Grandparents who want their grandchildren to call them silly names

From today’s New York Times email:

Who Are You Calling Grandma?
Reluctant to be called anything that makes them sound old, baby-boomer grandparents are naming themselves or accepting toddlers’ nicknames for them.

In the article, the first example of such self-naming is the actress Blythe Danner trying to get her grandchildren to address her as … Woof.

Does it occur to Danner that her self-image is not the only issue here, and that perhaps her grandchilden would benefit by having a grandmother they can address as “Grandma” instead of as “Woof”?

Or let’s put it this way. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to feel old, in the sense of being decrepit or broken down. It is good to feel vital and alive, i.e., young. But if a grandparent actually does feel vital and young, will the fact that his grandchildren call him “Grandpa,” in and of itself, make him feel broken down and old? There’s no reason why it should. I think what this phenomenon is about is the excessive vanity of the Baby Boom generation. .

May 11, 2011
Who Are You Calling Grandma?

LAST month, Gwyneth Paltrow, promoting her new cookbook, “My Father’s Daughter” (Grand Central Life & Style), on the television show “Chelsea Lately,” revealed that her mother, the actress Blythe Danner, wanted to be called Woof by her grandchildren, Apple and Moses. “My mom’s hot and she didn’t want to be called Grandma,” Ms. Paltrow said. “So she kept trying to make the Woof thing stick. It’s even her e-mail address.”

Ms. Paltrow did not elaborate on the provenance of Woof, nor on her children’s actual nickname for Ms. Danner, Lalo. But another Hollywood grandmother, the actress Goldie Hawn, has written about her own reluctance to embrace the term in her best-selling memoir, “A Lotus Grows in the Mud” (Berkley Trade): “The wonderful day arrived; my grandson, Ryder Russell, burst forth into this world. I could barely contain myself. But was I really a ‘grandmother’?” Ms. Hawn wrote. (Or, as Shirley MacLaine howled in the 1983 movie “Terms of Endearment,” “Why should I be happy about being a grandmother?”)

It is, Ms. Hawn continued, a “word that had so many connotations of old age and decrepitude.”

“My son Oliver decided I should be called ‘Glam-Ma,’ which I thought was quite brilliant and made us all laugh so hard.”

The term has stuck. According to, “If 60 is the new 40 then GlamMa is the new Grandma, a woman with a sense of self and style.”

Resistant to being called anything that makes them sound old, baby-boomer grandparents have taken to accepting toddlers’ neologisms and ethnic variations or, better yet, naming themselves.

Mickey Sauls, 28, a sales coordinator for Ralph Lauren who lives in San Diego, is due to have her first baby in early June. Her parents’ names are already picked out. “My mother initiated the conversation,” Ms. Sauls said. “She has since changed her mind a few times.” For now the new grandmother, Irene Dawson, will be known as Nonna, a nod to her Maltese heritage. Initially Ms. Sauls’s father, John Dawson, wanted to be called by his first name, but he has now settled on Papa John (when he discovered the pizza chain Papa John’s recently, he texted his daughter a photo of “his personal logo”).

“My wife and I were somewhat serious about being called Irene and John,” Mr. Dawson said. “We like our names and that it’s real. Grandpa, Grandma, Granny, Nanna, Gramps, etc., give off a vision of being old.”

This is a common attitude, said Dana Points, the editor in chief of Parents magazine. “Today’s grandparents don’t feel like they look or act like the grandparents of a generation ago,” she said, “so there can be a weird disconnect with the official term.”

Grandparents seeking help finding just the right appellation can choose from trendy, playful, international or traditional options at They can also turn to “The New Grandparents Name Book, a Lighthearted Guide to Picking the Perfect Grandparent Name” (ArtStone Press). Written by the mother and daughter team Lin Wellford, 59, and Skye Pifer, 35, it offers 700 unstodgy options, like G-mom, Doodad, Popsi, Bubba and “Sonoma and Napa for a more sophisticated set.”

As someone “fun” and “still wearing jeans,” Ms. Wellford herself settled on “Mimi.” “It turns out most baby boomers I know felt the same way—love the idea, hate the name; we are such a herd,” she said. And Ms. Pifer approved. “She’s super-creative,” she said of her mother.

Freestyle naming has advantages in the modern world of divorced or otherwise fractured families. “Lots of kids have more than two sets of grandparents, so one reason to choose other names is to better distinguish them from one another,” Ms. Points said. Names can “defuse a situation that could be tense,” Ms. Wellford said. “No one wants to move in on grandmothering territory.”

Anna Crafton Walker, 36, a learning specialist who lives in Brooklyn, had four sets of grandparents to name—“no easy task,” she said. Her mom is now “Mamo,” which incorporates the nickname Mo, an abbreviation for Mother Crafton. Her dad is PawPaw, which he chose because it reminded him of his Kentucky grandfather, PooPoo, and the pawpaw tree he had growing in his backyard. Ms. Walker’s son, Wyatt, 2, also has a Nana, a Buya Buya, a PopPop, a Q, a Nonna and a Grandma Patty. (Phew.)

Note to grandparents: if your grandchild wants to rename you (Ms. Danner told that it was young Apple who came up with Lalo), “you have to be kind of relaxed about it,” Ms. Wellford said. “Seeing yourself as a GlamMa helps you make that leap into grandparenting, through that psychic distance between ‘I’m too young’ and ‘Wow, I love this grandchild, what a great idea.’ ”

- end of initial entry -

Mark Jaws writes:

I’m a very fit 56 year old, so while I am old enough to be called “grampa,” I am known to my grandchildren as “Paas,” which arose from my first grandchild’s attempt to call me “Pops,” the name MY DAUGHTER designated for me. I personally have no problem being called grampa, but lots of the 40-50-ish grandmothers I know, don’t like it.

Robert B. writes:

In my world, we called our grandmothers “Nana”—which is a very old, English “nickname” for grandmothers. Grandfathers either “grandpa” or simply “grandfather”.

As an aside to all of this naming business, I was told by a poly-sci professor in a class 30 odd years ago that one of the functions of local priests/pastors was to ensure a proper name for children at the baptism—had the child been given a silly name, the pastor/priest simply changed it in the act of re-Christening the child. The prof lamented that the rise in silly names was a reflection of our growing secularism in that less and less children were being baptized.

Jane S. writes:

The Chinese with their one-child policy have made words like “brother” and “sister” obsolete. The Spanish outlawed the words “mother” and “father” on birth certificates. We in our quest for lifelong adolescence are making words like “grandmother” obsolete. All ways of achieving the same goal: a communist future where words about family don’t mean anything.

Jewel writes:

My twins called my father—no boomer he- Punkin’ Jack, because at 2, they tried to say Grampa Jack, and it came out Punkin Jack. It stuck.

My grandson will be calling me Nana, and grampa will be Papa. I think that bespeaks our age quite well.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 12, 2011 09:55 AM | Send

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