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Silver Threads: What's in a (grandparent's) name?

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

A friend of mine is trying to make an important decision: What should her first grandchild, now about four months old, call her?

She’d better not spend too much time mulling this over. Daughters have a tendency to assign grandmotherly names quickly. When changing or feeding their infants before their own moms pay visits, they automatically slip into baby-talk and inform their little ones that Mam-maw or Big Mama or Granny will be there soon.

That’s what happened to me. I became Maw-maw or Mam-maw — depending on which one you’re talking to — to a pair of grandsons now 17 and almost 20. I hadn’t stepped in soon enough. My contemporaries had become “Bee” and “Mimi” and “Cha-chi,” possessors of more sophisticated and unusual granny monikers.

In today’s world, I’d have Googled “grandparents” names, come up with about.com and taken a 20-question test that would have informed me of my best options. Here’s the message I got:

“You're a sophisticated intellectual. You'll be a fantastic grandmother because you will teach your grandchildren so much. You may not be fond of baby drool, but once your grandchildren get old enough to talk, you'll come into your own. You have your own style that is impossible for others to imitate. Good names for you are Nana or Bebe, but you may want your grandchildren to call you by your given name. If that's too radical for the rest of the family, pair a grandmother name with your first name. Or just ignore what the rest of the family thinks. It's your name, after all.”

Flattering, isn’t it? Just think of the hip grandma I could have been had I submitted the grand-name Bebe to our daughter.

I remember pretty much choosing my own parents’ grand-names. They were Grandma and Grandpa Tucker and we called my husband’s folks Grandpa George and Grandma Fi, short for her given name of Fidelia. They were all in their 50s, and not one of them matched a description I found on another web site:

“With Baby Boomers becoming grandparents, the stodgy old codger and plump, cookie-baking white frizzy haired grandparents are getting a massive facelift. Tired of the old standbys of Granny, Grandma, Grandpa, etc., today's grandparents are coming up with new names in droves! Send us your grandmother and grandfather names at [email protected]. Put the word “grandma’ in the subject line.”

This web site, like the aforementioned about.com, abounds in suggestions these modern grandparents could be expected to sign on to. But I found little originality or wit in most of them. Exceptions were Ace, G-Dawg, Rocky and Wampa, a few of the monikers on GrandParents.com’s list of Trendy Grandfather Names. Coco, Fancy, Lola and MuMu are on the Grandmother list. On a celebrity list, Sharon Osborne’s grandchildren call her Shazza, and Martin Sheen’s descendants have dubbed him Peach.

For those who have the personalities to match, Hootnanny would be a good grandma name. But a little “out there,” no? Just thinking.

My friend of the first graf has the first name of Renee, and she worries that should she call herself “Rennie,” it would wind up “Winnie” on the lips of the very young. But why not take the “nee” and turn it into “Nee-nee,” pronouncing it either “Nay-nay” or as it’s spelled. Or, perhaps, simply “nay”?

I think I’d have called myself “Boop” could I turn back the clock. That’s what my daddy called me - Bettye Boop, after a cartoon character of the ‘30s. He didn’t know I’d turn into a sophisticated intellectual.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]