Father’s Day falls on the third Sunday in June, but many of us refer to our male parents as dad or papa rather than by the more formal father. Why does English have so many names for the same person? And where do they all come from?
Like the names for our female parents, papa and its many variations were primarily imitative of the first sounds that young children produce, which include the p, b and d sounds. Throughout the Middle East and South Asia, fathers are called baba. Baba, dada, and papa are examples of what child-language acquisition experts call “reduplicated canonical babbling,” something universally observed as children enter the babbling phase of language accession. Reduplication is when a word, a sound, an element of a word, or a phrase is repeated.
Father was spelled with a d in place of a th until as recently as the late 1500s, though the term itself dates back to the time when Old English was spoken. Dad was first recorded in the 1500s, along with the more colloquial daddy. Pop is the most recent linguistic twist on affectionate names for our dads, arising in America in the 1830s.