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South Polls Momma'nem BY JOHN SHELTON REED Although the southern mother doesn't have the national fame of her Jewish counterpart, she has been celebrated locally in novels, verse, folklore, and song. And when we're referring specifically to a southern mother, the word that comes to mind is "Momma" (or "Mama"). With the possible exceptions of "Maw," stereotypically linked to the mountain Soudi, and "Mammy," which is another story altogether, no label for one's maternal parent is more southern. When we speak of Elvis's devotion to his momma, when Merle Haggard sings "Mama Tried," whenJeff Foxworthy jokes about die southern word "momma'nem" (as in "How's your momma'nem?")—in none of these contexts would "Mom," "Mommy," or (God knows) "Mater" be quite appropriate. In the fall of 1995 the Southern Focus Poll conducted telephone interviews with 801 respondents from a fhirteen-state South (the eleven ex-Confederate states plus Kentucky and Oklahoma), plus 481 nonsoufhern Americans for comparison . Among the questions included were "When you were a young child, what did you call your mother?" and (asked of those with living mothers) "What do you call her now?" The results reveal that in the South, as elsewhere, the all-American "Mom" is now the most popular form ofaddress, but "Momma" and its variants are still serious contenders. (Outside die South, this is so only in the Mountain States.) Three-quarters of nonsouthern Americans report calling their mothers "Mom" or "Mommy" as children; in the South only half did so, and in the Deep South (Soudi Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) just a third did. "Mother" is also relatively strong in the South, particularly in adulthood. This particular southernism may be threatened. Migrants to the region are far less likely than natives to have been raised in this usage. Moreover, younger southerners are a good deal more likely than older ones to have called dieir mothers "Mom" or even "Mommy." But for the time being, it's a good bet that someone who calls his mother "Momma" is southern. Like many indicators ofcultural southerness, this one is more common among black and rural southerners, among frequent churchgoers, and among tiiose with lower levels of formal education. It is also more common among Democrats and women. The Southern Focus Poll is conducted by die Institute for Research in Social Science at Chapel Hill, and can be obtained from the Institute for further analysis (CB# 3355, University ofNorth Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-335 5). 96 "What do you call your mother?": Call/called mother As young child South Non-South As an adult South Non-South Momma/Mama28 Mother13 Mom43 Mommy9 Ma3 Maw1 [Given name]1 Other1 9 8 60 14 5 1 19 21 52 2 2 1 2 2 3 12 70 4 7 1 1 2 REGIONAL VARIATION AMONG NONSOUTHERN RESPONDENTS As young child, called mother:* North- Middle East West Mountain Pacific east Adantic Central Central States Coast Momma/Mama105 5 10249 Mother8 5 9 5 1612 Mom516266744652 Mommy1320117 1118 Ma134 8 3 — 4 *5 most common only VARIATION AMONG SOUTHERN RESPONDENTS Momma/ As young child, called mother:* Mama Mother MomMommy Residence Deep South Peripheral South Lived in South 10 years or less More than 10 years All my life Considers self southerner Does not Metropolitan residence Non-metropolitan 41 24 9 20 36 35 13 23 38 17 12 8 9 15 14 10 14 12 33 47 60 54 36 37 58 46 36 2 11 11 10 7 9 9 10 7 South Polls C)-] As young child, called mother:* Momma/ Mama Mother MomMommy Race White Black Sex Male Female Age 18-24 25-44 45-64 65+ Education 1 1* grade or less high school graduate some college college graduate Political Affiliation Democrat Republican Independent Attends church never less than once/week once a week more than once/week 26 43 23 32 19 27 29 42 31 32 28 23 38 23 23 24 27 33 29 14 8 13 13 5 7 23 21 11 13 12 15 13 12 13 7 14 14 17 44 31 49 39 49 51 36 27 38 39 43...


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