Sunday, August 11, 2013

Call Me Grandma

What's in a name? A lot, apparently, when it comes to deciding what your grandchildren should call you. When my granddaughter, Raina, was born ten months ago, I thought friends might ask me about her uncommon name, but invariably the question they posed was, "What do you want to be called?"

I assumed I had a while to decide, unless Raina turned out to be even more of a prodigy than I expected and began speaking at three months. Besides, I figured that whatever moniker I chose would be subject to Raina's unique pronunciation. I had seen that happen when my father-in-law asked to be called by the Yiddish word for grandfather, Zaide (pronounced zay-dee). His first grandchild, my nephew Jesse, gave it the more original and winsome pronunciation of Zepa (zay-pa), so Zepa he became, for Jesse and all subsequent grandchildren.

Still, the question nagged at me. My kids had called my mother Grandma, which seemed so uncreative. I wracked my brains for alternatives, but hardly anything came to mind. A friend told me that her husband had checked out grandfather names on the Internet. Really? It hadn't occurred to me that people could search for grandparent names the way expectant parents look for baby names. I felt reassured that I wasn't the only grandparent in need of inspiration, but when I perused the lists of "traditional," "trendy," and "playful" names, I didn't find inspiration after all. Somehow Bamba, G-Mom, Granana, or Mimo just didn't do it for me.

At a family gathering when Raina was six months old, we batted about names for grandmothers. I felt pressure to make a decision. My daughter-in-law, Karen, said that even though it would be a while before Raina could talk, she wanted to be able to show Raina pictures of me and know what to call me. I tried to imagine myself as Nana, Mimi, or Grammy. None of them felt right. I longed for something original and charming, like the sobriquet chosen by my mother-in-law—Fuffy.

The next morning, having slept on it and still come up empty, I told my son, Aaron, that I would keep thinking about a name and let him and Karen know my choice soon.

"Why not be Grandma?" he said. "I called your mother Grandma and she was a wonderful grandmother to me, just like you are to Raina."

Who could say no to that? I realized I'd been looking for a sense of connection, and here it was. I recalled the special relationship Aaron had with my mother and how much they loved one another. She was Aaron's "Grandma" and I'm Raina's. I can't wait to hear how she pronounces it!