Monday, March 24, 2008

Grandparent names

“What do you want to be called?” our son asked.

Good question. My wife and I had never considered that with the arrival of our grandson — and first grandchild — came a major identity crisis…for us.

I was easy, however. After learning that Grandpa had been already claimed by my son’s father-in-law, I opted for Pop — a good choice as my paternal grandfather had always been called Pop. Since many people refer to their own father by this name, it also provided me with some cover about facing the realities of where I stand in the cycle of life.

No such luck for my wife. The question sent her into a paroxysm of anxiety, self-doubt, and ruing her lost youth. It also launched the name-game in earnest.

To sum up, the mission here was to find a cute but dignified, easily pronounceable name that distinguished her from other senior members of the family, but did not betray the fact that she was a grandmother. Naturally all of the gran-something options were instantly eliminated.

She first consulted her friends, many of whom had also steered clear of the G-word.
One of Italian extraction is Nonna. My wife briefly considered this but decided that a bus tour of the country 4 years ago did not entitle her to tap into 2,000 year’s of its cultural heritage.

She then turned to her own Irish background for guidance only to find that the Gaelic word for grandmother is seanmhathair, a tongue twister for an adult never mind a toddler. Maimeo (pronounced MAMo) is also frequently used, but my wife feared this would become mommy-o in the mouth of a child. Pretty cool, I think, but she wasn’t comfortable with it.

Some of her aging, in-denial friends are using versions of their first names to hide behind. For example, her friend Lucy is LuLu. However, this strategy doesn’t work when your name is Kathie. KaKa has unfortunate connotations in kiddie speak.

Next stop was the internet. If you ever need confirmation that American society has taken leave of its collective senses, just type “grandparent names” into your browser. It is amazing the strange and belittling names that people will allow themselves to be called in the cause of doting grandparentage. Big Mama, Bucket Head, Butter Butt, Chicken Nana, Grumpy, Chippy, and Peaches and Pitts are just a sampling of some the more unfortunate. As my wife observed, “Any child who calls me Butter Butt is out of the will.”

Like most journeys, this one came full circle. She finally decided to accept that her son producing an offspring does, in fact, make her a grandmother.

So she embraced the G-word and finally opted for Gramzi. Note: my wife has a fondness for creative misspelling. However, our son’s comment, “Gramzi? As in Nazi?” caused her to change to the more conventional form.

Of course, my veteran grandparent friends point out that all of this is building castles in the air, whistling in the wind, etc., because it is the child who is the Decider of what you will be called.

How this comes about, I gather, is something like the imprinting that takes place with birds. The child will associate you with something, and this will be the label you carry into your dotage. So in the early years of your grandchild’s life it is advisable to be on your best behavior. Burp and you may be Burpie for the rest of your days. Poor, poor Butter Butt.

Still these new monikers take some getting used. At the christening when our daughter-in-law asked if Gramsy and Pop would now come forward for some pictures, I looked over my shoulder to see what was taking the old folks so long to get moving.


ham-on-wry said...

Your problems have only begun. My grandparents were easily "Grandma" and "Grandpa." It was in naming the GREAT-grandparents that we had to get creative.

Katharine said...

I am a nana married to a pappi
when I take the little ones to the playground people used to ask how long I have worked as a nanny since that is what my granddaughter called me...
very, very funny....