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Jewish Journal

Grandma Who?

By Eileen Douglas

March 25, 2009 | 4:41 am

Growing up, I called my grandmother Grandma.

We were Jewish, but also American. There was never any question but that my grandma would be Grandma. Even if she was born in the Old Country and, like all my friends and all their grandparents, spoke with a Yiddish accent. I used to think, in fact, that in order to be a grandparent you had to have been born in the Old Country and speak with a Yiddish accent.

When I became a mother, making my mother a grandmother, I wondered how she could even be a true grandmother, a real grandma, if she was born American and spoke English the way you are supposed to. Nevertheless, in due order she became Grandma to my daughter. And my grandmother moved up a notch. My daughter called her Bubbe.

Jewish as we may have been, that was the first time it entered my head that Grandma could be anything other than Grandma. Of course, my mother could just as easily have been Bubbe to my daughter, but somehow that never seemed an option.

This all seemed very simple compared to the thinking that went into the mental deliberations, considerations, contemplations, ponderings, trying on of this title and that, which arose when my daughter was pregnant. What did I want my grandchild to call me?

The baby’s paternal grandmother quickly claimed Nana. That was fine with me. I had no desire to be a nana. The paternal grandfather quickly became Grandpa, and my husband took Poppy. Leaving me in the undecided column.

Honestly, I wanted it to be something Jewish, warm, with ties to my past and my people. But Bubbe was still too far an old-fashioned stretch. I am way too much a modern American woman who spends time trying to stay young to want to be tagged with “Bubbe.”

An Israeli guy I know from the gym suggested Savtah, which, as I heard him tell it, is Hebrew for grandmother. I loved the thought of it. It worked on the Jewish side. But somehow having a little one tag after me calling me Savtah was not my idea of being a modern American woman.

Yet there was a trace of an idea there.

Recently, I came across Web sites offering gobs of newfangled names to keep a modern grandparent feeling modern, American and not the same-old-same-old, but something more interesting. I can see I am not the only one facing this question. In fact, if you Google “names for grandma” you’ll see this is far from a Jewish question.

Mothers on the DrSpock.com message board, responding to requests for other names for grandmothers, suggested some you might never have heard of, like “Memaw” or “Maw Maw.”

The site Name Nerds asks people to submit their most clever suggestions, and trumpets the fact that the most common names for grandparents, at least in the United States, are Bubbe, Nana, Grandma, Granny, Gran, Gram, Grammy, Papa, Grandpa, Granda, Granddad and Gramps. (Note that Bubbe is first!)

The whole point, as one blogger put it, is to get away from plain old Grandma.

Others in my extended family have their grandchildren call them “GiGi” or GayGay.” I found that a stretch.

Eventually, I settled on good old “Grandma.”

For me that seemed to fit, if only in the default mode, since I had always used it for my grandmother for all those years.

And then my grandson, once he learned to sort of talk, solved the problem all by himself.

We tell him I am “Grandma.” Only 2, he can say the “ma” part, but not the “grand.” So it comes out “E-ma.”

“E-ma.” Hebrew for mother.

“Hello, E-ma,” he says. “I love you, E-ma.”

I like it. A lot. Even after he learns to say “Grandma,” I may even keep it. Jewish. Loving. Something he came up with not knowing how far back in time, out of so many loving mouths, mothers have been called to their child’s side by that name.

And so a child has led me back to my beginnings. As children so often do.


Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist turned independent documentary filmmaker. Former 1010 WINS New York anchor/reporter and correspondent for “ABC-TV’s Lifetime Magazine,” she is the author of “Rachel and the Upside Down Heart,” co-producer of the films “My Grandfather’s House” and “Luboml: My Heart Remembers,” and a columnist for The Digital Journalist. She can be reached at douglas-steinman.com.

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