When the news came awhile back that my first grandchild was on the way, it was, in all candor, a major shock–a two-step process, like an earthquake and its attendant after-shock. The first-wave tremors brought joy, of course; I knew my daughter and her husband would be terrific parents and would cherish the child to come.

Then the aftershock rippled out: Wait! My daughter is having a baby, which means I’m about to become a…..well, I just couldn’t say it. The g-word simply would not emerge from my mouth. Sure, of course, naturally, the baby would be wonderful. But that, in turn, meant I was old enough to be a….(help me out and fill in that word here). Anyone who has been through this for the first time and has not been astonished to find herself old enough to welcome a new generation is…perhaps a more mature, self-aware adult than yours truly. But, I digress.

Once this news begins to spread, one of the first questions you get is, “What do you want to be called?”

This query generated enormous pressure, along with uncertainty, because, after all, don’t the children often make this decision by some comic happenstance? Best come up with a preference, I was advised, to at least steer it in a direction you like.

Still in denial, I began with the process of elimination. First: No g-words. Not Grandma, heaven forbid, or Granny, so much worse, or Nana (endearing and slightly historical, but not for me) or Grandmother (we are not the Queen of England, after all).

When scanning history for precedents, we all hear of examples that, like mosquitoes in August, cannot be eradicated with the most Olympian of efforts, but remain a bit embarrassing to explain to outsiders. Thankfully, these seem to victimize men a bit more frequently, who perhaps take it in better stride. There’s Peepaw (surely an accidental derivation of potty-training terminology), Pap-pap (is the grandfather a gynecologist?), and so forth.

Our family has its own share of these so-called originals. Addressing the relational question “Who’s that?” when my toddler older sister pointed at my grandmother, my Mom answered logically, “That’s MY mama.” This quickly morphed into, and forever remained, Mamama, along with, its companion, Dadaddy. (Imagine our surprise to learn, decades later, of another family, completely unrelated, whose children coined exactly the same names for exactly the same reasons. Another illusion of uniqueness, gone like the wind.) We called my paternal grandfather Bubba, which seems ironic, in these times. He was a highly successful dentist, an excellent golfer, a lover of fine cars and elegant clothes; he certainly bore no resemblance to the rough-edged image currently conjured by that moniker in the South, rightly or wrongly. However, I sense that he and I are kindred spirits across the generations. The story goes that he told my older sister that he was his son’s (my father’s) brother, unwilling, like me, to acknowledge his age. My sister babbled “Bubba” for “brother,” and so he became.

A formal market research survey—okay, I asked a few of my friends—revealed I was not alone in seeking a G-title that would not evoke gray hair in a bun, an apron at the waist, and enthronement in a rocking chair. One chose Mimi, which I think rather elegant and continental. Someone mentioned Lovie, which is charming, but on the sugary side. “I’m going to be called Gran,” said another. “To me, that’s much sexier than other versions of the G-word. I don’t want people to think I’m 100 years old.” And so, the new generations arrive, while some of us—and you know who you are–still look in the mirror and defy it to tell us the truth.

As for me, I finally landed on a derivation of my own name, the endearment my father called me: Evie. It’s informal enough to convey a special bond, short enough for a child to say easily, and, far, far away from other realities, with which I continue to grapple in my head and heart.

Nevertheless, I am especially partial to the name my small grandson came up with, for reasons that escaped us all, for his grandfather on his dad’s side. After all, when genius comes from your own flesh and blood, how can you resist? It is pithy, features alliteration, and it even conjures a classic Stephen Foster tune:


Sometimes you just can’t improve on the work of a master.

4 replies
  1. Tim
    Tim says:

    My two brothers and I called my paternal grandmother Mamama, too. While I appreciate your anxiety surrounding your new moniker–and the concomitant, uh, life stage that makes it possible–I would love to be faced with similar anxiety. My two boys show no sign of marrying, let alone reproducing. We need for both of them to find a woman to finish raising them. We’ve done about all we can!

  2. Cindy Phiffer
    Cindy Phiffer says:

    For the same reasons you listed, I settled on CiCi and that’s what the grandbeauties call me. But even though my husband wanted to be called Grandpa Jim, it only stuck until the first-born watched a cartoon show about a little Chinese girl and her grandfather. The Chinese word for grandfather is Yeh-Yeh, and our wee one instantly made the connection herself. Yep, he remains a very proud Yeh-Yeh to this very day.

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