"Nana," "Gran" or Just Plain "Grandma"?

The first big question for a new grandparent: what to call yourself? Columnist and new grandma Sally Koslow talks about choosing her grandma name.

By Sally Koslow

"Who am I?" philosophers ask. I hate to go all woo-woo, but the question has arisen, what shall I, a new grandma, be called?

Picking a baby’s name is loaded with potential negative feedback. Had my grandson been a daughter, the choice was Mabel (inspired by a barbeque joint near my son and dauther-in-law's house) Alfreda (merging the names of my husband’s father, Alfred, and my mother, Fraeda.) Bruce Willis may have named his baby Mabel, but I can’t say I love it.  And Alfreda? Really? So I did not want to blow it when christening myself.

The baby’s other grandparents, who live in Germany, picked "Oma" and "Opa". This left the field wide open. Yet, I had a hard time nailing a name. "Grandmother" struck me as too dignified, and it’s hard to be dignified when you spend half the day in the shorts you wear for your morning run. I considered the classic, "Grandma", but I’m a creative type and it felt too generic. One sister-in-law goes by "Jamma", but her first-born grandchild inspired the name, and I didn’t feel I should mooch it, which was the problem with "Gigi" and "Mimi", friends’ names. My other sister-in-law is "Grammy", but that was what my own mother had selected; she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a year later, so in our family, Grammy felt jinxed.

"Nana" is an elegant choice, and what I called my mother’s mother. But I never quite got over how Nana scolded me when at four-years-old, I defiled her sidewalk with a hopscotch grid. I have carried that shame forever. Nana was out.

Last winter, I became devoted to Downton Abbey, with particular appreciation for Dame Maggie Smith, playing Dowager Countess Violet Grantham, the character who asked in all innocence, “What is a weekend?” Her granddaughters called her "Granny". If that name was good enough for Lady Grantham, it would to be good enough for me, I decided. I gave Granny a trial run with my younger son and his wife, who one day—I hope—will be parents themselves. I wanted them to like whatever name I chose so they would use it, too, because after my parents picked "Grammy" and "Gramps", when my sister and brother had kids, their children used entirely different names for our Mom and Dad. This has meant that my sons have no shared frame of reference when talking about mutual grandparents with first-cousins. I find this unfortunate.

“I’ll be called ‘Granny',” I announced.

“Granny?” my son and daughter-in-law repeated, shocked. “Granny is someone ancient and feeble.”

“That’s what I like, the irony,” I explained.

“Yeah, it’s ironic now,” my son responded and asked, “What’s wrong with 'Nanny'?” the name he calls Helen, my husband’s mom, perennially youthful at 88. “That’s what we call grandmothers in this family.”

So simple. That settled it. I am Nanny Sally.

And you know what? It fits.

Sally Koslow is the author of four novels and the non-fiction book, Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest. She became a grandmother in June, 2012.


My husbands daughter has 2 girls. They call me Grandma Brenda. My daughter has a daughter and son who call me Mamaw B. Either name fits. Love those little people. They are my joy in life. Hubby goes by Papa Gene by all 4 grandchildren. Go figure. LOL

brendapitrowski@gmail.com on 2013-12-31 13:16:48

I just became a grandmother for the first time last week. It has been an absolute joy so far. My name is Donna, so I always knew I just wanted to be Nana Donna. Sort of fits me, I hope the kids like it!!!

donnapevey@yahoo.com on 2012-12-06 10:11:24

I was fortunate in that 7 yrs ago, when one of our two daughters was pregnant (with what would be our very first grandchild), she told us to begin thinking about what my husband & I wanted to be called, that WE could pick the names. I knew that the names would be used by all subsequent grandchildren-to-be, so it was important to pick good ones. Since our son-in-law's parents were already known as Nana & Papa by their existing grandchildren, those names were off the potential list.

I went online over the months & checked out hundreds of names; I chose MeMe and my husband chose Poppy and we are SO pleased with those names. We now have 4 grandchildren (I know, I know... my screen name is "3timeMeMe" but I can't figure out how to "update" my screen name; however, we just got the wonderful news that in May of 2013 I will be a "5timeMeMe" so maybe I'll figure out how to update my name by then.

I'm so happy that our daughter let my husband & me pick our grandparent names.... that added to our joy

3timeMeMe on 2012-09-20 17:14:09

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