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."

Mom replied:

"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 – the new parents – 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?


7 Responses to “What do You Call Grandmother to Her Face?”

  1. Matthew says:

    When my twins were born and my brother had his baby my mother announced she wanted to be called “Grandmother.” Well, we thought that was pretty haughty and neither of us refer to her as Grandmother (except when we’re being sarcastic).

    I can’t keep straight what everyone wants to be called. She’ll be Grandma because that’s what I call her.

    Sorry Mom (I mean, Grandmother)!

    October 3rd, 2005 at 3:47 pm

  2. Bethany says:

    We call all the grandmothers “Grandma”. Our 2-year-old, Annalie, pronounces it something like, “Mam-Maw” but it sounds similar enough to “Mama” that when my mom was visiting recently we encouraged Annalie to call me “Mommy” (which she had never called me before) so we could tell which one of us she was talking to. Since that visit, my daughter has been combining the two and calling me “Mommia” which is actually rather creative and pretty funny.

    June 22nd, 2006 at 11:53 am

  3. Rebex says:

    Both my grandmothers have been ‘nanny’ to me. For quite a long time one was Nanny Beast (as we would play monster) , which was then shortened to Nanny B.
    She’s still Nanny B.
    Love the blog!

    January 28th, 2007 at 4:30 pm

  4. Gail says:

    My grandchildren call me Ompa, and I really dislike it. My oldest grandchild, Teaghan, called me Ompa when she was very little and as she got older changed to Grandma, which was great. My daughter, who has a real mean streak, told Teaghan and then the rest of the grandchildren to call me Ompa, not Grandma, knowing how much I hated it. So now, I have five sweet grandchildren who all call me Ompa. If it was truely something that came from the kids, I’d accept it. But I know it’s more of a cruel joke. And now Grandma has been taken by another grandmother. I wish I could get this changed. I don’t want to go to my grave as Ompa.

    May 7th, 2007 at 10:56 pm

  5. Karen F. says:

    Isn’t Ompa German for grandpa? Perhaps, they mean Oma? Either way, you have the right to be called what you want. Don’t respond to Ompa and tell them firmly what you would like to be called. There is nothing wrong with two “Grandmas”.

    Little Miss’ Grandmother,
    We called my British grandmother Nanny. My neices and nephews call my mother “The Nutty Nanny”, Nanny or just Nan.

    My old boss’s wife’s name was Ann Marie. Her grandchildren started calling her Ahme and the name stuck. Everyone calls her that.

    Don’t be shy about picking a name for yourself and bribing the little Miss with M&Ms to use it.


    May 9th, 2007 at 5:35 am

  6. shelley says:

    Help I’m going to be a grandma for the 1st time and having a problem of what to have her to call me no nana, momons,nannies,grams those are all taken……I would really like something cool

    April 22nd, 2008 at 5:47 pm

  7. Sase says:

    The grandparents i see frequently have always been Grandy and Pop to me. my best friends grandparents are very close to me also and they are Abuela (Spanish) and Avo (Portuguese i think)

    July 21st, 2009 at 8:48 pm