May 9, 2024 - World

Grandmothers go for creative and cultural names

Animated illustration of a woman wearing a name tag with changing handwritten names, including Mema, Nan, Abuela, Mimi, Gammy, and Grandma.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Sunday is Mother's Day, a day to celebrate moms and also grandmasor grams, nans and abuelas.

The big picture: While "Grandma" still reigns supreme in many families, other names are becoming more mainstream, according to a BabyCenter poll conducted for Axios.

What they're saying: "The most common nicknames for grandmas include Nana, Gram, Mimi and Gigi. Nicknames that are simpler for young children to articulate endure the test of time," says Rebekah Wahlberg, baby name trends specialist at BabyCenter.

The bar chart shows the results of a survey conducted for Axios in April 2024, revealing that 42% of children refer to their grandmother as
Data: Data: BabyCenter/Axios survey; Chart: Axios Visuals

How are grandmothers getting these names? Often, they're picking them.

  • Nearly 3 in 4 parents with a baby 6 months old or younger say the grandparents in their child's life chose their nicknames, according to Everyday Health Group research, Wahlberg tells Axios.

Many Axios readers can relate:

  • When her granddaughter was two months old, Caroline John in Atlanta says she walked into the bedroom to hear her daughter proclaim: "Here comes danger." Now? "My granddaughter calls me Danger."
  • Laurie Mikitka in Fort Worth, Texas, says her grandmother Ida didn't like her name, so she went by Andy. "She also didn't want to be called Grandma, so we called her Grandy!"
  • When her stepdaughter was pregnant, Andrea Malmberg in Union, Oregon, balked at being asked if she wanted to be known as Granny. "I was in my early 40s and that didn't fit well. I exclaimed, 'Grandrea!'"
  • "I named myself because I didn't want to be Granny or Grandma," says Cindy Eichenholz in Dallas. "My name is Gogo. I am constantly on the move and very active."

And many grandkids come up with names themselves:

  • When her grandson was born, Noreen Tucker in Guilford, Connecticut, says her girls tried to get him to call her Granny. "He had trouble saying Granny, so now my name is Dan."
  • Jennifer Murphy in Great Falls, Virginia, says her "quintessential Victorian" mother-in-law requested that she be called Grandmother, but her son had another idea: Babu. "Finally, everyone, including her, relented."
  • Stacie Johnson in Colorado Springs says that after her mom — who loved to sing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" — held a real tarantula in her hand, her children nicknamed their grandmother Tranchie. "May we all live up to my mom and her larger-than-life sense of adventure!"
  • Other names assigned by grandchildren: Boba, Bopie, Grambi, Grando, Gopa, Hona and I-E.

Zoom out: "Families are really looking for ways that they can pass on culture, and sometimes that's woven into the names that we give the grandmother," says Grace Bastidas, editor-in-chief of Parents.

  • "In Latin American, we use 'abuelita' or 'ita' for short," she says.
  • Bastidas has a colleague with a Cantonese family who has a "Mawmaw," and she has Filipino friends who use the name "Lola."
  • Grandma names can also be traditional — the same names could be used in a family for generations — or based on where someone lives. For example, Bastidas knows someone whose mom is a "Mom-Mom," a nickname that's "a thing in Southern New Jersey."

And here are reader examples of cultural names that people all over the country — and the world — use for their grandparents.

  • Monja Mestlin in Riverside, California, says Omi was her dad's grandmother in Germany. "Now, I'm a grandmother, myself, and my three beautiful grandchildren call me Omi."
  • Nikki Guerra-Klein in Washington, D.C., says, "'Abi' — short for 'abuela' — is our daughter's moniker for her maternal grandmother."
  • "My mother, Bobbie, used the Yiddish word for grandmother, Bubbie," says Shraga Simmons in Jerusalem. "Until passing last year at age 93, she loved how dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren called her 'Bubbie Bobbie.'"
  • And "Mormor" and "Farmor," the Danish and Swedish words for grandmother — depending on if it's the mother's mother or father's mother — are used in several Axios readers' families.

The bottom line: Grandmothers today "want to be a vibrant part" of their grandkids' lives, "so they're going with names that are less stuffy and more creative," Bastidas says.

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