Don’t Call Me Grandma

Baby boomers seek sexier names for the role


Baby boomers have always liked to do things a little differently. It might not come as a surprise then that for people like 58-year-old Jan Reisen of New Jersey, Grandma is not a name to be embraced. It’s stodgy, even “desexualized,” she says, adding that it evokes an image of someone who stays home, bakes strudel and rolls her stockings. Reisen, who runs, doesn’t have grandchildren but she has already planned her future non-grandma name. When one of her adult sons— they are 20 and 24—finally becomes a dad, she has decided that she will be called “Queen Mum.” “When I told my boys about the name, they just rolled their eyes,” says Reisen.

Queen Mum may sound outlandish, but it’s pretty tame compared to some alternatives—like Geezer Girl, one of the names writer Lin Wellford has encountered. Wellford’s own grandchildren call her Mimi. She is the co-author of The New Grandparents Name Book, which lists hundreds of substitutes. Some, like Ugogo, mean grandmother in a different language (in this case, Zulu). Other names come about as a result of the mangled mispronunciation that emerges from the grandchild’s lips as he or she tries to grapple with the word grandma. When Kate Bandos’s grandson tried to say the word, what came out was Bacca. It stuck because Bandos, a 62-year-old book publicist, thought it was fun. When the child finally learned how to say grandma, he was told not to bother. “Anyone can be Grandma. I wanted to be Bacca—it made me special.”

Other names that apparently made grandmothers feel special include Grandzilla, G-Mom and GanGee. Foxy, Birdie, MomMom and Grandiose are also names for those who find “Granny” a little too stodgy. Goldie Hawn is allegedly called Glamma by her grandchildren. And while women are more likely to be stigmatized because of their age, the trend exists for men too: grandpas choose names like GDog, GoPah, Faux Pa and Rocky, says Wellford. Other substitutes include Rambo, Grumpy, Bebop, Pawpee, Flash, and Bogie. One widower worried that being a grandpa would curtail his social life and he would no longer be seen as a “sex object,” says Arthur Kornhaber, a grandfather, president of the Foundation for Grandparenting, and the author of numerous books on grandparenting. To avoid “being neutered” by his grandchildren, the widower asked them to call him by his first name.

The avoidance factor can be very real, says Christine Crosby, the 63-year-old publisher of Grand, a magazine about grandparenting. Crosby actually cried when she found out her daughter was pregnant. She felt as if she had been shouldered with a responsibility she hadn’t asked for and wasn’t ready to take on. She came to love her grandchildren, but they were still instructed never to say Granny or Grandma, but Grand-mère.

When grandparents are struggling with their new role, they may choose to mask their relationship to the child by skipping a generation and calling themselves Aunt, Uncle or Mom, says Allan Zullo, author of The Boomer’s Guide to Grandparenting. That’s what Cora Short, a grandmother of three who lives in New Mexico, decided to do with her first grandchild. An energetic, strong-willed career woman, Short became a grandmother in her early 40s. She felt she wasn’t ready, so she decided she wanted to be called “Mom” instead. Apparently, the grandchild had no difficulty distinguishing between her two “Moms,” but everyone else found it confusing, says her daughter Carolyn Graham, an editor at L.A. Parent. At school functions, there would be questions like, “Is this your mom or your grandmom?”

Kornhaber is dismissive of the anything-but-grandma trend—he believes grandparents should embrace the role, and its name, even if it is a reminder of one’s age. We all get older, and should have the maturity to accept this natural process, he says. Then again, who really wants to look like a senior citizen when you can throw money and resources into looking younger, and end up “a surgically enhanced blonde of indeterminate age in a pink velour Juicy Couture ensemble,” writes Simon Doonan in the New York Observer. The shift from Grandma to “Mimi” is the inevitable result of our complicated relationship to aging, he says, especially when Grandma is hurled around these days like an insult. “The words ‘granny’ or ‘grandma’ have lost their original meaning and become adjectives used solely by acid-tongued queens on makeover shows to identify styles that are antiquated, frowzy and not hot.”

Whatever the circumstances, choosing the right name is a tough decision, says Wellford. Cutesy words like LahLah for a grandma, or Dabbadoo for a grandpa, could become irritating over time. Some names seem endearing inside the family home, but will sound utterly ridiculous when screamed across a crowded mall, she says. And what about the scatological-sounding Peepo and Poopa, both substitutes for grandpa? “The name Poopa might sound real cute from a two-year- old,” says Wellford, “but when it’s a 16-year-old saying, ‘Hey Poopa, I want to borrow the car,’ how does that sound?”

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Don’t Call Me Grandma

  1. There are some really good alternatives to Grandma. Barack Obama called his maternal grandmother Toot which is short for Tutu, the Hawaiian word for grandmother.
    My Aboriginal friends take great pride in being called Kookum. Doesn’t seem to be such a hang up in other cultures!!

  2. What is so wrong with being called “Grandma”? That’s what you are and putting another name to it, isn’t going to change the fact. Grow up people!! If the word Grandma is giving you a complex, you have deeper issues that go beyond being a grandparent. Maybe you should try staying home and doing some baking…it’s really quite enjoyable and the grandchildren will remember that for the rest of their lives and thank you for it.

    • Thank you for writing this (I’m only 2 years late here to comment..ha.. as I am a new Grandma) I am very excited that grandpa is bringing in the bacon from his home office and I am free to enjoy my role as Grandma. I won’t be baking much as I’m weary of it “homesteading on my hips” and slowing me down. But I will serve them lots of yogurt & berry smoothies and go exploring with my grandkids and read heaps of good books to them as I did to my kids and as my parents did with me and my kids. I hope to get alot of good things into their little minds, before they notice video games etc. :)  My kids call me lots of different versions of Mom, like Mumzie, Momma Mack etc. so Mumzie comes natural…my last name being Mackenzie. If that doesn’t come easy for my grandchildren, there is no sweeter name to me than Grandma! My kids still think of my mom as the greatest Grandma on earth. How I thank God for all that she and Grandpa built into all of our lives! We miss them so much! I had my 4 before I was 30, so I’ve waiting a long time for this time of life…although 52 is very young these days!! CarolynR 

  3. I am ok with other names, but “mom”? That is just selfish.

  4. I just love being called “Grandma” by my four granchildren. Lots of people are just so insecure and so influenced by the “Hollywood” mentality that they cannot face reality. I am often mistaken for my grandkids’ mother as I do not look my 70 years. Enjoy being able to correct them.

  5. back in the seventys , our granny some how became ” Nanny Babe” and stuck till she passed. She , nanny babe , loved thr term of indearment. thank you

  6. We called our grandmother Nanny, and when I become a grandmother (she said with fingers crossed), I will be called Nan.

  7. only women are concerned with such self indulging …. no sef respect man would even MAKE an article about such absurd things….PUT THIS IN THE HUMOR CATEGORY…or health under mental illness
    …how is this different then anything else in our ‘womens world’

    Center of the Universe

  8. I think the whole “I don’t wanna feel old” thing is kinda like denying who you are, but there is another side to the “what do we call the grandparents” issue. My mother is Grannie to my son, and my Gramma (his great-grandma) is also Gramma to him. So, then what to call that wench of a woman also known as my mother-in-law? He’s already got a Grannie and a Gramma (Grandma, etc), and as much as I dislike the woman, I have issues with him calling her by name, not to mention my father-in-law could very well get married again, so there’d be a step-grandmother to deal with. And that’s just the women. He already has a Grandad, and to me Grandpa is too familiar for a couple of men who don’t seem to care about my son (above mentioned FIL, plus the MIL’s husband).

    And I think using the same name for different people is too confusing for a pre-schooler. Hell, I find it confusing/annoying to this day, and my “other” grandma died when I was 15.