Like Father Like Daughter – What Does The Phrase Mean?

“Like father, like daughter” means there is a similarity in behavior between the parent and child. For example, it might be said after watching a little girl scrambling up a rock wall after her dad. The original phrase is, “Like mother, like daughter,” and first found in Ezekiel 16:44.

“Like mother, like daughter” is a familiar phrase, popular on blogs and even a TV series. It implies a little girl is growing up to be like her mom. “Like father, like son,” is another common quip, right up there with “Chip off the old block.” But rarely is it said, “Like father, like daughter.” So does it have a similar meaning to the other two? Where did these phrases originate?

People drawing similarities between children and their parents isn’t new. The moment a baby is born, people stare at the tiny, bald, toothless, and wrinkled human and start trying to see which parent the incontinent human most resembles. As ridiculous and pointless as this exercise is at first, biological children’s physical appearance usually favors one parent more than the other, eventually. However, people start looking for behavioral similarities between children and their parents, too. 

Picture of father and daughter holding hands in shadows with sunset background

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When Did “Like Father, Like Daughter” Originate?

“Like father, like daughter” is a spin-off of the original phrase, “Like mother, like daughter.” The first record of the “Like mother, like daughter,” is found in the Christian Bible, Ezekiel 16:44.

“Like Mother, Like Daughter” Began As A Negative Statement

In Ezekiel 16:44, The Lord warns Jerusalem, “People will use this proverb about you.” But in Ezekiel, “Like mother, like daughter” is not a compliment. Instead, the passage goes on to taunt, “You really are your mother’s daughter. She detested her husband and her children.”

“Like Father, Like Son” Shows Up In Writing In 1616

“Like father, like son” is a much younger phrase than “Like mother, like daughter.” The first written recording of the masculine version of the idiom is in 1616 in Bibliotheca Scholastica Instructissima by Thomas Draxe. How long the phrase had been used verbally remains unknown, but evidently well before the book was written.

When Did People Start Saying “Like Father, Like Daughter”?

It isn’t clear when the idiom “Like father, like daughter originated. However, the first book using it as a title appears to be Suzanne Fields’ Like Father, Like Daughter: How Father Shapes the Woman His Daughter Becomes, which was published in 1983.

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The New Idiom: “Like Father, Like Daughter, Oh Crap”

With the new millennium, a new virus arrived, and the popularity of mugs, t-shirts, key chains, and journals sporting the saying, “Like father. Like daughter. Oh crap.” Unlike the Biblical usage between mother and daughter, this one is in jest. The idea is that the daughter shares the same sense of humor or hobbies as her dad. Thus, it is a popular saying to put on cards or gifts for Father’s Day.  

Meaning of Like Father, Like Daughter

“Like father, like daughter” typically means the daughter shares a personality trait with her dad. Sometimes it is intended as a compliment, such as the kid doing well in a sport her father is or was known to be proficient in. Other times it is used to add humor to a situation, such as a little girl burping loudly shortly after her father does. However, the idiom is not generally used in a negative manner.

Why Is “Like Father, Like Daughter” Less Common? 

“Like father, like daughter” is less commonly used than “Like mother, like daughter” or “Like father, like son.” People have a habit of looking for similarities between parents and their children based on gender. Thus, they’ll examine the daughter for attributes found in the mother and sons for traits found in the father.

These traits of comparison tend to be those that are in line with traditional gender roles. For example, a girl that is good at dancing might be thought of as getting her grace from her mother. Where a boy that lifts something heavy will be said to be strong, just like his daddy.

Do Children Have Behavioral Traits Like Their Parents?

Children learn by imitating behavior modeled by those older than themselves, typically other adults and bigger kids, such as an older sibling or babysitter. Thus, it is common to see children copying traits from their parents and even repeating expressions, including ones their parents would have preferred the kids not to pick up.

However, children don’t just copy and imitate their parents. They begin mimicking the other people they encounter faces to face, such as grandparents and teachers, and will gradually start doing it with those they see on TV and other media.

father and daughter holding hands at sunset

Do Children Mostly Imitate The Parent Of The Same Gender?

Whether children watch and copy the parent of the same gender has been hugely debated, especially when trying to suppress LGBTQI families. But despite young children being well aware of their gender between 18-30 months, this doesn’t seem to impact which parent they copy in families with a mother and father; it’s both.

However, what behavior they continue to mimic and adopt tends to be based on what they are praised for, or at least get a favorable reaction. Thus, gender bias can have adults praising and encouraging behaviors in children that conform to gender norms.

For example, it is pretty common for toddlers and preschoolers to play with their mother’s heels and makeup. The shoes make you taller and go, “clomp, comp,” which is a delightful noise to small children. Makeup is fun because it is bright and colorful. When a girl does it, people might smile and go, “Like mother, like daughter,” and heap her with praise and compliments. But when a little boy does it, people may frown and go, “Boys don’t wear that.”

Even parents trying to raise children in a less gendered environment may unconsciously behave differently depending on whether they are interreacting with a daughter or a son. For example, a study in Behavioral Neuroscience looked at how fathers interact with their daughters and sons.  It found fathers would sing to daughters more and talk more openly about emotions with them. Whereas fathers engaged in rougher, sportier play with their sons and used language that was more achievement-centered.

Even these much more subtle social shifts might explain why daughters might have more noticeable shared traits with their mother and sons with their fathers. However, it could also be argued that people in society simply are looking for daughters to be more like their mothers and sons like their fathers and overlook the opposite.

Do Other Languages Say “Like Father, Like Daughter”?

Other languages have similar popular idioms to “Like mother, like daughter,” and “Like father, like son.” The Bible, after all, is the most translated book, having appeared in 704 languages.  Thus, the original idiom has been widely spread.

Thus, like in English, the original mother to daughter idiom has also morphed to father and son. For example, in Spanish, it is common to say, “De tal palo tal astilla,” essentially meaning, “Like father, like son.”

However, as with English, “Like father, like daughter,” is not a popular phrase in the world.

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Conclusion

The idiom, “Like father, like daughter,” is not as popular as “Like mother, like daughter,” or “Like father, like son.” However, in English, the phrase is becoming more common, especially with the humorous version, “Like father, like daughter, oh crap.” However, it still remains more common for people to try to find behavioral trait similarities between the parent and child of the same gender.

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