I overheard a middle-aged man ask somewhat rhetorically, “Why don’t women want to be called grandma anymore?” I don’t know where he’s been hanging out, but I know plenty of women who love being called grandma. While, I love being a grandma, it’s not the name my grandchildren use, so I’ll answer his question.
First of all, it’s not about pride. I don’t think people look at me and think “grandma,” but they’re also not surprised to learn I am one. I’m certainly within the age range, and I’m content with that fact. I readily admit to being a grandma so I can talk to you about my granddaughters until your eyes roll. I proudly carry their photos and am ready to whip them out at the slightest mention. Consider yourself warned!
It is, however, a matter of practicality. Babies cannot say grandma. As they approach their first birthday, they can say simple syllables such as da, ma, ha (translated “hi”) and ba (translated “bye”). Between the ages of one and two, they add more words to their vocabulary, like mine and everyone’s favorite, NO!
We make it easy for these little budding linguists to say grandpa, by shortening it to “papa.” However, you can’t shorten “grandma” in the same manner. Babies have ONE “mama” and that’s a sacred relationship.
So, being the practical person that I am, I went in search of a name my grandchildren could pronounce – something simple. I know a few grandmas who are referred to as Mimi. Cute, simple and easy to pronounce, but that’s what my son called me as he was transitioning from saying mama to mommy. Somehow that didn’t seem right, and it’s also the name my son’s mother-in-law chose to use.
With my usual *finesse, I searched the internet and found a site that provides the word for grandma in other languages. I’m the first to admit that I’m pretty much a mixture of anything and everything Northern European. I’m Irish, English, German and Flemish with a tad-bit of Cherokee thrown in. In other words, I’m a mutt. However, since my Irish heritage is strongest, I looked up the Gaelic word for grandma. I found the following translation and definition: seanmháthair, literally meaning “old mother.” Children would not be likely to address a grandmother by this term. They would use instead Maimeó or Móraí.
It’s self-evident that I’m an “old mother,” so I chose not to have my grandchildren announce that fact every time they called my name. Besides, seanmháthair is even tougher to pronounce than grandma. I clicked the on the pronunciation of maimeó and heard, maw-moh. Okay, we have a winner!
My husband and I are Poppa and Mamo, respectively, and our almost two-year-old granddaughter has no problem saying either name. She actually demonstrated this for the congregation at church as her mother was taking her to the nursery midway through the sermon. As they were leaving the sanctuary we heard her strong, sweet voice saying, “Buh-bye, Poppa! Buh-bye, Mamo!” Her mother may have been slightly embarrassed, but it was one of the proudest moments of my life.
*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)