On calls our relatives by their first name, except some relatives, designated by a title, a place in the web of alliance and filiation bonds: Auntie, Uncle, Grandma, Papa. It seems funny to us that Louis XIV’s brother is called “Monsieur”, just “Monsieur”, but not that Mum, it is just Mum. Oh… we have almost everywhere stopped talking about her and calling her “Mother”, but the familiarity, almost universal, has not been associated with the use of the first name. Far from there.
Yet some had tried, some sixty years ago, in a desire for radical reform of lifestyles, to eliminate this sign of power relations that are the names of status. In the dream community life, everyone will be called by their first name. This utopia has fizzled out. And maybe Michelle, who wanted to be Michelle so much, is now “Granny”. The attempt failed.
First of all because being called, as a parent, by your first name, is today badly lived. Online forums are full of worried questions: “My son calls me by my first name, what to do? I’m really disappointed … Everyone around me laughs, but I am desperate. “ And compassionate responses, this idea revolts so much.
Closeness and softness
And that’s not all: to put it in a cartoonish way, the psychology world recommends that parents not be called by their first name. Françoise Dolto even wrote that it was “Dangerous for the psychic structure of the child”. The advice you find online is radical: if it calls you by your first name, “Ignore him, don’t answer him”. Perhaps silence and ignorance solidify the psychic structure.
So, all in all, Mum would have this magical power to signify both biological filiation, differences in status and power, but also closeness, warmth and gentleness … Mum, as the poems of the festival repeat. mothers, so it’s really “The most beautiful name in the world”.
Baptiste Coulmont is professor of sociology at the Ecole normale supérieure Paris-Saclay, author of “Sociologie des prénoms” (La Découverte, 2014, 130 p., 10 €) and, with Pierre Mercklé, of “Why top-models do not smile . Sociological chronicles ”(Presses des Mines, 2020, 184 p., € 29).