I'm writing a ghost story, and (in an admittedly well-worn trope) a child ghost is looking for its mother; however, how would a 17th-century child affectionately refer to its mother? In short, what would the 17th-century version of "Mummy" be?

The child would be British; middle-class (or its equivalent then); moderately educated; and home-schooled, the Bible being the main text book.

  • 2
    The age of the child seems relevant too. (If you were setting it in modern times, a five-year old ghost might refer to their mother as "mummy", a ten-yeur-old as "mum", and a 15-year-old perhaps might use "uuuurrrgh… you".) Also, regional dialects vary. (For example, "mam" is common in northern England, but not so much in the south.)
    – tobyink
    May 1, 2014 at 22:36

1 Answer 1



British English \mə-ˈmä\
(American English \ˈmä-mə\ or \məˈmɑ)

Origin: 1545–55;
mama (also, mamma) nursery word, with parallels in other European languages, probably in part inherited or borrowed, in part newly formed; compare Latin mamma, Greek mámmē breast, mama, French maman, Welsh mam mother

Etymology Dictionary says mamma, (spelled with a double -m), is dated in 1570s

representing the native form of the reduplication of *ma- that is nearly universal among the Indo-European languages [...] Its late appearance in English is curious, but Middle English had mome (mid-13c.) "an aunt; an old woman," also an affectionate term of address for an older woman. In educated usage, the stress is always on the last syllable. 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.

  • Thanks - would up-vote, but I'm new here so can't yet! May 1, 2014 at 19:05
  • 4
    +1 OED tells us that mamma is preceded by Mam (often alongside Dad, both possibly of Welsh origin); that it is not widely attested until the late 17th C; that it is probably derived from French maman, which would account for the final stress; and that that final stress is characteristic of upper-class (or wannabe upper-class) usage, while the less exalted employ first-syllable stress, as do Americans. May 1, 2014 at 19:28
  • Linguists tell us that because "mama" is among the first sounds that a baby makes while innocently babbling along and trying these interesting sound things, it is very widespread among many languages.
    – Mary
    Nov 29, 2020 at 0:33

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