Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Family names

A very quick question which has been annoying me for a while: why do we (or our coursebooks) teach our students to say ‘mother’, ‘father’, ‘grandmother’, ‘grandfather’ as the main way of discussing these members of our families? This was a conversation I had with a 10-year-old a couple of days ago:

Me: What’s your mum’s name?

Student 1: What?

Me: What’s your mum’s name?

Student 2: Mum? Mother?

Me: Yes, what’s your mother’s name?

Student 1: My mother is Alena.

I know there are lots of different variations on the names for these people, but surely it’s more useful for students to know that ‘mum/mom/mam’ are more common in informal speech than ‘mother’ for example. I only use ‘mother’ when I’m talking to a student who didn’t understand ‘mum’ or when I’m being sarcastic 😉 And I don’t think I’ve ever referred to ‘my grandfather’ or ‘my grandmother’ in a normal conversation.

What do you think? (By the way, I’m prepared to be proved wrong…)

A gratuitous photo of me and my mum :)

A gratuitous photo of me and my mum 🙂


Comments on: "Family names" (2)

  1. Not exactly on the topic of the question you ask, Sandy, but I once read about how when we have an amount of shared knowledge, the need for grammar becomes basically zero.

    It would sound pretty odd to you if I suddenly said ‘Drink’. However, if we were walking by a pub or café you’d understand it as a question ‘Would you like a drink?’

    Perhaps the familiarity of the relationships we have, quite literally familiar, with mums and grans is why the need for more formal or at least neutral lexis drops to nothing??


  2. I think it’s a very valid point, but I guess one of the reasons may be that mother etc is quite neutral- i.e. you can use it anywhere and be understood. The alternatives are more varied (mum, mummy, mam, ma, gran, dad, daddy, da, pa, granny, nan, nanny, grandpa, grandad, pops….) and the choice depends on things like where you come from and your class. But, having said that, I’d teach mum and dad as more usual forms.


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