The nicknames we use for parents go in and out of fashion age to age and era to era. At one time, men preferred “Sire”. Other times, “Father” was preferable. What we do know is that the most common way to refer to dad these days is by calling him, well, ‘dad’.
But why did we abandon ‘father’ to father? The short answer is that things have become a little less formal. But the reason we have moved away from formality is that we have adopted what is more linguistically natural for children and parents. ‘Father’ comes from the Proto-Indo-European “pəter” and Old English “fæder”, meaning “he who conceives a child,” which reflects the baby-speaking sound “father” as well as a phonetic shift from ‘p’ to ‘f’ in Middle English.
‘Dad’, however, did not develop from ‘father’.
“It’s from ‘dada’,” says Professor John H. McWhorter, a professor at Columbia University, “a natural sound from children’s mouths as a second stab at consonants after trying the most natural ‘mama’. Next is often either ‘dada,’ tata ‘,’ baby ‘ or … ‘dad’. Where ‘father’ in Proto-Indo-European begins as ‘puh-TAIR,’ and the ‘puh’ part is the same thing: which started as ‘dad’ in ‘dad’. words for Mom and Dad are the closest thing to linguistic universals, because it’s about mouth anatomy in babies rather than thoughts. ”
There is also another important reason why it is strengthened over time. Emie Tittnich, a specialist at the University of Pittsburgh, talk to Living Science, noted that parents generally refrain from using pronouns such as ‘I’ or ‘you’ to prevent their children from being confused early on with abstract concepts. “‘Parents will use [‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’] to help their children learn the role names and also to indicate the relationship, ‘mum and I’, ”says Tittnich. “It usually takes the child a while to understand that the same person can be called two different names.”
The agreed naturalness of these linguistic principles means that as American society has become more colloquial and secular over time, we (at least in this case) are moving away from a term that reflects a status quo based on rigid concepts of class and religion. -one of the meanings of ‘fæder’ in Old English is ‘supreme being’, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. Consequently, we are generally caught off guard when we hear a child refer to a parent as ‘father’.
However, this is not unanimously the case. We talked to six dads who prefer ‘dad’ – or simply prefer ‘dad’ instead of ‘dad’. Some do it as a tribute to their own fathers; others do it to sound more authoritative. Others do it because that’s what their children like. Everyone has their reasons and maybe, deep down, some are just big fans of Proto-Indo-European language. Here’s what they say.
That’s What My Father Chose
I’m sometimes worried that it sounds a little harsh out loud, but that’s just what my dad always asked us to call him, and it felt like it was important to me that we keep it up. No one in my family had a problem with it. I think you can still be a ‘dad’ and be called ‘dad’, if that makes sense. It’s basically semantic, that way, but it’s also more than semantic. – John, Baltimore, MD
That’s what my child decided to call me
It’s less of a request or a claim or anything, but when we taught my eldest what everything is called, we always just said ‘it’s your mom’ and ‘it’s your dad’, and he liked it too said. So we kept it. I’m lying when I say I do not think it’s just adorable fitting that our male comes up to us and says, ‘Dad, mom, may I use the bathroom,’ or whatever you have. But as with everything, I do not care about anything that seems natural to my children and makes them happy. – Eric, Austin, Texas
We have always been a more traditional family
My son did not start until he was older. I think he thought it sounded more respectful, or just more professional. We have always been a more traditional family, in how we carry ourselves, I think you would say. So maybe it was his way of taking it easy, or contributing to it. My wife sometimes teases me about it. I have to make it clear, it’s usually he who introduces me to other people like that. “This is my father, did you meet my father?” etc. – Patrick, Twin Cities, MN
It just kind of got stuck
For the past two years, my older daughter, age 21, has started calling me ‘dad’ and as strange as I found it, I have not exploited it at all. Now, my four year old calls me “dad” and I think I have a new title now. As long as I’m not called ‘Henry’, I’m okay with that. – Henry, Boston, MA
It’s a little more authoritative
I have eight children — three boys and five girls. I always asked them to call me ‘father’ not to be dominant but because the house can get a little chaotic, as you can imagine, and my wife and I felt it was a label that was more was authoritative and kept things away from being chaotic. “Please do not touch your father’s golf clubs” just has a better sound, I think. – Elliott, Charlotte, NC
It cultivates a sense of responsibility in me
I love that my kids call me ‘father’ because of the sense of responsibility it instills in me. Your ‘dad’ or ‘dad’ is there to lend you the car, your ‘dad’ is there to raise you, and to protect you and make sure you have the tools you need to succeed in to achieve life. When my kids call me ‘father’, it rekindles that sense of purpose for me every day, reminding me it’s me to make their world a wonderful place to grow up in. – Sam, Alachua Country, FL