Putativa madre

Last Sunday morning I was awakened by a phone call from Medellín, and someone I’m very close to jubilantly squealed from a hospital waiting room, ¡Soy abuela! ¡Eres tía, eres tía! Long-awaited Violeta had been born just a few minutes before. This person also called me back in January right after finding out she was going to be a grandmother. Of course, I’m nobody’s aunt. Nor am I this woman’s daughter, no matter how many times she might insist that she considers me one. El casi no cuenta, I know. Still, some people make such a mark on us, nos hacen tanta mella–whole families, even, take us in perhaps when we most needed one–and it only seems right that there be some way of calling them, some loving honorific that does justice to their importance to us. What are our options?

In between patients the other morning I was reading an ancient article from 2007, and I came across this interesting sentence:

Volteamos a la altura del rosal de la esquina, uno de los pocos jardines del barrio, y mi madre putativa retrocede para esconderse detrás de mí. 

We turn around at the rose bushes on the corner, one of the few gardens in the neighborhood, and my putativa mother steps back to hide behind me.

Putativa? Well, that’s a fine way to call your mother. The writer was walking through a poor neighborhood of Medellín, and the woman was the lady who owned the house he was renting a room in. Maybe she really was a puta; who could say?

Later in the day I was doing a little, ahem, fisgoneo. One helpful clue was a website created for a pregnancy, and on the side of the page were listed all the family members’ names, divided into categories. There were padres, padrinos, abuelos, tatarabuelos, and tíos y tías. Plus, tíos y tías putativos and abuela putativa. That word again! Whatever it meant, there was no way it had any tie to putaI mean, there were fourteen putativos all told, so if putativo did actually mean what you can’t help but associate it with at first glance . . . well, this poor baby was truly an hijueputas. You usually don’t run around airing your dirty laundry like that, though. Talk about libel.

What were the odds of running into putativo twice in one day when I wasn’t looking for it? Slim. And the odds that I could resist blogging about it? Slender, indeed.

Putativo means, putative (frm), supposed.

1. adj. Que se tiene por padre, hermano o cualquier otro familiar, sin serlo: padre putativo.

1. adj. Reputado o tenido por padre, hermano, etc., no siéndolo.

Ah, reputado. Of course. Reputed to be the father/brother/etc. of someone, taken as the family member of somebody despite not actually being so.

putativo perro

Putare (not putear) comes from Latin and means to believe that, to take as, or to hold as. Also, to consider, to reckon. We see it in words like dispute, repute, and compute. Putare also means to cut or prune (podar), and we see this in amputate. As a side note, I’d never realized that computador has the word puta smack dab in the middle of it. I also can’t help but see the phrase house of ill repute in a new light.

A relative putativo is one who takes on a certain role and is considered by everyone to have that role, although he or she doesn’t have any legal or biological ties. Joseph, the father of Jesus, is considered to be the padre putativo par excellence. Though he allegedly had no hand in Jesus’ conception, he raised the boy as if he were his own. Many people even believe that the nickname Pepe for José came about because of the first two letters of padre putativo: PP = Pepe.

I guess my paisa surrogate mom could be called my mamá putativa. Emphasis on could. Not would, and probably not should. A usted la considero mi mamá putativa . . .  ¿Tu qué?????? . . . ¡PutaTIVA! ¡Tiva! ¡Tiva! No puta a secas, pues no me crea tan grosera. ¿Cómo se le ocurre? ¡Por Dios! You’d be digging yourself a deeper hole by the minute–it just sounds bawdy, even if we know it’s not. I’ll have to cautiously bust it out sometime soon and see what happens. 

So, what to do? In this case, I might say mamá colombiana or mamá del alma. When talking to my boss, Cristina, a few months ago about how we’d translate foster parent, I learned the word postizo. It first sounded terrible to me, as it only conjured up dentures and wigs, but then I learned that it’s also used in many countries with people you consider to be practically family members. So, mamá postiza could also be an option. Or segunda mamá. What do you call your almost family?

Todos en el barrio sabían que por mucho que fingieran, Carlos solo era el padre putativo de Elisabeth.

Despite how hard they tried to pretend, everyone in the neighborhood knew that Carlos wasn’t Elisabeth’s real father.

Le doy gracias a Dios por darme a mi mamá putativa y a los hermanos que nunca tuve.

I thank God for giving me my surrogate mom and the siblings I had never had.

Valparaíso es mi ciudad putativa, pues de una me acogió cuando me encontraba un poco sin rumbo.

Valparaíso is my adopted hometown; it took me in right away when I was a little adrift.


6 responses to “Putativa madre

  1. Interesting! I definitely wouldn’t have thought “putativa” had this meaning, at first glance. :)


  2. Jaja, “putativa” es una de esas palabras que encontrás en documentos legales; acá no se usa mucho. Y te puedo asegurar que para los hispanohablantes tampoco es muy eufónica.

    Cambiando de tema: tenés una constancia admirable. ¡Cómo te aferraste a tu blog! Igual, no es que no te tenía confianza; sé de tu esfuerzo y esmero.

    Hace unos días volví a Lang-8. Hacía bastante que no escribía nada ahí. Veo que vos también has estado inactiva.

    Debería comentar más seguido acá (porque te merecés muchísimos lectores), pero la verdad es que a veces la universidad me demanda mucho tiempo. =/

    Espero que andes bien (y que te acuerdes de mí :P)

    ¡Saludos desde Argentina!



    • ¡Hola amigo!!!! Qué milagrazo saber de vos. Me alegra mucho, mucho, mucho. Claro que me acuerdo de vos, te me venís a la mente cada rato y me he preguntado qué tal te estará yendo en tu carrera y en tu vida.

      Gracias por tus cumplidos. Jaja, ¿me aferré? No sé si eso sea de admirar o no, supongo que todo depende de lo que me aporte. Yo diría que mucho, pues me ha demostrado la pasión que tengo (¡ni yo lo sabía! O no me lo admitía, y dudaba de mí misma.) por el español. Y tengo muchas ideas para encauzar y aprovechar esa pasión.

      Yo le tengo muchísimo cariño y amor a Lang-8. Vos sabés lo mucho que me ha brindado. No sé si volveré, pues ya se me hace una época distinta de mi vida. No sé si la quiero repetir o si debo intentar, pero me alegra saber que vos volviste.

      Muchas gracias por todas tus palabras tan lindas. Tengo muchos lectores, muchísimos, pues no. Pero en el fondo, no me importa. Hay muchas cosas que quiero expresar, y lo seguiré haciendo esté o no un gran público.

      Seguimos en contacto.




  3. After I stopped blushing, so many references to my melancholy whores, I said, wait a minute, I use the word putative (in English) fairly often. Then I realized that it should be considered jargon, at least in my case. In Spanish, though, I just ignore the legalese and just say “adoptivo,” and I think most people would go that way. In some cases, it doesn’t matter, like in “mi ciudad adoptiva.” Obviously, a city is not going to adopt you legally. And when there could be any doubt, you just put some shade in the sentence like in “ella es como su mamá adoptiva,” adding “como” to make sure you convey the fact that there is no legal adoption involved. The way you said it is quite good: es como mi segunda mamá.

    I see I have a lot to catch up re: your blog :)


    • Sorry! I couldn’t resist… hope it wasn’t too boleta. Adoptivo is an excellent suggestion, and I’m embarrassed I didn’t think of it! Thank you. Yes, welcome back! Again! :)


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