I called my mother Nanay. Speedy called his mother Mommy. When Sam was born and we were living with my in-laws, it seemed the most natural thing that I would be referred to as Sam’s “mommy.” But, to be honest, Speedy and I had some not-too-casual discussions about how we wanted Sam to address us. Mommy, Mama or Nanay? Daddy, Papa or Tatay?
By the time Sam was about a year old, we started teaching her to address us as Tatay and Nanay. But it was too late after hearing everyone refer to us as her Mommy and Daddy. The confusion was confounded by the fact that I called my parents Nanay and Tatay. As most kids do, Sam mimicked me and when she started talking, she referred to MY parents as Nanay and Tatay as well. Obviously, even before she could talk, she had already associated Mommy, Daddy, Nanay and Tatay with specific persons as though they were names and by addressing us as such, she was simply extending that association by articulating. We tried to teach her to call my mother Lola (grandmother) but things got even more confusing because I called my grandmother Lola. So, to her, Lola was MY grandmother, not my mother. We did try to teach her to call my grandmother Lola-Lola but it was too confusing. So, never mind. I was Mommy, my mother was Nanay and my grandmother was Lola. When Alex was born, she just called us whatever it was that Sam called us.
What’s the big deal, really? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. The girls could have called me “Connie” and I’d be the same person to them — the one who gave birth to them, the one who took care of them, the one who read those picture and word books with them and the one who introduced them to The Wonderful World of Disney hehehehe
The thing is, the choice between Mommy, Mama or Nanay has underlying connotations. Don’t accuse me of politicizing everything. But understanding motives, subconscious or otherwise, behind the choices we make can lead to better choices in the future.
During the Spanish era, the mestizos called their parents Mama and Papa, accent on the LAST syllable, and indios used titles like Inang and Itang. It was a language thing at the time. Mama and Papa were not part of the local dialects and were, therefore, alien to the Filipinos. But there was also that deep-rooted acknowledgment that to be a mestizo meant belonging to a higher social class. There was a social divide.
Generations later, and I got this impression from discussions with my grandmother and mother, people often said that “mommy” and “daddy” were pang-mayaman (only for the wealthy). Not only was there a social divide, there was an obvious economic divide.
During my generation, it had become a status thing. How one called one’s parents was prima facie evidence of one’s social and economic status. Calling one’s parents Nanay and Tatay meant you were poorer than those who called their parents Mommy and Daddy, and decidedly PROVINCIAL too. Mama and Papa, again accent on the LAST syllable, had become associated with families that trace their roots to mestizo ascendants; Mommy and Daddy became associated with the Americanized generation. I don’t know where Mama and Papa, accent on the FIRST syllable, fit in.
Whether we admit it or not, whether or not we say it out loud, we have reasons when we decide whether our children should call us Mommy, Mama or Nanay. I have heard a lot of mothers say, “Syempre Mommy (or Mama), para sosyal.” I have also heard some mothers choose Nanay because the pang-mayaman terms make them cringe — too pretentious for people who don’t belong to that class where the use of such titles are “natural.”
Perhaps, it’s an urban thing. Perhaps, the Filipinos in the rural areas don’t even feel they have to make a choice, and they simply use the titles that are part of their language and culture. But for us who grew up in the city, it’s a bit more confusing — which is our language and what is our culture?