For many babies, the first words they utter are “mama” or “papa.” This is not surprising, as babies tend to express things they experience regularly in their environment. What is intriguing, however, is that these two family words, “mama” and “papa,” seem to be a universal language, pronounced similarly in many languages worldwide. The phonetic aspect of the word “mama” sounds particularly identical in various languages, despite the absence of a written word.
Just like in other languages, the most common way for children to call their mother in Chinese is “mā ma.” However, there are other ways to address one’s mother. In this post, you will learn five common Chinese terms for “mother.” Don’t forget to stick with us until the end, as there are two bonus words for you!
The compound character 妈 (mā) combines 女 (woman) and 马 (horse). 女 suggests the meaning, while 马 (mǎ) indicates the sound. The traditional form of the character is 媽.
Doubling up the character 妈 gives us the two-character word 妈妈 (mā ma), which sounds like “mama.” The traditional form is 媽媽.
You might wonder the difference between the single-character word 妈 and the two-character word 妈妈 since they both mean “mom.” Little children usually call their mom 妈妈, but youth and adults tend to address their mom with the single character, 妈, to show their affection towards their mother. However, some Chinese kids might call their mom 妈 to demonstrate that they have grown up.
老妈 (lǎo mā), literally old mom, is another way for young people and grow-ups to show a good child-mother relationship. The traditional form is 老媽.
妈咪 (mā mī) is a loanword derived from the English term “mommy.” This endearing term is often used by Chinese toddlers and young children when addressing their moms. It adds a sweet and affectionate touch to their conversations with their mothers. The traditional form is 媽咪.
The literal translation of 母亲 (mǔ qīn) is “female relative.” It is a formal way to call or refer to one’s mother, similar to “mother” in English. You would normally see this term used in writing or formal occasions, such as in 母亲节 (Mother’s Day; mǔqīn jié). The traditional form of this formal term is 母親.
Here are two bonus words for “mother.” While not often taught in Chinese textbooks, these terms are occasionally used in everyday situations.
The compound character 娘 (niáng) combines 女 (woman) and 良 (virtuous). 女 suggests the meaning, while 良 (liáng) indicates the sound. This term is seen as old-fashioned, but you might hear people use it in some remote villages in China or occasionally in Chinese historical dramas.
My mother 家母
家母 (jiā mǔ) is a very formal term used when referring to one’s own mother while speaking to others. The phrase consists of two characters: 家, which means “home” or “family,” and 母, which stands for “mother” in this context.
There you have it! This comprehensive list covers various ways Chinese people address their mothers, ranging from very formal terms to terms of endearment. The speaker’s age might also influence their preferred way of calling their mother. This list will undoubtedly boost your Chinese vocabulary.