Ya Mamma, Ya Babba
When I read Bedu’s recent post, Saudi Arabia- Understanding Umm’s and Abu’s, I became inspired for this post. I suppose I should say it is a rant, but I am genuinely curious about how the following custom got started and what it means.
I’ve noticed that many Arab parents address their very young children as ya Mamma and ya Babba. Both parents will address their daughter as ya Mama and their son as ya Babba, but I’ve also heard mothers saying ya Mamma to both sons and daughters, and fathers addressing both sons and daughters as ya Babba.
I understand the “ya” part, as a sort of a polite equivalent to, “Hey, so-and-so”, for people of any age, I’ve picked up that custom myself, but the Mamma and Babba part still stumps me when I hear it addressed to children.
In fact, it grates my ears, and I was mortified to hear one of my daughters begin addressing both her kids as ya Mamma and ya Babba, right from the cradle. The poor little girl still thinks her name is Mamma, and the boy is too small to know his own name, much less anyone else’s.
I would never criticize my daughter or anyone for following a harmless cultural custom, but I wish she would realize how ridiculous it sounds when she says it here in the States, especially in public. I’ve asked various Arabs about this custom, and I’ve heard various answers, none of which make sense.
One Arab father said, “Because I want my kids to know that their babba is talking to them.”
An Arab mother said, “Because my kids will grow up and becomes mammas and babbas.”
Can anyone enlighten me further, or agree with me or disagree that the expressions sound silly? Has anyone addressed a child as ya Mamma and ya Babba? If so, why, and what does it mean to you?