Goodbye Granny, hello Honey: Modern grandparents embrace creative names
In August, Susan Sarandon’s daughter welcomed a baby girl, Marlow Mae. But Sarandon won’t be going by Granny or Grammy or Grandma. Marlow will call the 67-year-old actress Honey.
Whether it’s Honey, GoGo (Goldie Hawn), Jefe (George W. Bush), LaLo (Blythe Danner), Nana, Gigi, or Mimi, more grandparents are eschewing the traditional monikers to embrace something personal. As national Grandparents' Day approaches on Sunday, Sep. 7, modern grandparents are redefining their roles — starting with nicknames.
“Grandparents want to see themselves as younger and cooler than their own grandparents were, and these new names are symbolic of those changes,” writes Pamela Redmond Satran, creator of Nameberry, in an email.
Roseann Shaiman worried about seeming old, especially because her husband, Alan, teased her by calling her Granny. She thought Grammy sounded OK, but her oldest grandson, Daniel, now 5, struggled to say it. One day Daniel heard his grandfather call his grandmother Ro, which the boy turned into RoRo.
Shaiman says she loved it. "I definitely encouraged him,” she writes in an email.
Danine Gebhart also knew she didn’t want to be Grandma.
“I was one of the legions of grandparents who thought Grandma seems old,” she says.
She decided on Nini, her nickname until she was 12.
“A little bit unique without being [too crazy]. It’s a part of who I am,” she says.
Redmond Satran says that often grandparents put a lot of thought into what they want to be called; but as with anything involving small children, you can't always exercise total control over what happens.
“They’re aware in a way grandparents of generations past were not that a name carries a strong image and style message,” she says. “But just as when naming a child, the name sometimes gets out of your control.”
Maureen Rihn wanted to be called Pippa, which she found on a list of cool grandparent names, but her grandson, Cameron, 2, had his own ideas.
“He actually calls me PeeBa,” she says. “[If] you try to correct him and say ‘It’s Pippa,’ he says ‘It’s not, it is PeeBa.’”
Sometimes children's imaginations lead to names that sound hip.
Take Ingrid Murphy. Her grandson, Oliver, now 19, calls her Diddy. She believes it is because he overheard her singing “Di-di-di-di.” Her daughter-in-law, Liz Murphy, believes he combined Granny and Ingrid to get Diddy. No matter the origin, everyone now knows Murphy as Diddy.
“Ingrid has always introduced herself as Diddy! Everyone loves her and I really feel the common name helps them adopt her as a surrogate Granny,” writes Liz Murphy via email.
Iman Attalla hoped to be called Tayta, Egyptian slang for grandmother. Granddaughter Emmy, now 2, heard her family jokingly calling Attalla “Nosnos” because of mail she received addressed to that name. Emmy turned it into Sonson — her grandmother's name ever since. Emmy calls her grandfather George, Gaga. It was simply too hard to say the Egyptian name Gido.
Mispronunciation is a common inspiration for hip new grandparent names. Whatever a beloved grandchild calls them, it seems, grandparents are happy to answer to it.
Lexie Agostinone’s daughter, Brodie, now 10, calls her grandmother Jean.
“I was trying to get her to say Granny and she called her Jean and it just stuck. Everyone calls her that,” says Agostinone.
While many names originate with mispronunciation, often grandparent nicknames have cultural ties.
Dyana Chimento Tacopino grew up calling her Greek grandmother Yia Yia (her Italian grandma was Nonni). When her children were little, they picked up on this and started calling her mom Yia Yia. They call great-grandma Big Yia Yia.
“My kids love that it is different,” Chimento Tacopino writes in an email.
Barbara Long-Cooper’s son, Brandon, took German and loved the name for grandma, Oma. When his daughters were babies, he told them his mother was Oma, which stuck.
“I really do like Oma because it was easy for the kids to say [and] learn and it distinguishes me from other grandparents,” Long-Cooper writes via email.
No matter where the name comes from, it’s clear that grandparent names send a message about grandparenthood.
“Grandparents today want to be closer to their grandkids,” says Redmond Satran. “They see their role as playful and so many of the names are playful too.”