How to Say Dad in Different Languages
Father’s Day is approaching, so this week on Word Nerd I thought it would be fun to explore the various words for father in languages from around the world.
Origins of the Words for Father in English
In English, we have several words for referring to our dads. The word father is from Old English fæder, which came from a Proto-Germanic word fader, which came from a Proto-Indo European word pəter.
Pəter is also the source of the Greek and Latin words pater, from which we get words like paternal and patriarchy. So how did it go from pater to father? This is because of two linguistic phenomena called Grimm’s law and Verner’s law, which describe the process of transformation that certain consonant sounds went through over time in Germanic languages. The “d” sound transformed into the “t” sound, and the “p” sound turned into the “f” sound.
In English, we also use the words dad and papa. The sound “da” is one of the first sounds that any baby begins to make, along with the sounds “ma,” “ba,” and, “pa.” The theory is that the ancient word pəter is a more complex version of the baby sound “pa,” which is where the words pa and papa come from. The same is true of ma and mama, and da and dada, shortened to dad.
Dada, Papa, Tata, and Baba
Many languages use some form of the word dada as their word for father, and many use both dada and papa. Greek, Latin, Czech, Sanskrit, Spanish, Polish, Romanian, Welsh, Yiddish, and Filipino all have a version of the word tata, or sometimes tad, or tatti. Russian, Swedish, Spanish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Persian, Latin, Japanese, Korean, Hungarian, Hindi, German, French, Icelandic and Dutch all have a version of the word papa, or papi. Turkish, Swahili, Nepali, Mandarin Chinese, Zulu, Malay, Italian, Indonesian, and Arabic all have a version of the word baba.
There are outlier languages that do not use this format. For example, in some of the Uralian languages like Finnish, and Estonian, the word isa is used for father. In the Basque language, it’s aita. In Irish and Scots Gaelic, athair. Somali, aabe.
In the Hawaiian language, the word is makuakāne; from makua, meaning generally, “parents,” and kāne, meaning, “male.” In the Maori language, father is similarly, matua tāne, or just tama. The Samoan language also uses tama. In the Inuktitut language of the arctic north, the male parent is ataata.
My sister and I have our own word for our father, which is Dado. I’m not sure why we started calling him Dado, but we did, and it stuck. It’s probably because my twin sister and I had trouble saying each other’s names when we were toddlers, so I became Emo and my sister Abigail became Abo. Strangely though, our mom never got an “o” nickname. She’s just mom or mommy. After my sister adopted a dog, we decided our parents needed silly grandparent names, and we workshopped a few, deciding upon Meemaw for our mom, and Flip Flop for our dado.
Nicknames for Grandfather
In general, it seems like people get more creative with their grandfather nicknames than their father nicknames, but my friend Frank called his dad Sarge. My friend Dawn calls her dad Yumpa. And my friend Jen calls her dad Guy or Hey Guy.
Do you have a nickname for your dad? Does it relate to your cultural or linguistic heritage? How are you celebrating your dad this Sunday?
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