A Rubicon has been crossed. There we were, an adult couple on a night out, with no child in sight, and, with me confirming across a bar whether it was a merlot or a cabsav, I very nearly called my wife Mammy. Luckily her name begins with Ma so I was able to divert at the last minute. Mammm… arie. It wasn’t graceful. Figuratively speaking, I avoided the goalpost and ended up tangled in the back of the net but still, with no broken kneecap.
We are Mammy and Daddy now so much of the time, so it requires an actual mental shift to use our own names. I suppose it’s part of the necessary sublimation of the self that comes with parenting. I simply will not be one of those families whose children use their parents’ Christian names. We are not in some sort of perverted cult. When, on the odd occasion, I heard my parents call each other by their first name, I thought they were getting a divorce. Every so often my eldest will call me Colm and I will shut that nonsense down straight away. When she says my name, it feels like she has gained a power over me. Like when call centre employees overuse my name. “Now Colm, if you could just quote your customer number Colm … let me just look you up on the system … that’s great Colm now it says here that you are not entitled to get annoyed about the thing you rang up to be annoyed about because you haven’t looked at a single term and condition since you first signed up for this service have you?”
There are other little verbal tics that have crept in. I use Daddy in the third person. “Listen to me now, what did Daddy say? Did Daddy say you could pour water all over the floor?” I’m not sure why I do this. Perhaps I’m protecting myself against future indictment. If the FBI have a wiretap on the house, then, if Daddy makes a decision that is clearly wrong, the Feds have nothing to go on. Because it was all the doing of a mysterious figure called Daddy.
It’s Daddy by the way and my wife is Mammy. We didn’t chose the form. I think it chose us.
We are not Mum people. I don’t have anything against Mum. Mum is as valid as any of them but Mum was too Kinder Bueno ad for us. It didn’t fit our culchie mouths.
Mum is odd too as it doesn’t have a specific male equivialent. Mum and Dad don’t sound like they are together at all. It has to be Dad because otherwise it would be Dud. Which might be true in some cases but just not something to be shouting across a B&Q.
Obviously, it wasn’t going to be Ma and Da. I would like to continue writing for the Irish Examiner and visiting Cork. And if my children started Ma and Daing around the place like they were in Give Up Yer Oul Sins, well, I’m sure phone calls would have been made to the appropriate constabularies.
Then there are anomalies. Mother, on first glance, appears posh.It calls to mind a genteel time, tea with saucers, an archaic version of racism “Aubrey I wish you wouldn’t play with the Tatar boy. They can’t know our ways.” But I’ve heard very country people use Mother. Perhaps relics of some village of yeomanry from the earliest Plantations like the hipster Plantations in Laois/Offaly or the early live albums from Wexford.
‘Mom’ should scream ‘American Notions’ by rights. A house with a big fridge and always having enough hot water even after The Bath. But Mom is also the same sound – roughly – as Mamaí in Irish. So Mom turns up in deepest Kerry. Although if you’ve ever seen the houses outside Tralee, they probably do have huge fridges. The size of them.
So Mammy and Daddy are our names for the foreseeable future. When will that end? We are keeping mum about that.