“Are you helping mama with her errands today?” the grocery clerk asked my son at the check-out.
“Mummy, not mama,” Nate corrected, emphasising the last syllable of each word. At three and a half, he is quite the helper. He continued to transfer containers of Greek yogurt from our trolley to the conveyer belt. Mummy and Mama are not interchangeable terms in our house. He has one of each, and it was plainly obvious—to him—that he was shopping with his Mummy, not his Mama.
“I see,” said the clerk. She seemed amused by his precision. Nate was actually making a few distinctions about our family: the title of the parent he was with, and the fact that he had another female parent at home. Matter-of-factly, he was coming out as having a same-sex headed family.
Even before Nate could call us by name, my partner Jamie and I wanted titles that would differentiate us from one another. “Mummy A” and “Mummy J” were our first attempt, but they felt too cumbersome and too similar. Surely in the middle of the night, we would both insist that the other was being requested by the little voice calling out from down the hall. So, we did what any egalitarian couple would do: we flipped a coin and assigned titles. The nickel landed heads up. I became Mummy and Jamie, Mama.
It wasn’t the first time Jamie and I faced a naming dilemma. When we got married, there were no etiquette manuals to suggest what to do—not that we necessarily would have listened to the advice anyway. We both had last names that were mispronounced more often than they were said correctly. Together, the names would have been a hyphenated disaster. We opted for neither name and became the Davis family, in honor of my great-grandmother, a loving matriarch with a name no one else was carrying on. At 99, she died the year we got engaged.