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Scottish Culture/Scottish children's term for mother


I am a novelist working on a book set in 1896 in northern Scotland. One character is a six year old Scottish boy from a wealthy family, and I was wondering what he would call his mother. Mummy? Mammy? Something different?
Thank you!

Dear Megan

Tis all depends on the level of wealth: the location of the piece is very much secondary to the class of the family. A properly wealthy family - landed I mean by this - would not have a 'local' accent. The child would be raised by a nanny then a governess and would be brought up in a formal, structured household.

I would suggest, then, that he would address his mother as 'mother' or 'mama' (as pronounced in the received pronunciation form). HIs father, however, he may well address as 'sir'.
Remember - and you probably know this, so apologies for any information you already know - that the parents would have minimal dealings with the child day-to-day: they may well just see the briefly in the evening, brought to see their parents by their nanny /  governess (dependent on age of the child). None of the wealthy family would have a local accent: by the way, there are very different dialects associated with the North of Scotland, so that could be a very tricky process - may I suggest that when you decide on a location, you go to something like and use the archive to access genuine accents. 'Mammy', to me, never suggests Scots on the page, it's more akin to some Irish dialects - and in writing you obviously don't have the benefit of the words being read out aloud to the reader.

I have to say, UK programmes such as "Upstairs Downstairs" (the 1970s original series which begins I think in the early 1900s or even "Downton Abbey" have the type of 'cut-glass' accents a wealthy family would use by the 1890s - boys would be sent off to boarding school, the UK still had its Empire, and from the mid 1700s the upper classes had been actively ridding themselves of their Scottish accents - it's still prevalent.

There would always have been exceptions, but from what I have read and gleaned over the years, this would most probably have been the case.

I hope this helps

All things good


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Kaye McAlpine


Lifecycle (birth, marriage, death) customs in Scotland, Early Modern Scottish social customs, modern Scottish social customs, Border March laws and procedures, criminal processes and judicial execution practices, social history in Early Modern Scotland, ephemera printing in Scotland. While I have some knowledge of the clan system and function of the clan society (Highland and Lowland), I am not a an expert in clan genealogy. Having traced back my own family over a couple of centuries, and traced others due to academic research, I do know how the system works, however. This doesn't mean that I'm a genealogist. Please note that I do not speak Gaelic.


Research Fellow (University of Edinburgh). Contributer to various books and journals on ballads, including Scottish Life and Society: A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology, The Ballad and History and The Harris Repertoire. Freelance tutor in outreach courses from Edinburgh University on Scottish Culture and Tradition, including lifecycle customs, broadsheet ballads in Scotland, the traditional ballad and history. Freelance writer, guest presenter on Ch4 History Hunters programme, contributor to BBC Radio Scotland's 'Songlines' series on 'The Dowie Dens of Yarrow'. Currently co-director of a media production company

Books: Forthcoming: The Gallows and The Stake Published: Compendium of Scottish Ethnology, vol. 10, chapter on The Traditional and the Border Ballad; The Harris Repertoire (2000, Scottish Text Society, co-editor), The Ballad in History (chapter on Border ballads). Journals include Folklore, The Review of Scottish Culture,Sottish Studies, and The Scottish Literary Journal

Ph D, M. Phil, BA (hons)

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