Alternate Grandparent Name Blog Photo of Grandpa with baby and Grandma watching

Best Alternative Names for Grandparents

What do the grandchildren in your family call the grandparents? My kids call my parents Nona and Papa, while Justin’s parents are more classic--Grandma and Granddaddy.  It’s always fun to hear how families approach this sweet decision! 

Turns out it’s not all sweetness and light, though: grandparent naming is based on everything from history to geography to phonetics. And yes, some adorable kid shenanigans too. But a bit of digging revealed that the whole process is way more loaded than I expected--in such a fun way. 

The Shift Away from Tradition

Remember that scene in Downton Abbey when little Sibbie named Lord Grantham “Donk '' after playing pin the tail on the donkey? It was funny because well, he’s a Lord, for crying out loud. “Donk” is not exactly  aristocratic. 

But the scene was also significant because it marked a shift away from tradition. (Cue the dramatic music, right?) “Grandmama”--the grandparent name traditional for the Grantham’s geographic location, rank, and family history--had given way to something more spontaneous and personal.

The Influence of the Boomer Generation

That shift is happening in the US in a major way, thanks to our parents--the Boomer generation. But we’ll get to that in a second. First, let’s look at the backstory. 

A traditional spin on grandparent naming doesn’t just happen in pinkie-up, ivy-covered manor houses. Pretty much every group of people has a special way of naming the generation older than parents.  A grandmother, for example, is called “Tutu” in Hawaiian, “Bubbe” in Yiddish, and “Nonna” in Italian. 

Sometimes grandparent names are based on geographic location: this ethnographic study found that grandparent names in the rural American south differed from those in the American north. Meemaw, anyone? 

In English-speaking countries, Grandma and Grandpa are quite common grandparent names. But as blended families become more and more the norm, the naming scheme gets complicated--what if there are 3 Grandmas? 

Here’s where Little Sibbie was ahead of her time.  The Boomer generation are stepping up with a way to differentiate this Grandma from that one. 

According to the New York Times and the Washington Post, our parents’ generation are determined to pick their own Grandparent names. Why are they opposed to “Grandma?” Researchers think it’s related to a fear of aging--they want all the delight of being grandparents without the reality check that comes with it. 

To them, “Grandma” means orthopedic shoes and getting your hair set once a week. No way they’re to that point yet (they say, as they reach for their hearing aids…). They’re too hip to be Grand-anything. 

The Rise of "Trendlet" Names

There’s even a hip name for the Boomer Grandparent naming phenomenon: the NYT calls it a “trendlet.” How delightful is that? 

Goldie Hawn’s  choice of “Glam-ma” might be an extreme example of this Boomer “trendlet,” but really it’s everywhere, if you ask enough people. My own Mom was determined to be called Nona, despite having no Italian heritage whatsoever. She just liked it! 

And you know what? I get it. In some ways, a Grandparent name is more intimate, more personal, and more defining than a legal name, since only a few beloved people will ever use it.  

What would you choose as a Grandparent name? 

If you’re talking about Grandparent names in your house (or maybe deciding on one for yourself!), here are a few things to consider: 


  1. Phonetics matter. Little lips can’t form all the sounds well yet! There’s a reason so many traditional grandparent names are repetitive (Nana, Yaya) and easy to pronounce. If you want a grandparent name to “stick,” choose from the sounds a baby can already form well. 

  2.  Consider the long-game. While it’s fun to base grandparent names on a distinguishing characteristic, a grandparent name should have staying power: it shouldn’t be based on a passing whim. Is the grandparent in question really into playing tennis or wearing big earrings or raising chickens? Unless it’s a well-established piece of that person, keep hobbies out of the name. Go with something more inherently part of the person being named.

  3. Tradition and spontaneity are great too! Our generation of parents tend to orchestrate, plan, and gather information. (That you are reading a parenting blog right now is proof of this!) But sometimes what feels right for your family is what comes most naturally. Maybe it’s following whatever grandparent naming tradition has been used for generations...or maybe it’s just waiting to see what comes out of your child’s (wonderfully unpredictable) heart. Either way, own it. There’s no right way to name a grandparent! 

Ready to go beyond your grandparent name and dig into the role of grandparent? Nurtured Nest created a class just for you, The Grandparent Class.

And if you still need more inspiration on grandparent names, read our blog, Exploring Unique Grandparent Names: Cute, Fun, and Alternative Options

Nurtured Nest offers self-paced online class for parents. Join our newsletter to learn more.