What's in a Name?

Mama – her 99th birthday would have been this month – and I’ve been thinking about her. At the risk of disagreeing with Shakespeare, I think it mattered what she was called. She wasn’t “Mother” – too sophisticated and modern. Nor was she “Ma” – too apron-in-the-kitchen with hair-in-a-bun. Certainly not “Mom” – too companionable and egalitarian. She was “Mama” – as in “Mama’s home. All is well.”


  • Mama – who felt blessed that all her children were girls.
  • Mama – who read poems beyond our understanding so beautifully that I memorized “Crossing the Bar” in first grade from the repetition. Meaning could wait for high school and college.
  • Mama – whose tools in her garden worked better than those in her kitchen.

We noticed that Mama had a fascinating eccentricity. She avoided face-to-face admiration for any of her four daughters. The best we could figure, she wanted us not to “think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think.” Instead, she sang the praises of any daughter who was not present. Until we figured out what she was doing, we could feel fairly mediocre compared to the absent sister. But sisters talk, and we caught on. We circumvented our inferiority problem by reporting her words to the missing sister and took our chances on an epidemic of pride breaking out.

Mama was consistent, and we knew what to expect from her until that one day – but I’ll save that for Thursday’s blog.