Southern "Mammy" & Irish "Mammy" - why the same?

I’m reading Philomena, set in 1950’s Ireland, and come across many references to “Mammy,” as…mommy. I’m also aware that in the 19th century, the term, mammy, was used by many people to refer to a black woman whose responsibility was to raise and deal with white children. Those are the only two instances I can think of in which that term is used. Is there some connection? I am assuming the term migrated somehow from Ireland to America. Anyone know how? Or, how to explain the coincidence? Thanks,

According to wikipedia:

“Mammy” is a nickname for a mother, used in several English dialects, including Hiberno-English used in Ireland.

So, it’s probably not just Ireland and the US South.

Many Irish and Scots-Irish migrated to America all up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and particularly in the Appalachians and New England.

I’ve read that “ma ma” is the easiest thing for a newborn to utter so the variations of that (mama, momma, mommy, mummy, mammy, and on and on) get to be the name of that woman who keeps poking a titty in their mouth and it doesn’t really go away but just gets dressed up to Mom or Mother or one of those fancier utterances.

What was it you wanted to know?

What Zeldar said, most likely. My Georgia hometown has such a huge Irish-descended population that, after I had come out west to California, I was initially confused why the schools didn’t shut down for a few days around March 17.

Some people pronounce the word that they spell “mammy” the way others pronounce the word that they spell “mommy.”

I have a mammy but more usually called my ma. As others have said it’s not a huge leap from mom or mum to mam sound.

Online Etymology Dictionary:

No coincidence, and a long history that goes deep into the English language at far more points than two.

I think that “mammy” is not particularly widespread, and is notable for that. I understand the etymology of mama, etc. as a commonly voiced sound of newborns. What is still not clear is why southern whites, some of whose ancestors came from Ireland, did not use the term, mammy, themselves, and how and why it got applied the way it did, to black women who cared for their children. Certainly, as late as the 1950’s, the term was still in use in Ireland, and was used by the Irish to refer to their own mothers. How did it come to apply NOT to Irish-Americans in the south? And why to their slaves?

Language evolves at different rates. Some words linger, others change over time. The change is far more likely to occur if there is a reason to differentiate the word from older senses. (The parallel to new species arising only if a new niche is created is fairly exact.)

I’d say that’s the situation here. Over time, people would want to distinguish the white mama from the black mammy so it’s to be expected that a different word would arise. But Irish mothers are continually Irish mothers without a second, separate group, so there wouldn’t have been pressure in the 19th century to create a new word. In today’s more homogenized culture, standard terms have been driving out dialectical variants and the loss of mammy may be one of them, especially as it developed negative associations in American culture.

Assuming this hypothesis is correct, it doesn’t explain why the Irish women didn’t KEEP mammy and assign or use a different term for their slaves. In an imaginary family, I’d see the white mother saying, “I’M your mammy, and this black woman here who’s raising you is your (say) black momma.” Why would they abandon a term that’s associated with their own experience? Not only abandon it, but transfer its use to their putative inferiors? I know it happened, but there’s something a bit peculiar about it.

It is still commonly used in Ireland. In fact there’s recently been a series ofIrish Mammies books. I suppose to some it sounds infantile but it is no danger of dying out any time soon. I have been trying to find out but I suspect its use within Ireland is regional though.

There’s a lot of assumptions here. You’re assuming that mammy must be Irish, that Irish people were a dominant ethnicity in the South, and that they kept the earlier word only to transfer it later.

I don’t know if any of those is true. What I can say with some certainty is that mam was used more often than mammy, mama, or momma in the early 19th century. It’s entirely possible that mammy in the American South was an independent reinvention from mam.

You can never make assumptions about word history. It always surprises you.

Possible parallel: In standard English a nanny is an unrelated woman who looks after children, but in some dialects “nanny” is the name for one’s own grandmother.

The following is common in etymology: Word X is the standard term for the core meaning Y. Some people start using word X to mean an associated meaning Z which is an obvious extension of meaning Y. Because X is now ambiguous, some people start using word W to mean Y, since they want to make it clear that they don’t mean Z. Soon W becomes the standard word for meaning Y, and X is only used to mean Z. Here X is the word “mammy,” Y is the meaning “mother,” Z is the meaning “black nanny,” and W is the word “momma.”

Mammy ,Mommy or more common pronunciation M-aw-mmy or Mommaa is very common in the US.Normaily when people get older say mom :o but some places in south still say M-aw-mmy or Momma even when you in your 30’s!!

I can attest to Mama being used by all ages. My mother and her mother and my father’s mother were all Mama by all in the family until their deaths. My kids referred to Mom, never Mama, and occasionally Mother. My first wife’s mother was Mother, never Mama or other variants. Generalizing about The South just indicates ignorance and bias.

In my maternal family, my cousins and I called our mothers “Mamma” until the days they died, and our family was from Pennsylvania (and of English-Scots-Irish-German-Dutch extraction). By the time we were in our mid-teens, we referred to them as “Mother,” but we called them “Mamma,” and that’s what they and their cousins also did. I doubt that it’s a regional phenomenon.

This is pure hypothesising here, but: in Ireland today, as far as I can tell, ‘mammy’ is mainly a rural and working-class urban usage. Middle-class urban kids are more likely to say ‘mummy’ or ‘mum’. If that divide existed a couple of centuries back (and I have no idea if it did, but it seems possible - upper-class Irish people existed in a subculture that had a lot more British influences than the working-class ones, so they might well have used a more British term for mother), then the kind of differentiation you’re talking about wouldn’t be that odd. The Irish-American women who owned slaves would quite probably either come from that West Brit subculture or else associate higher social status with West Brit usages. So it’d be ‘I’m your mummy [or mamma, which I think was the common British term at that stage] and this black woman who’s raising you is your mammy [since that’s the term associated with lower social status]’.

Again, I have no clue if that’s actually the case, but for what it’s worth…

ETA: I agree that it’s more likely that the two usages evolved independently, but that might explain why Irish-American didn’t have a problem with using ‘mammy’ for the slave raising their children.

I believe the -y suffix when added to a name is often a diminutive. So an -y name may have better fit the lower status black nurse than the children’s real mother.

The use of ‘mam’ rather than Mum or Mom is common in North-East England as well, as I recall from my own relatives.