Tuesday, September 27th, 2005
What do You Call Grandmother to Her Face?
(OK, I had a little bit of fun with the title. It’s all good Grandma, no worries.)
Soon after Little Miss was born, I began calling my mother "Grandma" and she began signing her e-mails "Gramma." That worked well until Little Miss was 13 months old when, in an e-mail exchange with Mom (my wife), Grandma signed her message this way:
"Love, Mom/Gramma/whatever, Idon’tcarewhatyoucallme,justcallme."
"I tried teaching Little Miss to call you Granny but AJ didn’t think you would like that one very much!"
And that was true. Around our house, Mom referred to Grandma as "Granny" several times and it bothered me. The name stirred up stereotypical images of a tiny, frail, old bespeckled lady with a hair net, large coat and umbrella used as a walking cane. You know, like the old befuddled "Nana" grandmother character from TV’s Seinfeld.
Two weeks later, Grandma sent me this e-mail:
"Hey, today we were talking with an Australian friend and her 20- or 30-something son. They told a story about her mother, his Scotch-Irish fighting grannie they called "Nan," short for Nana. I like the sound of that. She agreed that Grannie does sound pretty old. She thought Grandma was OK. Nona or whatever the Italian word is for grandmother might work for some, but I’m half Irish. Mum refers to Mother. Guess Grand-mum works too. She mentioned a name for Italian grandfathers like the Nonee for Italian grandmothers. Just thinking. Little Miss will call me whatever she wants. I just hope to see her often enough that she’ll recognize me!"
But ya know, Little Miss won’t call Grandma whatever she wants. She’ll learn the name we use. Hmmm. Or maybe not. Early on we tried teaching Little Miss to call me "Dad," but we switched to "Papa" well before she began talking. Nonetheless, her first word was "Dad." She understands "Papa," but rarely uses it.
From time to time, "Nana" name-drops have turned up in e-mail, such as this e-mail signature from last week:
"Love, Gramma (maybe Nana or Nan. I like the British.)"
This is how we get things done in our family. Make suggestions and drop hints and ask leading questions, but never, ever directly say what you feel.
So a question is before us. Is a grandmother’s name the purview of the grandmother? Payment for the 18+ years she raised you? Nah, Little Miss is ample compensation.
My mother is a "grandmother" by title, recognized by law and convention. "Grandma" or "Nana" is a gift, an honorary name bestowed by us â€“ the new parents â€“ and enforced by us for common usage by Little Miss.
Oh my. I smell a family feud. So where does that leave us? Grandma recently included a link to Names for Grandmothers in one of her e-mails. So maybe this is a compromise, a suggestion that I pick a name for that list. Hmmm. Mammoo? Bube? Ninny?
This debate is moot for the time being though, because when Little Miss calls her a name for the first time, it’s likely to be "Nnn" or "Guh."
Grandma? No, please call her Moogie [Chicago Tribune article]
Names for grandparents in many languages [namenerds.com]
P.S. What the heck is a Scotch-Irish fighting grannie?