7/22/2022 | By Donna Brody

A grandparent’s name becomes a part of their identity when those adorable little next-generation offspring make an appearance. Writer and grandmother Donna Brody explores some of the common and adorable monikers that grandkids use and where they might spring from: family roots, new creations, beloved traits, and more.

In 1964, we were probably driving our parents crazy running around and singing Shirley Ellis’ “The Name Game.” Remember Bo-na-na fanna Fo-fer-ley? The song made it to number three on pop charts in the US. More than 50 years later, grandparents are playing another version of the game when it comes to deciding exactly what they want to be called by their grandchildren. And yet, sometimes they have little choice in the matter.

As exciting as it is to become a grandmother or grandfather for the first time, sometimes another emotion surfaces, too. When did I get to be so old that I’ve now become a grandparent? Probably because we all have memories of our own grandparents as ancient, it’s hard to reconcile the image we have of those people with the people we are today. The media doesn’t help with advertisements portraying white-haired elderly couples walking along beaches or dancing on cruise ship decks while taking medicine for atrial fibrillation or having new hips implanted. Prospective grandmothers, especially, seem to resist the title of “grandma” in favor of something that sounds a little younger and more palatable. These soon-to-be grandmas are likely to suggest their grandchild call them names like Mimi, Gigi, Nina, Nanny, or Nana.

Sometimes the sweetest names for grandma and grandpa are ones the grandchildren invent themselves. When saying “grandma” or “grandpa” becomes a mouthful for a one-year-old, other titles take hold. Some examples are Nutna, Gamma, Mima, Magda, Appa, Emma, Bubba, and even HaHa. These names may eventually evolve into something else as the child gets older, or they may stick for a lifetime. Who hasn’t smiled when they hear a 12-year-old child say, “Here comes my Bubby”?

Related: This grandparent’s name is just “Ducky”

A grandparent’s name from family roots … and more

A large multigenerational family on the beach. Photo by Monkey Business Images, Dreamstime. A grandparent's name matters! Some common monikers that grandkids use and where they come from: family roots, new creations, beloved traits.

The family’s ethnic or cultural background might also come into play when it comes to choosing what to call grandma and grandpa. Families with Dutch or German ancestors may choose the traditional Opa and Oma, while those with Italian roots opt for Nonna and Nonno. Children in Greek culture refer to Yaya and Pappous, and those of Russian extraction use Bahbushka and Dedushka.

For a while, some of my own grandchildren called my husband Grand-père, French for grandfather, after they heard the name on one of their favorite television shows, even though we have no ancestors from France. And, in the southern US, it is quite common to hear MeMaw or MawMaw and PeePaw or PawPaw when children refer to their grandparents.

Often grandkids associate their grandparents with things present in the grandparents’ homes, holidays they celebrate, or even their pets, and new names evolve in that way. My oldest niece used to call my parents “Grandma and Grandpa Nick” because that was the name of their dog. A close friend of mine is called the adorable name “Pumpkin” by her grandkids because of her elaborate Halloween decorations. Another friend’s children called their grandma “Sugar Grandma” or “Sugar” because she was the one who gave them sweets. My friend Maureen is known only as “Moe” to her family and friends, so it makes sense her granddaughters now call her “Moe-Moe.” Another friend said she called her grandfather “Poppy” because he actually grew poppy seeds. The whole neighborhood knew him by that name.

Related: Whatever the grandparent’s name, those precious newcomers have lessons to teach

Two of my own grandsons, Ben and Sam, tried very hard to call us Grandma Donna and Grandpa Wayne, while their other grandparents were Grandma Lois and Grandpa Roger. This was especially hard for a two-year-old Sam, so he simply shortened my husband’s moniker to “Grampane” a consolidated version of Grandpa and Wayne, and it stuck. Likewise, children directed to call their grandfather Papa might change it to Pop-Pop, Poppy, Pap, or Pa.

Things can get even more complicated as generations live longer and children have grandparents and great-grandparents in their lives. In this case, some parents have suggested GG for great-grandma or grandpa, or GGpa and GGma. One grandma told me her grandchildren called her husband the very formal, Grandfather, because they already had a Pops (her husband’s father and their great-grandfather) and a Grandpa (her father and their great-grandfather). After a few years, they shortened Grandfather to Grandfy.

In the end, whether you’re a Poppy or Gigi, a Granny or Granddad, a Gammy or Pops, just enjoy the special bond you will develop with your grandchildren and treasure the sound of their voices calling you the name you all decide works the best.

Donna Brody

Donna Brody is a former community college English instructor who retired to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She enjoys freelance writing and has self published three romance novels. Besides writing and traveling with her husband, she keeps busy visiting her seven grandchildren.

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