The Psychological Need to Call Someone “Mom”

I would like to explore Nassun’s relationship with her three most notable parental figures, first providing my own analysis of why Nassun is not able to stop calling her mother “Mama”, even though she had previously resolved to call her Essun. This is following her solemn decision to call her father by his first name as well, except to his face, in order to keep up the facade of the innocent, loving daughter.

Roughly halfway through The Obelisk Gate, Nassun has already begun to call her father Jija in her head, after coming to the horrible, dawning realization that he does not love her unconditionally as a father should, as she thinks he does before he discovers she is an orogene. There comes a point when she also resolves to call her mother by her first name, thinking, “No. If Daddy was Jija, then Mama had to be Essun.” (Jemisin 154) I realized later into my reading that Nassun actually reverts back to calling her mother “Mama” rather than “Essun”. After noticing this, I began to wonder about the psychological reason behind Nassun’s regression.

Upon researching the meaning of the terms “Mom” and “Dad”, I found an article, titled “Why Do We Call Parents ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’?”, explaining the supposed origins of these natural terms of endearment. Almost identical in every language, “Mom” and “Dad” are believed to have originated from the universal way that infants begin learning and practicing speech. The article says, “The words babies make in this early babbling stage tend to use the softer contestants like B, P and M, often leading to the creation of otherwise non-words like baba, papa and mama by the child in question.” In addition, there has been conjecture among researchers about why the “M” sound was assigned to females. The article states, “…it is generally thought that it derived from the sound babies make while suckling or feeding…” Breastfeeding is an intimate act between mother and child, with lots of research supporting the notion that it nurtures the attachment relationship. So, if the level of attachment between a mother and her child is related to breastfeeding, which is related to when a child makes the “M” sound which eventually turns into some form of “Mom”, then this all supports the idea that when children call their parents “Mom” and “Dad” or other terms along those lines, it is a symbol of closeness and comfort.

Nassun does not revert to calling Jija “Daddy”, or at least not genuinely. This may be simply because Jija physically harms her after figuring out she is an orogene, but one must wonder if the closeness experienced by mother and daughter plays a part as well. Perhaps Nassun’s young age combined with the natural attachment a child shares with her mother, her strongest parental figure after Jija begins to abuse her, is the reason Nassun cannot help but call her mother “Mama” again. However, some may argue that a child calling their parent(s) by first names is a sign of growing up, or at least an attempt at this. This would lead us to the conclusion that Nassun is forced to grow up prematurely because she has to look out for herself for so long, while she is in the hands of Jija who may or may not harm her at all times. However, it did not slip my focus that Nassun begins to resume calling Essun “Mama” at roughly the same time as Schaffa assumes the role as her primary caregiver. Could this be a coincidence? Or could it be that as soon as Nassun actually has an adult on whom she can rely once more, it allows her to resume her childhood where she left off, again adopting the term of endearment for her mother that can only be earned with time and trust.

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