“I was so excited for her, so when she told me the tears just started falling,” said Simmons, who lives in Heflin. “But then I realized what it meant for me: I was going to turn 50 and become a grandmother in the same year. It’s like I became an old woman … but I was still healthy and attractive, not to mention being single.”
Determined not to live up to the image conjured by the word “Grandma” — liver spots, creaking rocking chairs, afghan-knitting, hip replacements — Simmons wanted her grandbaby to simply call her “Martha.”
When her grandson, Tyler, was about 8 months old, Simmons went to Texas to visit him. Over two weeks, Simmons repeated her name over and over again.
“I spoke very slowly and pointed at myself,” Simmons remembered. “He was already saying things like ‘dog,’ ‘ball’ and ‘Mama,’ so ‘Martha’ didn’t seem like such a stretch.”
Babies aren’t so great when it comes to repeating what they’re told.
Which is how Martha Simmons became “Mossy.”
Truthfully, when Tyler said it, it sounded more like “Maw-see.” The nickname has stuck through two more grandchildren and pretty much the rest of the family.
“I became Mossy overnight, which I guess says a lot about what it feels like to be a grandmother,” Simmons said. “But I guess that’s what happens when you try and pick your own nickname.”
It took some time, but Simmons settled into her new nickname. “And at least it’s better than being Maw-Maw,” she said. “That would really make me feel old.”
It’s a sign of the times that some grandparents want modern, even cute nicknames. According to the AARP, the average grandparent is 48 years old when his or her first grandbaby is born, which is way too young for Friday night bingo and early bird dinner specials.
Deciding what to call the grandparents can be a bigger challenge than naming the baby. From Granny and Grandpa to Pee-Paw and Mee-Maw, Ya-Ya and Gamma to Pop and Gi-Gi, whenever a new generation is added to the flock, changes must be made, and first names are way too proper, especially in the South.
When she was growing up, Kelli Morris kept it simple, calling both sets of grandparents by the same names, Grammi and Papa. “It could get really confusing,” said Morris, who lives in Oxford. “They didn’t always know who I was talking to.”
When Morris had a daughter of her own, the family worked together on a suitable roll call that gave a nod to personal tastes and tradition. Always liking the nickname Granna, Morris’ mother-in-law got first dibs on it; her husband settled on Grandaddy. Meanwhile, like their parents before them, Morris’ mother and father would be known as Grammi and Papa.
Only time will tell if these nicknames actually stick. “My daughter’s only a year old,” Morris said, “so she’s not really calling anybody anything yet.”
‘Every time she calls my name, I smile’
Some grandparents enjoy sitting back and letting the kids decide. That’s how Tommy Alvarez of Anniston became Tada.
When his granddaughter was 9 months old, she was going around the room pointing at people and things, mostly saying gibberish. When she got to Alvarez, she said, “Tada.” The name stuck.
“She just laughed and laughed,” remembered Alvarez, whose daughter and granddaughter recently moved from Anniston to Atlanta. “That was two years ago, and every time she calls my name, I can’t help but smile. It’s a great memory that I get reminded of all the time.”
When it came to being given his nickname, Phillip Haynes got lucky.
“They call me ‘Pap,’” he said proudly. “My daughter pretty much came up with it. We were trying to think of something a little different because so many other names were already being used. I love my nickname … I’m the only ‘Pap’ I know.”
As for his wife, Rhonda, she settled on Grammy. While it took a little time for her to settle into the idea of being a grandmother, that all disappeared as soon as Mattox was born.
“That little booger changed our lives,” said the 48-year-old Haynes. “We like our nicknames. But it really doesn’t matter what they call us, just as long as they call us something.”
Given how easily it pops off the tongue, Haynes is aiming to use ‘Pap’ to his advantage as soon as his 3-month-old Mattox starts talking.
“We practice it all the time,” he said. “And that’s really why I liked ‘Pap.’ It’s something she can learn and say real quick. I’m kind of hoping ‘Pap’ will be her first word.”
‘Kids will call you what they want to’
Jerry Johnston’s grandmother got her nickname as a nod to her heritage. Having grown up in Czechoslovakia, Elizabeth Gasparik was a teenager when she made her way alone to Ellis Island, eventually settling among the large Slavic population in Pittsburgh. She was known to the family and especially to Johnston as “Bubs,” which is Slavic for “grandmother.”
“Every Saturday, we’d go to Bub’s house,” Johnston remembered. “She was an amazing woman, and the only grandparent I actually met.”
When Johnston had grandchildren of his own, he became PaPa and his wife became Grammie — because Nana was already taken.
“You can try to do all the choosing you want,” Johnson said, “but kids are going to call you whatever they want to call you. The more you fight it, the harder it’ll stick.”
Since his grandparents were Paw-Paw and Mee-Maw, Mike Haynes (who is Phillip Haynes’ brother), was thankful to be saddled with something a little younger-sounding. He ended up being “Papa,” which the 56-year-old believes suits him just fine.
“It sounded as good as any to me,” he said. “We’ve all got to be called something, and at least mine’s kind of fun to say. Plus, it could always be worse. I mean, ‘Papa’ sounds a whole lot younger than ‘Paw-Paw’ or ‘Grandpa.’ But with kids, all that matters is that they remember you. The name doesn’t really mean that much.”
Contact Brett Buckner at email@example.com.
Top 10 grandparent nicknames
More than half of those polled in a recent BabyCenter survey went for good ol’ favorites “Grandma” and “Grandpa,” the most popular grandparent nicknames by a mile. The full lists in order of popularity:
Unusual grandparent nicknames
Many families in the BabyCenter.com survey – about 20 percent – broke new ground with unusual or creative grandparent nicknames.
All together, they reported more than 1,400 different names, among them:
Big Daddy/Big Papi