Friday, November 15, 2013

"When Pebbles Was A Baby" Hand Game , Part I

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series about the children's playground rhyme "When Pebbles Was A Baby" [also known as "When "Susie" (or "Lucy" or "Sally" or some other female name) Was A Baby".

This post provides one text example of that rhyme and one video example of that rhyme. This post also provides comments about that rhyme, including information about its probable connection to other "Lucy" or "Susie" rhymes, its textual pattern, and its performance activities.

Click for Part II. Part II provides additional text examples & videos of that rhyme.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric and recreational, purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owner.

Type of Children's Rhyme:
"When Pebbles Was A Baby" is a cumulative, life stages plagyround rhyme. This rhyme is also known as "When Lucy [or "Susie" or "Sally" or some other female name] Was A Baby". Note that I've collected an example of this rhyme in which the first line is "When I Was A Baby".

Text & Video Example
Here's a text example of "When Pebbles Had A Baby". Note: There are multiple examples of this rhyme and no example is the correct or "standard" way of saying this rhyme.

When Pebbles was a baby, a baby, a baby
When Pebbles was a baby, she used to go like this:

"Wah! Wah!" (mime crying)

When Pebbles was a toddler, a toddler, a toddler
When Pebbles was a toddler she used to go like this:

"Wah! Wah!"
"Give me a Sucker" (mimes lollipop)

When Pebbles was a kid, a kid, a kid
When Pebbles was a kid she used to go like this:

"Wah! Wah!"
"give me a sucker"
"I know the answer!" (waves hand in air)

When Pebbles was a teenager, a teenager, a teenager
When Pebbles was a teenager she used to go like this:

"Wah! Wah!"
"Give me a sucker"
"I know the answer"
"Ohh! Ah! I lost my bra! I must have left it in my boyfriends car!!" (cover chest)

When Pebbles was a mother, a mother, a mother
When Pebbles was a mother she used to go like this:

"Wah! Wah!"
"Give me a sucker"
"I know the answer"
"Ohh! Ah! I lost my bra! I must have left it in my boyfriends car!!"
"Ding Dong Dinner's ready!" (mime pulling bell)

When Pebbles was a grandma, a grandma, a grandma
When Pebbles was a grandma she used to go like this:

"Wah! Wah!"
"Give me a sucker"
"I know the answer"
"Ohh! Ah! I lost my bra! I must have left it in my boyfriends car!!"
"Ding Dong Dinner's ready!"
"Oh! my aching back!" (bend over)

When Pebbles was in heaven, in heaven, in heaven
When Pebbles was in heaven, she used to like this:

"Wah! Wah!"
"Give me a sucker"
"I know the answer"
"Ohh! Ah! I lost my bra! I must have left it in my boyfriends car!!"
"Ding Dong Dinner's ready!"
"Oh! my aching back!"
"Alleuia!" (throw arms up)
- Marai, "HELP does anyone know the lyrics to this childhood handgame" 2008

Here's a video of an example from this rhyme family:

"Sally Was A Baby" Fun New Hand Clapping Game


LivingHealthyAus, Published on May 7, 2013

Reese and Asha demonstrating a really fun hand clapping game "Sally Was A Baby"

Demographical Information
To date, I've collected examples of this rhyme from the United States [including from an African American contributor] and from Canada. I've also come across text examples & videos of this rhyme from the USA, Canada, Australia, and England as well as from children whose demographical information wasn't given.

Click for a discussion thread about this rhyme that I started in 2008.

The Probable Connection Between These Rhymes & Other "Miss Lucy" ["Miss Susie"] Playground Rhymes:
Although I can't offer any proof, my guess is that the "When [female name] Was A Baby" rhymes are part of the huge family of "Miss Lucy"/"Miss Susie" playground rhymes. That rhyme family includes the widely known rhymes "Miss Susie Had A Steamboat" and "Miss Lucy Had A Baby". Like those two rhymes - and the very risque song "Bang Bang Lulu" which is also a part of that rhyme family - "When [female name] Was A Baby" probably was first composed & chanted in the United States. And, if my guess about the connection between these rhymes is correct, "When Lucy Was A Baby" was the earliest title for those rhymes. Furthermore, I think that these "When [female name] Was A Baby" rhymes are much newer additions to the Miss Lucy rhyme family. The earliest date that I found for these "When [female name] Was A Baby" rhymes is "the 1950s" while the "Miss Lucy Had A Steamboat" and the "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" rhymes are probably from the late 19th century or the early 20th century.* Also, I believe that the "When Pebbles Was A Baby" rhymes are the newest additions to that sub-group of rhymes. My sense is that the name "Pebbles" was lifted from the name of the baby girl in the American animated television series The Flintstones.

Part II includes an example of a rhyme with the first line "When I Was A Baby" from the 1950s. However, I don't think that is the way that "When [female name] Was A Baby" was originally chanted.

* Click for a pancocojams post that includes comments about the dates of "Miss Susie Had A Steamboat", and "Bang Bang Lulu". Also, click for a post in which I provide my theory that "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" was first composed in the 1880s.

Although the Wikipedia page entitled "Miss Susie" briefly mentions a rhyme entitled "When Maxie", that page provides no information or examples about that particular rhyme. But it seems likely that "When Maxie" is a version of "When [female name] Was A Baby".

That Wikepedia page focuses most of its attention on the "Miss Susie Had A Steamboat" rhyme andd inaccurately conflates all of the "Miss Susie"/"Miss Lucy" children's rhymes with the profanity avoidance pattern that occurs in "Miss Susie Had A Steamboat". It's important to clarify that with only one possible exception, discussed below, no contemporary version of "When [female name] Was A Baby" that I've read or seen videos of contain any profanity avoidance words like examples of "Miss Susie [or Lucy etc] Had A Steamboat". However, some of the lines that are chanted as characteristics of the life stages can be considered "risque" for children. For example, in some versions, the teenagers leaves her bra [and/or her "knickers"] in her boyfriend's car. Also, in some versions, the children appear to mock the mother's directions to her children to clean up their room or get off of the phone. Furthermore, children may coonsider as risque the very act of chanting about a grandmother dying and that grandmother becoming a ghost or a devil. Chanting those types of lines provide a safe way for children to flaunt the societal restrictions on what should or shouldn't be said.

It's likely that the earliest versions of the "When [female name] Was A Baby" did include at least one example of profanity or profanity avoidance. Although no demographics are given for this example, it is so different from other versions of this rhyme that I've come across that I think it's an older version of that rhyme.

Subject: RE: I'm Rubber. You're Glue: Children's Rhymes
From: GUEST,guest guest - PM
Date: 12 Dec 05 - 05:37 PM

Ms. Suzy was a baby all she did was cry cry cry, when Ms. Suzy was a kid all she did was lie lie lie, when Ms. Suzy was a teenager all she said was leave me a lone lone lone, then Ms. suzy was a adult buying her first home home home, then Ms. Suzy was a mother her kids were just the same same same, she said the were not like her but that they were a big pain pain pain, then Ms. Suzy was a grandma and left when she heard the church bell bell bell, but she did not leave for church so she will go to h*** h*** h***, when Ms. Suzy was on her death bed she told her kids keep well well well, and if you get to poor my body you can sell selll sell!
I wonder if the word "when" was said at the beginning of the first line, but was accidentally left off of that example.

I'm not sure if the word "hell" was actually spoken aloud, was only partly spoken, or was purposely left unsaid. Each of those ways was customery with profanity avoidance playground rhyme. And how the rhyme was said could depend on whether there were any adults around.

The Tune Used For These Rhymes
Each of the examples of this rhyme [regardless of their title] that are found on YouTube have the same or similar tunes and tempos. Unfortunately, I'm not able to describe those tunes, as I don't read music and I can't figure out which well known [?] song it reminds me of. From the YouTube videos of this rhyme that I've watched*, it seems to me that that tune is usually at least slightly different from the one that both Miss Susie Had A Steamboat" and "Miss Lucy Had A Baby" use.

I'll leave that task of describing the "When [female name] Was A Baby" and the other tune used by the other cited "Miss Susie/Miss Lucy" rhymes for someone who can read music and who knows a song that those tunes remind them of.

*Unlike many other playground rhymes that I post about, I've never observed this rhyme. And I don't remember it from my childhood in New Jersey in the 1950s.

The Differences Between The Order of Lines In Cumulative Songs & In Cumulative Rhymes: provides this definition of a cumulative song: "A cumulative song is a song with a simple verse structure [that is] modified by progressive addition so that each verse is longer than the verse before."

For example, the Wikipedia page about the song "The Twelve Days Of Christmas" indicates that "each verse is built on top of the previous verses. [In that song] There are twelve verses, each describing a gift given by "my true love" on one of the twelve days of Christmas... and so forth, until the last verse" in which the singers begin with what is given on the 12th day and then repeat each previous gift in descending order starting with the newest line until the first day's gift is mentioned.

However, in hand clap rhymes, the cumulative process is in progressive order starting with the first line that is chanted. For example, in the cumulative children's rhyme "When Billy Was One", the age characteristics increase from one to ten. [Click for one example of that rhyme & a link to another example that is quite similar.

Likewise, in the rhyme "When Pebbles Was A Baby", after indicating the particular life stage such as "when Pebbles was a grandmother", the chanters say the lines for the proceeding life stages starting with baby before adding the line for the grandmother life stage. That line is usually "Oh my aching back".

Performance Activities:
It appears that "When [female name] Was A Baby" is usually recited is as a two partner hand clap game with accompanying mimicking motions. However, shows young children reciting this rhyme using mimicking hand motions without doing any hand clap rhymes. Also, one contributor indicated that this rhyme was performed as a circle game. That example is given in Part II of this post.

This concludes Part I of this series. Click for Part II.

Thanks to all those who I quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publisher of this video on YouTube and those who are featured in that video.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Hello!
    I really enjoyed this post! I just finished a study of this game in the UK and its really interesting to see an American side to the story.
    The earliest UK version I could find of the game that is most similar to the current day version was from the Opies in their 1985 book The Singing Game.
    But I found a really similar song that is called, "When I was a Lady (or Young Girl)" and it follows the same cumulative progress of a woman's life from birth to death. This was recorded in 1897. The story is much harsher and the woman loses her baby, is mistreated by her husband and (often) eventually becomes a washerwoman.
    An american folklorist William Newell recorded a similar song in 1884 called 'when I was a shoemaker' and the song appears to follow the professional life of a cobbler, rather than a woman.
    I understand that handclapping was brought over from America to the UK in the 50s and 60s and perhaps that is when this song became more similar to the one we know today? I remember singing it growing up in Australia.
    I love hand clapping games and would love to learn more about the cross-Atlantic childlore!
    I'm really enjoying your site! Thanks!

    1. Greetings, Elizabeth!

      Thanks for your informative comment. I didn't know any of the history of hand clapping in the UK nor did I know the early rhymes that you cited that are similar to "When Susie (Pebbles) Was A Baby".

      Thanks also for your comments about this site. Please continue to share information and examples with us!