Speaking of Family…

I was curious to know what forms of address others use in their families.

Mine get confusing at times. I believe that buried in other posts, I have touched on some of this week’s topic before, (mostly about grandparents), so bear with me.

Our granddaughters, (who are sisters), call us “Grandma and Grandpa”. Our grandson, their cousin, calls us “Grandmother and Grandfather”. That came out of the blue when he had just turned 5. When he was littler, he also called me, “Grandma”, but he had an event at the age of three which led him to want to call me “Mommy”. We could not have that. He would not go back to calling me “Grandma”, and as I told him that he could call me anything else, he thought that “Tonette” was funny. I accepted it. However, his “Mamaw” on the other side got wind of it and insisted that it come to an end, saying that it was disrespectful. (I did not think so.) He switched to “Grandma” for a short time, then “Grandmother”, joined by “Grandfather”, popped up out of nowhere soon afterward and has stayed for more than ten years.

My granddaughters call their other grandmother “Gran-gran”. Their mother’s father was “Grandpa Jim.”

Only after my sons were calling my mother “Grandma” for years did I find out that she would have preferred “Nonna”, the Italian version. (She was 100% Italian). That title for her did not occur to me and I wish that she had said something, but she relished in martyrdom.

I simply don’t allow children, (family or family friends) to call me “Aunt Tonette”; it’s awkward to say and to hear. My nieces and great-nephew call me by a diminutive of my name, which is a family nickname that I hate, (I may tell you why sometime). Family friends call me that, too. I wish I could stop them; they think it makes them closer to me, when it actually has the opposite effect.

My brother wishes to be called “Uncle John”. When my great nephew was little, he called him simply “Huncle”, as he pronounced it. He’s grown now and I think he calls my brother “John”. My sister is simply “Nickie” to my kids and grandkids…and her own daughters and grandson.

My mother was well-known and liked among many of our friends. My brother’s, and my sister’s friends were in our house all the time. She was called “Mom” by so many that my nieces called her “Mom”, which fit in with their father’s family anyway, since one of his grandmothers was called “Mom” or “Mom Johnson” by the family.

One of my nieces’ great-grandmothers was “Nanny”, which we all called her. Her first husband died before any of the grandchildren were born, but her second husband doted on the children and their kids. My brother-in-law was the first of The Next Generation, and he started calling the step-grandfather “Go”, because when he saw him, he knew he’d go and have a good time. We all called him “Go”;, except my mother, who called him “Philip”.

I knew that my mother’s oldest sister’s grandson called her “Nonna”. She was the last sibling born in Italy and we always afforded her a little more respect.
We called my mother’s mother “Nonna”, what else? She was the only grandparent that most of us knew. My Italian grandfather had died twenty years before I was born; my mother’s half-brother’s father had died long before that. My father’s parents died before I was born, but when my sister was very little she would talk to my father’s mother, “Grandma Joyce” and call her “Damma Doice”; my grandmother was charmed. My mother referred to her by that name in affection the rest of her life.

Neither grandfather was called more than “My father”/”Your father” in our family, since neither of my parents knew the other spouse’s father, nor did we know them.

My father’s family wasn’t around us much, but they were always designated as “Aunt Marion”, “Uncle Richard”, etc. Even the minister was referred to as “Uncle Johnie” but sometimes it was “The Reverend Uncle Johnie”.

Back to my mother’s siblings, three of the four uncles were my mother’s half-brothers born in Italy, so they were all “Uncle Nick, “Uncle Charlie” and even “Uncle Dick”, although he had died before most of us were born. (He was a legend in the family and among the town where they lived of loving gregariousness.) However, “Uncle Lee”, who was the first born in America, also had the “Uncle” title, as did the husbands and wives of all my parents’ siblings. My Uncle Dick’s widow, who remarried, retained title of “Aunt Jenny” and her husband even became “Uncle Jim” to us.

Our closest aunt in geography and heart was the second one born in America; we called her simply “Zizi”, which is “auntie” in Italian. The last sibling born in Italy we called “Aunt Ada”. The rest were called by their first names, which they liked, because they were vain, and it made them feel young.

Some of the cousins who were raised around the ethnic region of Pennsylvania, (where the family settled), did call some “Zia Val”, “Zizi Gora”, “Zi Nola”. (“Zia” is “aunt” and Italians tend to cut words short, hence “Zi”; it’s not a typo.)

“Zizi’s” husband was the one spousal exemption from the “Uncle” title, although he was the warmest to all the nieces and nephews. His name was Alfred Marsh, but everyone, including his wife, called him by a play on his last name. Uncle Dick’s daughter came to town on a rare visit when she was grown and called him “Uncle Al” twice, which made him wince. My mother took her aside and convinced her that she needed to also call “Marshie” like everyone else; (however, my father called him “Marsh”).

We never called anyone “Cousin Whozits”, unless we were identifying them from someone with the same name, as in “Cousin Cathy”, (although my mother would have referred to her as “Charlie’s Cathy”).

Where we have run into trouble is with my husband’s family. “Grandma” was my mother, who was around my children most of the time, so their other grandmother had to be “Grandma Mary”. My father-in-law was “Grandpa”, while my own father wanted my sons to call him by his first name, “Irwin”. My nieces called my father “Caboo”, and there is debate as to where that came from,(probably a game he played with them.)

The worst part is that the ethnicities of my husband’s people have them use many of the same names over and over. Someone is more likely to be called “Joanne’s Paul” or “Sonny’s Paul” than their name alone because “Cousin Paul” could be on any side of the family, along with “Katies”, “Annas”, “Johns” and many others. They have continued that through the generations, especially since they rather insist that every first son be a ‘junior’; I was among the first to break that rule.

My father-in-law, Ed, (named after his father), had a sister who married a man also named Ed, and both had sons whom they named after them. (My oldest nephew-in-law is called “Trip”, though.)

Both of my husband’s parents had one sister each: one was Joanne, the other Joan. If that would not have been confusing enough, “Aunt Joan” decided, (well over the age of 40), that she wanted to be called “Joanne”. Everyone in the family just gave up and decided that if they got confused as to which “Aunt Joanne” was calling, it was not their fault. (We refer to them here as “Your/My mother’s/ father’s sister”.)

To our sons, we are Mom and Dad. When they are speaking to others, including me and to each other, they say “our father/my father”. They also generally refer to each other as “my brother”, but I have heard them use their brothers’ first names more in the last few years.

There are only two of them, so we know immediate of whom they speak.

Not so easy with their father, (my husband), who will refer to one of his siblings in that manner, (“my brother/my sister”), and I have to ask which, because he grew up with seven brothers and seven sisters. He recently tried “one of my nephews” and I could not even venture a guess because at last count, there were over thirty of those; my sons have nearly sixty first cousins on that side.

That’s a lot of in-laws, many of whom have the same names.

I will refer to my sisters/brothers-in-law as “Aunt Kathy”, “Uncle Paul”, “Aunt Maureen”, and the like to my sons and grandkids, but we run into complications because my husband also has a brother named “John”, who is also “Uncle John”, and then it’s “Uncle-John-on-your-father’s-side/” or “Your Uncle John-my-brother”. Fortunately, (actually unfortunately), we have little contact with the husband’s brother John. (He is a busy lawyer in CA with his own family dramas). My husband also had an Uncle John on one side and TWO great-uncles named John on his father’s branches of the family. (Yes, it got confusing when visiting the relatives.)

My grandson’s “Mamaw” is married to a “Papaw”, but her first husband in Tennessee is his biological “Papaw”; it is easier now that the grandson is grown, but it was confusing for a while. Now when my grandson, (turning 16), refers to one of them, uses just their first names. He never called them “Papaw Freddy” or “Papaw Joey”. Joey’s mother is “Granny” to all the generations…but I call her Willie Mae.

In a twist of fate, my husband is Joe and my ex-daughter-in-law’s father is Joey. Her name is Jenifer Renee, as is one of my nieces. Confusion ensues a lot around here, so we get creative, especially when it comes to the Jennifers; you never know what title we’ll come up with at different times, as we do with Son#2 and Grandson: Jonathan, Sr. and Jonathan, Jr., but we don’t use the designations in speech.
(Like the Hound before me yesterday, some of the titles are best left offline.)

So, even though I am from a relatively small family and only have two sons and three grandchildren, the names are endless and forms of address go on and on.

It’s been a real treat to learn more about each other’s families in these posts and comments this week.

Thanks, Everyone!


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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6 Responses to Speaking of Family…

  1. Jeff Salter says:

    I really like the name “nonna”. If I was a grandmother, that would likely be the name I’d raise up the flag pole and hope the grandkids would salute it.
    Zizi is also a cool name. Makes her sound quite adventurous.


  2. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Lots of names! As long as it helps them keep everyone straight, that’s all that matters.


  3. So many names! I love Nonna and Zizi. Occasionally I refer to a cousin as Cousin First name though usually it is just their name. Fortunately, I don’t believe I have any cousin’s with the same name despite coming from a rather large family (though no where near as large as your husband’s!). I do have two Uncle Ricks. One is simply Uncle Rick the other Uncle Rick Bierman.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, it’s kind of crazy, especially since (the original) “Aunt Joanne” not only also named her son Ed, Jr, but she also has a Michael and Paul among her 6 sons, and Joe has brothers also named Paul and Michael..see the confusion? One brother and sister have three sons with the same names. This is one of the reasons why, when we could not agree on a name for our second son, we stretched “John” out to “Jonathan”, because there were many Johns on both sides of our families. No one else has a Jonathan, although mine does go under “Jon”. At least one other sibling named one of their kids “Anthony”, our oldest sons name. We thought of turning Joe’s middle and first name around to “Michael Joseph”, but there are a lot of Mikes; (and, oddly enough, that was his first father-in-law’s name, Jennifer Renee #2’s dad; Jonny’s grandfather).


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