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They're grandmas, by any other name

When I was growing up, I called my mother "Mom" and my maternal grandmother "Mom." That's because we all lived together in the same house the first 11 years of my life, and I called my grandmother what my parents called her.


I don't recall this ever being terribly confusing, although I'm sure in my earliest years I called my mother "Mommy" and, in my adolescent years, an exasperated -- let me get this right -- "Mu-THERRRR!"

For the most part, however, it was Mom. And Mom.

We called our paternal grandmother, who died when I was quite young, "Neen." I don't know quite why but my big brother started that one.

It was a good thing we didn't call either of our grandmothers "Grandma Boom." That name was already taken by my cousins' grandmother -- who happened to be my grandmother's sister.

As the story goes, "Grandma Boom" earned her name one day after she accidentally dropped a pan on the kitchen floor in front of her first-born grandson's eyes.

"Boom!" she said. And that was that.

She was "Grandma Boom" to him and her other grandchildren from then on.

I also know of another child who differentiated between the grandmothers this way: "Grandma Cookie" and "Grandma Soup." One grandmother gave her cookies to eat at her house; the other, soup.

A friend of mine's grandchildren call her Grandma Sand and Water (she lives on the beach). And their other grandmother is, naturally, Grandma Pool.

Many early-talking tots put their own spin on the word Grandma and Grandpa, of course.

There's "Gommy," "Gonny," "Gran," "Ganny," "Ma," "Nanny," "Nana" and "Mimi," for example. We called my late maternal grandfather "Bompa," but I have also heard of grandpas referred to as "Bumpa" and all sorts of variations of "Papa" and "Poppy," the latter of which my daughter called my late Dad.

Many kids start early on by inserting a grandparent's first or last name after "Grandma" or "Grandpa." Some may even eventually go with just an initial: "Grandma B."

A younger generation of my cousins call their Grandmother "Momo" -- their take on the word "Mormor," which is Swedish for "mother's mother."

Similarly there is the Yiddish "Bubbe" (also Bubbie, I am told) for grandmother, "Zayde" for grandfather and many other names adopted from different languages, places and people around the world.

Here is the funny thing: Grandparents can decide, request, coach and review how exactly they want to be addressed by their grandchildren -- and the subject is often very important to them.

In fact, in the book "Funny, You Don't Look Like a Grandmother" (Crown, $14.95), author Lois Wyse includes a chapter called, "What Will We Name the Grandmother?"

But what a grandparent wants to be called and what a grandchild dreams up on her own are often two very different things. At least one child, whose grandmother was hoping to be called Nana, early on interpreted the request this way: Her grandmother's name was, clear and simple, "Banana."

The other funny thing: These names stick. That's why you have 18-year-olds introducing "Bumpa" (no relation to Boom) to their friends; 30-year-olds taking "Ganny" to lunch.

Of all the endearing terms I have heard through the years, however, one of my favorites has to be this: Grandma Bow Wow.

That grandmother, you see, was the one with the dog.

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