If you come from the Middle East region or if you have anything to do with Arabs, you will have noticed the anomaly of interchangeable titles in Arab families. “Say what?” I hear you ask.
I will explain. If you have ever observed an Arab mother, you will notice that she calls her child ‘mama’. An Arab speaking dad will most definitely call each one of his children ‘baba’ just as they would call him. In Westernized parts of the Arab world, such as Lebanon of course, I call my dad ‘papi’ and he calls me ‘papi’ right back.
My grandmother, as all grandmothers in Lebanon, called me ‘teta’ just as I called her ‘teta’- the diminutive for grandma. Why is that? Why does my uncle call me ‘uncle’ and why does my aunt call me ‘aunt’ and why do the friends of my dad that I call ‘ammo’ (derivative of uncle) also address me as ‘ammo’?
Are we all nuts? Let’s not go there. Let’s just put a pin in that one and try to figure out why my daughter calls her grandpa ‘Jiddo’ and he reciprocates with “I’m here, Jiddo” when addressing her. Are we the only people who do that? I think so, and if I am mistaken please correct me. When I was at my sister’s wedding in Florida with my little 15 month old at the time, I kept calling her “Mommy” and ended up making the wedding guests do the same, thinking that I named my little daughter “mommy”, or better yet, “mummy”. Maybe they thought I was an avid egyptologist or something.
When I was skyping recently with my littlest daughter, who is half Lebanese like me and half Kiwi like her dad, she alerted me to what I was saying by exclaiming (seemingly after having called her “Mommy” too many times) “You are tho thilly. I am not your mommy”. Ha.
I thought hard about why we use interchangeable titles when addressing each other in the Arab world and I concluded that I don’t have a clue. There is still a pin in the being nuts theory. Let’s just keep it there.
I tried to ask my dad once about why we do the things we do, and why does he call me Papi when it is I who should only be calling him Papi. His answer was “I don’t know why we do this, Papi”.
I rest my case.