Grand Old Names

On this ‘Free Week’, I am inspired by a Facebook post shared by Denise Williams Salter, (the delightful and lovely wife of The Hound), about women picking their grandmother monikers:

This is not just a ‘southern thing’, but the folks in Kentucky see to make an art of creative grandparent names.

Many times, I think it is a matter of running out of ideas. When I moved here, I found an incredible amount of long-lived folk, (especially women), many over 100 years of age. The people tended to marry young and so it was easy to find families that included five generations, (sometimes six). That’s a lot of grandmothers!
And considering  the number of blended families these days, there are often more choices to be made and added.

Often, in this area “Mamaw” is prevalent. I had never heard this name before. (In fact, when asked to personalize a cake, I was laughed at for not knowing how to spell “Papaw”.) However, if you are a native and have a grandchildren, the grandchildren have other grandmothers, the grandmothers will have mothers and sometimes, even grandmothers of their own; distinguishing names have to be creative. I have known barely middle-aged, vivacious women who are called “Granny”, (a name which had always conjured up visions of little old ladies to me), but “Mamaw”, “Meme”, “Nana” and other grandmother-type names in their families had been taken.

I have a dear friend who raised her grandsons and they call her “Mommy Lastname”; they call her this all the time, every time they addressed her. (It seems like a mouthful to me.) When dear friend who was like a sister, (and who called my mother “Mom”), had a child, the boy called my mother “MeMa”. He would address her as “Mema Joyce”, but only when his mother’s mother was around, who was also his “Mema”. His other grandmother was “Grandma”. Our sons called both of our mothers “Grandma”, but differentiated between the two by adding “Mary”, only when referring to my mother-in-law, and never to her face.

Another friend could not face getting older. She did everything to stave-off the effects of the years, i.e., very long hair, (which she kept dyed her natural chestnut brown), facials, loads of foundation, the works. She loved her grandchildren, but could not bear the thought of being called by any grandmotherly name. After many sleepless nights and many days of anguish, a family member suggested that the children use her husband’s pet name for her. She was appeased by the idea that her grandchildren would address her as “Ducky”. (It still didn’t fool anyone, nor did it make her any younger.)

One of my sister’s grandmothers-in-law had been called “Nanny” by the family, while her counterpart on the other side was “Mom Lastname”, (but just “Mom” when addressing her).

My mother was “Mom” to my nieces. The girls stayed with us from the time they were born, so they picked it up from the rest of us.

My father came to be called “Caboo” by them, and by much of the family. My father often held babies, (any baby), up, and lifting his head quickly, would go ‘Ahhhh-BOO!” It never failed to put the kids into fits of laughter, no matter how young. We assume that is where the name came from. (Anyone who watched “Downton Abbey” will understand this by when the Earl’s young granddaughter stubbornly insisted on calling him “Donk” from a game he played with her.) My father put up with it, because he adored the girls, but when my first son arrived, he sat the boy on his knee facing him from the time the kid was born and kept repeating “Irwin”, to him. Before he was five months old, my son said his first word. You can guess what it was. (It wasn’t “Mommy”).

I had no idea what to have my sons call my mother. Her own mother was “Nonna” to us, that being the Italian equivalent to “Grandma”. I never saw my grandmother much, and her English was very limited, but we all knew her as “Nonna”, and she is still referred to by this name alone among my siblings and cousins.

When my oldest aunt, (the last one born in ‘the old country’), had a grandson, he called her “Nonna”, and my teenage self found it very odd; after all, I did not grow up around other Italian families, so my grandmother was simply “Nonna”, not “MY nonna”. None of my other aunts were grandmothers yet, so nomenclature simply never was an issue.

My father’s mother died before I was born, but she was called “Grandma Joyce” by my sister and that’s what we still use to make reference to her. It seems kind of unnecessary to me to add the “Joyce”, but we do.

Back to when my oldest son was born. Because I was not used to hearing other family members being addressed in grandmotherly language, I grasped at “Grandma” for my mother, although it never seemed to fit her.

Fast-forward to when both my boys were preschoolers. My mother related a conversation she had with another sister of hers who had become a grandmother. Mom said that my aunt asked what my sons called her. My mother said that she told her “Grandma”. Her sister asked her, “Not “Nonna?”, and my mother said that she told her sister that, (sigh!), she guessed it was up to the parents as to what the kids called her. I was stopped in my tracks. I had no idea that she wanted to be called “Nonna”. I asked her why she had not told me before, (it being late in the game, since my kids were 3 and 4). She gave her familiar martyr-like shrug. I wish she had said something, anything, even a hint; I would have gladly jumped on it.

I am “Grandma”, or was, to all the grandkids. My grandson had an upsetting experience when he had just turned three. He was with me all the time and he wanted at that point to start calling me “Mommy”. We could not have that. I told him any name but that. It was a challenge, he was stubborn. I offered names, any name, but the only option he liked was to go ahead and call me “Tonette”. Frankly, I found it adorable! He was so little and I found it quite funny. It lasted for many months, until “Mamaw” on his mother’s side decided that it was ‘disrespectful’, and he was ordered to stop. It upset me to no end, but he went back to “Grandma” for a short time.( I decided to let it go; I had to choose my battles.) Then, overnight, for some unknown reason, we went from being “Grandma” and “Grandpa” to “Grandmother” and “Grandfather” to him. He said it with such aplomb! He still calls us that, at age 15, but his cousins call us “Grandma” and “Grandpa”. They call their other grandmother “Gran-gran”; their late grandfather had been “Grandpa Jim”.

What about your family? Do you have specific names for each grandparent or other generations?

Do you use ethnic names? What do your grandkids call you? If you aren’t a grandparent, do you have any ideas of what you’d like to be called?

If  you write and any characters of yours are grandparents, what did you call them? (Grandparents have come in to only one of mine, they are secondary characters, one off-scene, one on a call.  They have not been directly addressed.)

About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
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11 Responses to Grand Old Names

  1. Joselyn says:

    My husband’s parents are Grandma and Grandpa, although my youngest calls them Grammy and Grampy on occasion. Not sure where she came up with that. My mom is Grandma Lastname. Some of the Dutch tradition families around here use Oma and Opa which are kind of fun. I have a friend whose great grandma is G.G.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I loved that video! Growing up, my dad’s mom lived with us, so she was Grandma. Mom’s mom was overseas, so she was Obaachan. My older kids’ children call me Grandma First name – they have a LOT of grandparents! My youngest two grandkids call their father’s mom Nana, my mom is Grandma Last name, and I’m Regular Grandma. Guess that’s better than Irregular Grandma!

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s that a great video?! “Regular Grandma” has a ring of familiarity to it and I love it!
      With all the blended families now, too, there are a lot of names that must be chosen. I meant to add that.I think I will go in and make an edit.


  3. jeff7salter says:

    wow… quite a storied history here.
    In my own situation, I never even met either of my grandfathers — one having died in 1920 and the other a few months before my own birth in 1950. We rarely saw my paternal grandmother, but always referred to her as Grandmother Salter. When we addressed her, face-to-face — as best I can recall — we just called her Grandmother.
    My maternal grandmother was, therefore, the only grandparent we established much of a true relationship with. We always called her Grandmother. And when referring TO her (if clarification was ever needed), she was called Grandmother Robinson.
    Our son, the first-born, had the honor of naming most of his grandparents. He selected Nana for Denise’s mom, and Gaw — short, apparently for Grandpa — for her dad. For my mom, David selected Mamou and I believe my Dad announced his own name… PaPa.
    When we knew we would soon be grandparents, I can’t recall if Denise herself selected MiMi or if she waited for Jacob to name her. I didn’t want to take any chances of being named PeePaw (which I knew existed in our extended family) so I announced my name would be Pop. The kids of one of the sets of cousins called one of Denise’s uncles “Pop”… and I liked the sound of it. [Uncle Hubert Jasper.]
    As for the names you cited, I love “Ducky” and I think “Nonna” has a sweet, warm, soft sound to it.


  4. I had Grandma Alice and Grandma Rose (both my great-grandmothers) Grandma June and Grandpa Schroeder (my dad’s parents) and Grandma and Grandpa Bierman. Though they were all shortened to simply grandma or Grandpa unless we were all together.

    My mom is Grams, Grandma, and Meemaw. Quin calls her Grams, Wyatt calls her Meemaw, and all the other grandkids call her grandma.
    My dad is grandpa or peepaw (It made sense to Wyatt that if he was calling grandma Meemaw then grandpa would be Peepaw., Wyatt was a baby when he started calling them those names. I had never heard either before then.)

    With my daughter heading off to college and talking about how she would like to get married and start a family in the next five years or so she asked what her kids would call me. I told her Babushka (it reminds me of my grandpa B who would call all his grandkids that, it means old woman or grandmother. My mom was surprised as she had been meantold itt baby.) or something like Gigi. Then Wyatt piped up and said they should have to call me Beautiful because that’s what I am so maybe someday I will go with that. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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