Tuesday, April 27, 2010


We’re about to be GrandParents for the seventh time, and we’ve counted the blessing of that every single day since we’ve known about our little-one-to-come. I think the roles of the Grands---both us older generation and the brand new one--have changed in many ways, especially in my lifetime. The days of “seen and not heard” and living life at a remove from the small ones have almost disappeared, with a closeness and a closing-in of the generations, and I think that’s a wonderful thing.

I love the names for Grandparents---and the South is just a treasure-trove of names, of every sort. Some of the ones most used are:

Grandma, Grandmaw, Grammaw---just as it sounds
Mammaw---my Grandmothers---both were Mammaw, with the paternal one set apart by her initial---Mammaw J.

Meemaw, Mimi, Grandmam, GrandMary, Bomo, Nana, Nanny, Maw, Muh-Dear, MeeMee, Big Mama, Two-Mama, Beau Mere and Frances. I’ve heard all of these from children referring to their Grandmothers.

Grandpas have a different place, a different relationship with grandchildren; my own Dad and GrandDad were both called by their first names by my children. I cannot remember how that came about; it was not disrespectful---it just sounded sweet in those baby voices, and a matter of habit later on.

Papa and Pappaw are two of the most popular Grandpa names, I think.

I have, just recently, known of a Step-Grandfather, married later in life to a woman with grandchildren, to choose the name Faux-Paw. Clever and charming.

Children do not lack for names, either:
Grand or grands ditto
Grandgirl or Grandboy A still-lingering-in-some-parts name for a grandchild, quite often pronounced “gull” and “baweh.”
My own are variously called Sweetpea, Dolling, and Sugar, depending on what pops out of my mouth.

New Baby newborn to several months

Knee baby---Usually second youngest, still clinging to Mama’s knee while she works or nurses the youngest.
Last babies are seldom known as Knee-baby, because there is no one in the lap to usurp their place.

The word Baby is used to refer to an infant to school-age in some circles---all the way up into said baby’s middle age by some doting parents. Baby is often used to refer to the child between the New Baby and the Knee Baby.

Even precluding twins, a family could have a new baby, a baby, and a knee baby, all at the same time: new baby was a brand new infant; the baby was just before walking and “pulling up” and the knee baby was still too young to show much independence from Mama, and if he couldn’t be held in her lap much, he’d still cling to her knees or skirt.

Hip Baby: a child carried astride the hip; this could be the above “Baby,” with the New in the crib and the Knee holding onto Mama’s skirt.

Good Hip Baby: one which clung on with legs and hands, instead of just dangling his full weight on his Mama’s supporting arm. Many a Mama did her housework, her cooking, and even the ironing with a little one clinging to her side, and so the words “Good hip baby” were a compliment of sorts, meaning an ahead-of-his age child, alert and capable of balance, and doing his part in the partnership.

And little children picked up the names given their siblings---Give your Brother that toy; Go get Sister to comb your hair. So they called them what they heard, and the names hung on---that’s probably the reason we have more folks called Bubba or Sissy per square mile than anywhere else in the country.

Southern families have Aunts, Aints and Onts and Ontees, depending on their pronunciation preferences. These are all also used in referring to Great Aunts, as well as various relationships of older women throughout the family and circle of friends.

We were not of the social elevation which had Onts and Ontees; we did, however, have Aunt Lou, Aunt Katie, and two Aunt Marys---one Great, one regular. Then we had Aint Bessie and Aint Lo; I have no idea why they were different---perhaps because both had a few hitches in life which made them either risqué or ridiculous.

And we also had one called Fadannie (Fat Auntie)---she wasn’t, except for her prow of bosom. I never questioned it, as she was called that way before I was born, but now I shudder that we said that as easily as we said Mammaw.

Uncles are just uncles---the only variation on the theme being Unca---they were sort of a set-back adjunct of all the Aunts, a necessary appendage of sorts, who drove Aunts places and then ate heartily, reached a toothpick from the little glass holder on the table and headed outside to the shade, where they talked amongst themselves and perfumed the air with their cigarettes and cigars. Since neither my Daddy nor my Grandpa had one, I thought that the pretty watches and chains stretched across their vast vest-fronts were the special province of Uncles only.

I will mention that in the time of my own memory, older African-American men and women were called “Auntie” and “Uncle” by the white people---I can remember being coached and even browbeaten into saying it---I thought it was demeaning and tacky to people who were certainly old enough to be accorded a child's respect, and sometimes I felt so bad about saying it, I’d go out in the yard if I could and spit the taste out of my mouth.

Cousins are cousins, and I’m dizzy enough without talking about all that once-removed stuff here.

Double First Cousins---though I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any double SECOND cousins (that would require too much math)---occur when two siblings marry two other siblings, so that the children of both matches are ALL cousins, from every angle.

Chris and I have some of those in both our families, in our grandparents’ generation. I think the world was just so small then, and the dating pool WAY circumscribed by location and transportation, and you married the boy next door, cause he was THERE, and then his sister met your brother---and life went on.

I’m not gettin’ into Half Cousins or Cousin-and-a-half (usually pronounced hafe) with Y’all. And forget about Cousins on my Mama’s side and Last Cousins and Shirt-tail relations and all that. I'm runnin' out of steam this busy day.

And now you know---whenever My Grand-Girl’s knee-baby or my Double-First-Cousin’s Ontee comes up in conversation, you’ll be right in step.
Any GrandParent names you'd like to share, or any you've got picked out for SOMEDAY?
PS Susan Adcox of About.com has done me the honor of asking to link this post to her own post today. Thank you, Susan!!


mary said...

Enjoyed the blog, as the previous one. My own grandchildren call me Mam, which I find sooo
appropriate for a Southern grandmother.

racheld said...

Mam IS, indeed, a proper name for a Southern Grand.

Mary, I tried to visit you on your own blog, but there was no way to get to it. I do hope that we might come and reciprocate the nice visits and comments someday.

Indy Cookie said...

Loved this post and CONGRATS on the new wee grand! My own lovelies call me Gams and my husband is Pappy. I grew up with Mamaw and Papaw. We differentiated by calling my paternal grandmother, "Big Mamaw" and my maternal grandmother was "Little Mamaw." These were based on height as one was quite tall and the other quite short. Funny how Mamaw sounded so old to me when it was my turn in the granny car!

Nail said...

I am your sister no matter what you say...I have done our genealogy and our family tree FORKS..no matter what you say and how suprised we all were...the dating pool may have been small, but we have our pride...


Tonja said...

Loved this! My boys had a Grandma and Grandaddy...and my parents were Granny and Papa...now called Pop! They had several great grands who were all Granny M, or Granny T.
Around here lots of ladies use GiGi and MiMi. Joy is a GiGi. I know a Gee, hard G, a Grammy, and one of the sweetest was a couple of twins I had at school who called theirs Peaches and Pear!
One grandaddy around here is known as Backdaddy. Tina and Shirl (who have a MIL in common)...when the first 2 children were small one of the boys was so possessive, he never wanted his granmother to have any contact with any of the other children...he would say, "she is MINE: And that is what she is called...Mine, by all8 grandchildren and 4 great grands.

I do not know what I want to be called...Tina and Shirl and their children have always called me the Queen and they say no matter what I choose, they will teach them to say "Queen". I kinda like Mama T. Who knows? I just want to be called! :)

Kim Shook said...

OOohh! Grandbabies! I only have a Grandkitty so far (this is a GOOD thing, as my girl is still my baby - at 26 years old), so I envy you a fresh, new little one to kiss and sniff on (don't they smell lovely?). I had a grandmother we called Bebo. I have an 80-something cousin still called Baby Fay. I love the African-American 'Baby Girl' and use it a lot. We say 'Ant', but I did have an Aint Mildred - like you, I'm not sure why the difference just for her. Mr. Kim's family says 'Ont', which I find a bit toffee-nosed!

diane said...

What an interesting post. It is fun learning about he different language used in USA. Congrats on new grand baby on the way. We are about to become grandparents for the first time in a few weeks. Mr B has said he wants to be called iPop and be part of the latest new lingo. I'll probably be called Grandma. I called mine Granny and Granddad and tacked on their surname to distinguish the difference.

Southern Lady said...

Our granddaughter calls me "Grandmama," or sometimes when she gets excited she'll call me "Grand-MaMom," with the accent on the "mom." At his request (back when she was first learning to talk), she calls her granddaddy by his first name, "Norm," and sometimes "MY Norm," which I think is so sweet.

Loved this post, Rachel ... as always.

Kouign Aman said...

Nan and Nanna.
My folks are grandma and grandpa to my kid
and granda and poppa to my nephew.

lovely post.

mary said...

This is Mary, whose grandchildren call her Mam. I do not have a blog. I travel around the blog world reading wonderful stuff like your comments, but alas, I am, as one of Bertie Wooster's flinty-hearted relatives called him, "a sipper and a flitter."

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

How interesting to read all those names. For us it was Grandpa and Grandma, or for me it was Grandaddy and Grandma..southern probably.