My mother’s family hail from the Virginia Beach area and I always called her parents “grandma” and “granddad”; however, my dad’s family were Appalachian proud – living at the “head of the holler” and as early as I can remember, his parents were my “mamaw” and “papaw”.
Growing up, I never gave these titles much thought. Grandma and Granddad taught me how to feed the squirrels outside their cozy Virginia Beach colonial home, while my Mamaw and Papaw taught me how to skin the squirrels that were brave enough to show their faces within a mile’s radius of their home, after we’d done filled ’em full of buckshot!
All four of these individuals were incredible people whom I miss dearly.
After I moved outside of my “Appalachian comfort zone”, I soon realized that not everyone in America was fortunate as I was to have had a Mamaw and a Papaw.
I never imagined I’d have to explain to someone what a mamaw was, but I’ve found myself doing just that.
Lately, I have grown fascinated with Appalachian-English, particularly of the words we use and have heard our entire lives, but are completely foreign to any of yu’ns who might be read’n this from some w’ars else’t!
What are the origins of these titles? Not everyone is in agreement (imagine that in 2017 America!); however, it seems that the prevailing theory is that “Mamaw” comes from a Lowland Scot term “Ma Maw”, meaning, “My Mother”.
“Ma” was used when addressing one’s own mother, while “Maw” is used when addressing others of one’s own or others mothers.
But what about Pa-paw? Where did this word come from?
Unfortunately, this is a question that no one seems capable of providing a satisfactory answer and any Google search of the term pawpaw will reveal dozens of articles about Appalachia’s forgotten fruit tree, the PawPaw.
Though there continues to be debate regarding the origins of “Pa-paw” and “Ma-maw” the titles seem almost exclusively limited to Appalachia, the American South and parts of Texas — which shouldn’t be too surprising, considering the fact that Texas was made possible thanks to the blood and sweat of Appalachia’s native sons.
Though the origins of these terms may not be 100% clear, what is beyond certain is that if you had a “Papaw” the odds are that he was tough as nails, knew had to fix what was broken and had hands that were as rough as a cob. Are we right?
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