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Mamma or Mama: Which Term is Correct?

By Elisha Baba


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Mamma or mama—both of these words are common spellings of a nickname that is used to mean Mother in many places around the world. But how do you decide which form to use in writing?

Mamma or Mama: Which Term is Correct

What Is the Meaning of Mamma, Momma, and Mama?

Mamma, momma, and mama are all different spellings of the diminutive variation of “Mother.” Depending on which culture and region the word is originating in, momma or mama may be pronounced or spelled differently from place to place.

How Is Mama Spelled?

In many cases, the spelling of mama depends on how the word is pronounced. The spelling of momma includes an “o” when the pronunciation of the word sounds like “comma.”

Generally, the spelling of momma is spelled “mama” if the word has a harder “a” vowel sound, making the word sound like “drama.”

Other spellings of the word include the following:

  • Mom
  • Momma
  • Mommy
  • Mama
  • Mamma
  • Ma
  • Mum
  • Mummy

How you spell mama will likely depend on where you were raised and what your mother’s preferences were. Some mothers enjoy being called by the diminutive Ma, while others prefer the more formal address, Mother.

In some regions, the shorter versions of momma–Ma and Mama–are associated with rural areas, while Mother and Mom are more popular in suburban and urban neighborhoods.

Where Do the Words Momma and Mama Come From?

The etymological origin of the words momma, mama, and mamma is rooted in the way that human beings acquire language.

The sound “ma” is one of the first sounds that human children are able to reproduce as infants. This is the main reason why the word “mama” as a word for mother is used in multiple languages.

It is also the first sound that an infant is able to reliably repeat, which is why the sound in “mama” is doubled.

Even when the formal variation of the word “Mother” is a different-sounding word in each language, the word “mama” can be found in several major languages across the world.

What Does Mama Mean?

Whether mama or mamma is used, sociologists agree that the word “mama” to infants and young children is associated with food.

This makes sense since, for infants, the mother is the primary source of food for several months.

How Do You Spell Mama?

Momma vs. Mama

Whether a person grew up saying momma vs. mama depends on what part of the world they were raised in. In some dialects, there is a harder emphasis on the short “a” sound in language, leading to an emphasis on the vowel when speaking.

In other languages, the vowel over-emphasized is a long “a”, which makes the word sound slightly different. This difference in time led to several phonetic spellings of the word mama.

There is no correct spelling of mama or momma. Which version you use is just an indicator of your geography and the way that mama is pronounced where you live.

The spelling “momma” is often associated with the southern United States, but that is not the only region of the world where this spelling of mama is popular.

What Does Momma Mean in English?

The most common definition for “momma” in English is “a term of endearment for mother.” However, in colloquial slang, “momma” can and is often used to refer to any woman middle-aged or older.

For example, the term “hot little momma” is a term of endearment that doesn’t necessarily apply to an actual mother.

How Long Has the Spelling Mama Been Around?

The root word for mama in Old English, modor, has been used for centuries. In linguistics, all diminutive versions of mother and modor such as mama, momma, and mamma can be traced back to this word.

When it comes to mama vs. momma, “momma” is by far the younger of the two terms of endearment.

“Mama” has been found in use going back to the 1500s, while the first instance of “momma” was not recorded until the early 1800s.

Mama Is a False Cognate

The meaning of a false cognate in linguistics is a word that is found among several different languages to mean roughly the same thing and have similar iterations, but coming from different linguistic origins.

Even though mama isn’t pronounced or spelled the same in different countries, it still contains the same general meaning across multiple languages.

In words that did not originate from modor like mama, momma, and mamma, there is still a similar sound involved.

For instance, the word for mama in Navajo is “ama”, while the word for mama in Korean is “eomma.” These words might sound similar and mean the same thing, but they evolved from different linguistic roots.

Mama In Different Languages

Mama In Different Languages

The term “mama” is used in many different languages in one form or another. Here are just a few of the different languages that have some form of the word “mama” used to refer to one’s mother:

  • British/Canadian: Mum
  • Spanish: Mamá
  • French: Maman
  • Swiss: Mammi
  • Mandarin Chinese: Mama
  • Portuguese: mamãe
  • Russian: Mama
  • Swahili: Mamma

As you can see, there are many similarities between the variants of mama across global languages.

All of these terms have the same oral roots because they’re one of the first sounds that human infants make, but they come from very different linguistic cultures.

Is Mama the Same as Ma’am?

While mama, momma, and mam all sound similar, mam is the diminutive of a different word entirely.

“Ma” is the short form of “mama”, while ma’am is the short form of “madam.” “Ma’am” is a word that can be used to address either a mother or a married woman of any age.

Which Form of Mama Is Correct in Writing?

All forms of the term “mama” are correct when used to refer to someone in writing.

The most important aspect of using a term of endearment is that the spelling of the term is kept consistent throughout the piece of writing. You would not use “mama” in one part of a letter to your mother and “momma” in another.

Are Mama, Mamma, and Momma Capitalized?

In most cases, mama, mamma, and momma should be capitalized when they are being used to refer to an individual person. As a term of endearment, Mama is a proper noun that acts in the place of a name.

Mama Is One of the Most Common Terms on Earth

Whether you use mamma or mama to refer to your mother, you’re in good company. Both variants of this term have seen widespread use across human cultures for hundreds of years. No matter which term you use or how you spell it, it’s a term of endearment that bridges societies around the world.

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