She might be known as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate to the U.S., but to her kids, California Senator Kamala Harris is "Momala."

By Maressa Brown
August 25, 2020
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At the Democratic National Convention this week, California Senator Kamala Harris made history as the first Black and South Asian woman nominated to a major party's presidential ticket. In her speech, she not only touched on the importance of family but went into detail on how she defines her own. "Family is my husband, Doug, who I met on a blind date set up by my best friend," she noted. "Family is our beautiful children, Cole and Ella, who call me 'Momala.'" The speech left viewers wanting to know more about what "Momala" means to the VP hopeful and her family.

Here, five things to know about Sen. Harris' nickname from her stepchildren.

1. "Momala" Is an Alternative for "Stepmom"

In a 2019 ELLE.com essay, written just a few months after announcing her bid for the presidency, Harris shared when she met her husband, Doug Emhoff, he was a divorced dad with two kids named Cole and Ella. "I was determined not to insert myself in their lives until Doug and I had established we were in this for the long haul," she explained. "Children need consistency; I didn’t want to insert myself into their lives as a temporary fixture because I didn’t want to disappoint them. There’s nothing worse than disappointing a child."

But after a long, anticipation-filled wait to meet one another, her now-stepkids "could not have been more welcoming. They are brilliant, talented, funny kids who have grown to be remarkable adults. I was already hooked on Doug, but I believe it was Cole and Ella who reeled me in."

Fast-forward to "a few years later," in 2014, when Harris and Emhoff got married, she had a conversation with the kids about the best way to refer to her. "Cole, Ella, and I agreed that we didn’t like the term 'stepmom,'" she shared. "Instead they came up with the name 'Momala.'"

2. Her Stepdaughter Ella Paid Tribute to "Momala" at the DNC

Formally nominating Harris alongside the senator's niece Meena and sister Maya at the DNC, Ella sung the praises of her "Momala." "To my brother and me, you'll always be 'Momala,' the world's greatest stepmom," she said. "You're a rock. Not just for our dad, but for three generations of our big, blended family."

3. She's 'Dear Friends' With Her Stepkids' Bio Mom

In her ELLE essay, Harris noted that she and her loved ones often joke that their blended, "modern family is almost a little too functional." "To know Cole and Ella is to know that their mother Kerstin is an incredible mother," she wrote. "Kerstin and I hit it off ourselves and are dear friends. She and I became a duo of cheerleaders in the bleachers at Ella’s swim meets and basketball games, often to Ella’s embarrassment. We sometimes joke that our modern family is almost a little too functional."

4. The Nickname Could Be Interpreted as Yiddish, Too

As Jewish parenting site Kveller.com points out, "Momala" isn't just a play on Harris' first name. Emhoff and his kids are Jewish, and "mamaleh" is a Yiddish word that means "little mama" (but is often used as a term of endearment for kids). "Now, it’s unclear if siblings Cole and Ella made the explicit connection between the endearing nickname and the Yiddish word mamaleh," notes Kveller. "But, for our intents and purposes, we sure hope so."

5. Harris Has Said "Momala" Is Her Favorite Title So Far

In addition to being the Democratic nominee for vice president, Harris has served as the junior U.S. senator from California since 2017, the attorney general of California, and district attorney of San Francisco. These are all impressive titles, but the one that she says is her favorite: "Momala."

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