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Dec 23 2010

What to Call Grandma When “Grandma” Just Won’t Do

By at 11:13 am

When my husband and I became parents, he became Abba and I became Mommy. This was true for all our friends except for the two couples who planned on moving to Israel and chose “Ima.” The rest of us agreed that “Ima” sounded like a screechy shriek.

Oh well. “Mommy” can too.

When my friends and I became grandparents, there were many more names from which to choose. “Bubbie,” “Bobba” and “Bobbie” were early favorites- mostly chosen by those who had (already dead) European grandmothers whom they had called by those names. Grandma sounded like an old lady but if you had had a beloved Grandma, (by then probably also dead), it had a good association.

My Grandma was still alive when I became a grandmother. So that name was hers. My Nana died when she was only a little older than I was at the time I achieved “grandmotherhood” so, although I loved her dearly, I had unhappy baggage with that name.

My own mother was Mama and although I really liked that, I thought she should just keep it. I was in no way a “Bubbie” or any derivative thereof. I didn’t knit, wear orthopedic shoes, have gray hair in a bun, bake or talk with an accent other than that of a native Noo Yawka.

My grandfather’s second wife who we all disliked wanted to be called Granny. She looked like the evil stepmother in Disney’s Cinderella.

“Grammy” had a nice Wasp-y ring to it but the movie “Annie Hall” kind of put a damper on that appellation for nice Jewish grandmothers.

What to do? What to be called? As I rocked my twin grandsons, the first grandchildren, I knew this was a momentous decision. My husband, who did not know his grandfathers, decided immediately on Zaidie. Zaidies usually go with Bubbies. Not us.

“Savta” has a nice soft sound. There are lots of young Savtas. The word had no connotations or baggage for me. I tried it. I’d say to the babies, Savta’s here, Savta loves you, Savta thinks you’re terrific! They said Savta by the age of 14 months. By then, I felt like a Savta.

Last week, the twins, now almost 7 were talking about our “savta sandwich.” Jack said that they are the bread and I am the deli! They were teasing me that Savta sounds like “soft-ta.” They laughed and said they liked that. When we cuddle, even though I’m actually a little bony, they like snuggling up to their “Soft-ta.”

I like it too. I’m sure I’m smiling as, cuddled together, we all drift off to sleep.

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8 Responses to What to Call Grandma When “Grandma” Just Won’t Do

  1. Nechama says:

    when we became grandparents 11 years ago, one machataynista was already savta (she had an older grandchild) and the other was Bubbie (my daughter-in-law’s parents had divorced and both remarried.) To add to the delightful situation, my own mother-in-law was also Bubbie and my mother (may she rest in peace) was Granny. This new baby had a lot of grandmothers and greats….so, I was left with a diminutive of my own Hebrew name (Nechama) and I became Chamie or Chamy (and my husband is Zadie or Zady.) It works—of course, in the mouths of loving grandkids, doesn’t everything work?

  2. Chantale says:

    When I became a grandmother I wanted to be “meme”. My mother is meme, my grandmother was meme and so I decided that’s what I wanted too. My husband had one grandfather and his name was “Appou” My husband could not even dream of that name so I chose for him PAPA. At first he didn’t like it now after almost a dozen grands, he loves it.

  3. sharon blumenthal says:

    I like the savta option too, many people are going with Savti, which i find a little too cutsie. My husband started off as Granmpa, which when our grandson started to talk became BaBa, which is fine with us. Why do we loose all rational thought when it comes to our grandkids, we all know that ours are the cutest, brightest, most wonderful in the world, right? Can they all, be that??????

  4. s.wisotsky says:

    What wonderful memories ! Thank you for reminding me why I chose Grandma. ( I never had a grandma ).
    Keep these stories coming, I love reading them…

  5. Alene Kaufman says:

    I loved your article! As soon to be grandparents, we have already decided to be Savta and Saba for many of the same reasons you have articulated! G-d willing, at the same time that we become grandparents, my husband’s parents will be elevated from Grandma and Poppa to Oma and Opa and my parents will be elevated to Bubbie and Zaide, each name reflecting the family heritage. They have certainly earned their new titles!

  6. Wendy Cooper says:

    I do think that it’s all about emotional associations…Though I live in Israel, I still am Mommy and Grammy

  7. lisa says:

    When my husband and I became grandparents almost 17 years ago, my husband very much wanted to be Zaide. I was thinking we’d be sabba and Savta although that actually sounded a little cold and standoffish to me(sorry). so I said,you know what, I”ll be bubbie with my hubby “zaide” and I love it. First of all it always had an endearing quality to it and I love when people say “You’re Bubbie? You don’t look like a Bubbie!” My Mom, who should live and be well til 120 was also Bubbie and when I became Bubbie she became Great Bubbie. Could there be a better title than that?
    When my grandchildren hold me tight and say “Bubbie, I love you” my heart melts and soars simultaneously. There’s nothing like grandchildren to make you feel the world is filled with precious people.

  8. Rella Feldman says:

    Liked the piece and you express very well the reasoning new grandparents use to arrive at a name they´ve waited for and love to have. Great job!


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