The art of coming up with just the right grandparents’ name


Ellen Futterman, Editor-in-Chief

During an interview in 2016 with author Dawn Lerman about her new book “My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, with Recipes,” we got to talking about her maternal grandmother who Lerman would spend Friday nights with as a child. Each Shabbat her grandmother would race down the front porch stairs in a matching lacy nightgown and bathrobe, and scream with excitement, “My little beauty, my little beauty!” Lerman thought when she heard her grandmother say “beauty” over and over again, she was trying to tell Lerman her name. So Beauty is what Lerman called her.

Dawn Lerman

At the time my eldest grandchild, who is now 7, was just a month old. I loved the idea of her (or really anyone) calling me “Beauty,” so I would try to work it into my conversations with Evelyn as she grew into a toddler, hoping she’d pick up on the moniker.

When she started saying words and realized that I was someone she saw on a consistent basis, she’d looked at me one day and said “Gaga.” And so, I am Gaga. My husband is Poppy, the name I called both my grandfathers. 

Myrna Meyer

Myrna Meyer is also Gaga to her grandchildren. 

“When (my daughter) Debbie had Jason (Meyer’s eldest grandchild) I told her I was fine about being called whatever, as long as it wasn’t (insert creative expletives here),” said Meyer, who belongs to Congregation B’nai Amoona and Central Reform Congregation. “When he said, ‘Gaga,’ I said, ‘I’ll take it.’”

Practically speaking, there are only a couple ways for grandparents to get their names — either out of the mouth of babes (in this case, their grandchild) — or the grandparents, or parents, choose. 

Lynn Wittels (Joel Marion Photography)

Lynn Wittels, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center, said she and her husband got their grandparent names, Nana and Pop-Pop or Pops, from their son and daughter-in-law. 

“They wanted terms of endearment for us, so they kind of gave us those names, though they asked us what we wanted,” said Wittels, adding that their grandchildren’s maternal grandparents, who are Israeli, are called the Hebrew counterparts of grandma and grandpa, Savta and Saba.

Typical among Jewish grandparent names is the Yiddish for grandmother and grandfather — Bubbie and Zayde (each replete with a myriad of spellings, much like Hanukkah). ‘

Margie Weintraub

Margie Weintraub, who splits her time between central California and Clayton, looked forward to her grandsons calling her Bubbie until her daughter-in-law, who grew up in Panama, thought sure, that’s fine, they could call her “BOOB-e.” When Weintraub heard the pronunciation, she quickly decided “Mimi” was a better alternative. 

And while Grandma and Grandpa still lead the pack in popularity, a spate of websites, books and news articles now tout endless possibilities. According to for example, favorite name choices for grandma are Nana, Grammy, Granny, Mimi, Gram, Nanny, Oma, Mamaw and Gran. For grandpa, there’s Papa, Granddad, Gramps, Pop-Pop, Poppy, Papaw, Pop, Opa and Pappy. 

In a 2017 article on about celebrity grandparents, we learned that Goldie Hawn, who reportedly refused to be called grandma because of its connotations of old-age, goes by Glam-Ma, Susan Sarandon is Honey, Kris Jenner is Lovey, Lionel Richie is G-Pa, Sharon Osbourne is Shazz and Martha Stewart . . . wait for it, is Martha. What else would you expect?

Retired businessman, entrepreneur and author Alan Spector, who belongs to Congregation Shaare Emeth, is currently at work on a book about nicknames, including ones for grandparents. In his introduction, he explains how this project began in his 94-year-old Aunt Leah’s home when he, his wife Ann, her sister Marti and her husband Harvey and Leah’s daughter Laura all got together.

Alan Spector

“During one particular visit, the subject of grandparenting came up as it often does, and from Aunt Leah’s perspective, that includes great-grandparenting,” Spector writes. “During this conversation, which involved four grandmothers, two grandfathers, and a great-grandmother, we realized we were in the midst of Nana, Gaga, Bubbe, Bumpah, Memaw and Pepaw.”

In the last chapter of his book, titled “Grandparents,” Spector details the origin of several unusual grandparents’ names including Turbo — a nod to a motorcycle loving grandfather — and Granddude, which apparently is what Beatle Paul McCartney’s grandchildren call him.

Like Bubbie and Zayde, some grandparents’ names pay homage to cultural significance. If you’ve ever watched “Daniel Tiger,” you know that Daniel calls his French grandfather “Grand-pere.” Fans of “Dora the Explorer” likely have met “Abuela,” the title character’s Spanish grandmother.

Sherri Frank Weintrop

Sherri Frank Weintrop comes from a long line of Babas, with Baba short for “Babusia,” which is grandmother in Ukranian. When Weintrop’s grandson Brayden was born in 2019, her mother stepped in and laid down the law.

“We had this family discussion of what to be called, and everyone was coming up with these cute grandparent names,” recalled Weintrop, a member of Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Community. “My mother then said, ‘Excuse me, but I’m a Baba, my mother was a Baba, her mother was a Baba, and you shall be, too. 

“But you know what? These Eastern European women were brilliant because the first word that came out of Brayden’s mouth was ‘baba.’ He said my name before anyone else’s.”

Meanwhile, Weintrop’s husband, Danny, had finally settled on being called Pawpaw rather than his first name (Danny), which had been his original choice. Unfortunately, when Brayden tried to pronounce Pawpaw, it came out “Poopoo.” 

But the name stuck. The Weintrops are now Baba and Poopoo. 

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