!"
Godparents and grandparents. "Auntie" and "Uncle" are the most popular choice for godmothers and godfathers. And there's a huge range of possible nicknames for Grandma and Grandpa, who often act as caregivers – everything from Abi to Zippy.
Parent nickname conflicts in complex families
What kids call the adults can lead to unintended stress and conflict.
For example, a parent who adopts an older child may have dreamed of being called Mom or Mommy, only to find that her new son refuses. A stepparent may want to be called Dad, only to find out it's the last thing his wife's daughter wants to call him.
Psychologist and relationship expert Dale Atkins says these conflicts can be resolved by taking the children's emotions into consideration.
"It's very important not to impose a parent nickname on a child, who may be struggling with the new relationship or feeling tender about her biological parent," she says.
Instead, Atkins says, you can work with your child to come up with a moniker you both feel comfortable with, whether it's your first name or a special nickname. In time, kids who choose something nontraditional may decide to transition to a more traditional parental name – but that decision must be theirs.
In other situations, the child is fine with using "Mom" or "Dad" to address a stepparent, but the biological parent isn't happy about it. Who gets dibs on the name?
"The adults need to work this out on their own, without involving the children," says Atkins. "But only do this if you really have an open heart, because otherwise the child could feel divided loyalties, as if he's hurting you by being close to the other person."
In other words, work out any feelings of insecurity or threat about your child's relationship with the other person (and see a counselor if needed), and then have the discussion.
There are plenty of parent names to go around if you don't want an exact duplicate. But in the long run, it's the nature of your relationship with your child and what makes your child most comfortable that counts.