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What Do You Call Your Grandma?

I grew up with two Grandmas, one Grandpa, one Mamaw, and one Baachan (and a whole slew of Aunties and Uncles that were both related and unrelated, but that's a whole other post). I knew that "Grandma" and "Grandpa" weren't their real names, but understood they were family titles that they'd given themselves.

As a little girl, I read books with grandmas and grandpas in them. I saw movies about grandmas and grandpas. My friends would go and visit their grandmas and grandpas. It was a common family title, and I accepted the fact that because everyone had them they were considered a family tree standard. But I didn't know of anyone else that had a Mamaw or Baachan, so I honestly thought those were their first names and not nicknames.

Both my Mamaw and my Baachan were my great-grandparents, so I don't know when or who selected these nicknames to be their official grandma titles, but they stuck!

The title that grandparents and great-grandparents choose forms not only a connection between generations but also a connection between cultures.

The title that grandparents and great-grandparents choose forms not only a connection between generations but also a connection between cultures. Can you picture the cultural backgrounds of my Mamaw and Baachan based just on their names?

Mamaw lived in the hill country of Tennessee, I remember visiting her and her pet poodle (Groucho) where she fed us hearty servings of scrambled eggs for breakfast. I'm sure there was other food on our plates, but she made fantastic scrambled eggs! She had white poofy hair and a heavy southern drawl that might make her sound like a sweet old lady, but she slept with a hammer under her pillow in true Mamaw style.

Baachan means grandma in Japanese. My Baachan didn't speak any English and I don't speak any Japanese, so our interaction was more observation. I wish we could have communicated, but that doesn't mean she was a phantom figure in my childhood. One vivid memory I have is of us at a family gathering. Kids were running everywhere which is normal for our family get-togethers, and Baachan was kneeling properly on the floor of the family room smoothing out the fringes on an area rug so they were all straight. She loved her great-grandbabies and would light up when they smiled or laughed with her.

These names for my great-grandmas suited them so well that I can't imagine calling either of them anything else.

Think about your own families. What are/were the names that you used to address your grandparents and great-grandparents?

Choosing nicknames for your parents (Grandmas + Grandpas + More)

Choosing a nickname/title for your kids to address your parents/grandparents is a big decision! The best place to start is to ask them what name they want to be used. They've dreamed about grandchildren before you even got pregnant, so they've probably given a lot of thought about their grandma/grandpa name.

If they don't have a preference, still include them in the decision process. No one wants to be assigned a name they don't like.

Another thing to remember is to choose your parents' titles before your kids can talk to avoid confusing their toddler brains. My mom learned this the hard way when she decided she wanted to go by the name Sobo which means grandmother in Japanese. It's a great cultural connection, but she decided to go by the nickname after my third nephew was born.

At a family reunion, my nephew was asking, "Where's Sobo? Can Sobo sit by me?" and my niece who was about six at the time asked, "Who's Sobo?" It still takes a second for the older nieces and nephews to realize that when people are talking about "Sobo" they're talking about "Grandma."

To help choose your parents' grandma/grandpa nickname here are a few things to think about:

What terms from your culture refer to grandparents or family elders?

  • What is the literal translation for grandma/grandpa in your native language?

  • What are terms of endearment in your culture?

  • What are terms of respect in your culture?

What personal spin to a cultural standard can you use?

  • How can you add personality to the nickname?

  • Can you shorten or lengthen a common form of grandma/grandpa?

  • If your child can't say the selected nickname, how do they pronounce or shorten it? Use that instead!

How will you differentiate sets of grandparents within your family?

  • Will your kids have multiple "grandmas" & "grandpas", or will each side of the family have unique names?

  • Will you combine a title with your parents' birthname or surname?

And while I have such distinct memories of my great-grandmas, I wish the same for my girls. They have a Gaga & a Papa, a Lolli & a Pops, and a Sobo & a Grandpa Mike. Unique names for each set of grandparents, and great memories with each of them!

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