Where do nicknames for grandmother and grandfather come from? In my immediate family, we called my mother’s parents Grandma and Grandpa. My paternal grandparents were Nana and Poppo. We always knew which “set” were which. As a child, I didn’t question “where” the nicknames Nana and Poppo came from. I thought that everyone probably used them. My sister’s family uses first names to define sets as in Grandma Kay and Grandma Jean (Not my favorite method because using the first name makes it seem too formal to me).
I do remember thinking it funny on the old Bewitched series when Samantha’s mother, Endora, didn’t like the terms Gran, Gram, or any English derivation. She insisted on Grandmama (it might have been Grandmaman) or Grandmère. I know it was something French in origin.
Then, a couple of months ago, I heard a little girl call out to Meemaw and Papaw. Wow, color me stunned. Where in the heck did those come from? There are other nicknames out there?
I instantly decided I needed to get my preferences in to my son and DIL. Now, I love those smart, ambitious kids but right now, they’re career-driven and there are no offspring in sight for a few years. But, I didn’t want to be saddled with a nickname I didn’t like. After solemnly assuring them that what I was about to say should be in no way misconstrued as pressure to get a move on in the grandbaby department, I explained that I wanted to be “Nana” should the opportunity arise. My son said, “Noted.” My DIL laughed. And that was that.
So, where did using Nana for grandmother start? Was it etymological or cultural? In researching, I found, “…child’s word for “grandmother” or, sometimes, “nurse,” first recorded c.1844.”
Mee-Maw (also Meemaw) is tougher. “…Elderly woman. Apparent meaning: an elderly woman Type of word formation: Slang for grandmother that went through semantic shift of generalization to refer to all elderly women. Possible reason used: Used to refer to any elderly woman but still holds on to the connotations of the word grandmother.”
One place said chiefly Northeastern U.S. while another longer article said:
“Affectionate names for grandparents are common–especially in the South, where nicknames are perhaps more widespread than in any other area of the country. Tradition, vanity, distinction between sets of grandparents, baby talk, happenstance and regional culture all play a part in nicknaming.
Take Meemaw and Papaw for example. These two nicknames are very common in Dixie, according to Dr. Mike Coggeshall, professor of anthropology at Clemson University in South Carolina. Dr. Coggeshall, who grew up in the Midwest, admits he never heard those names until moving South. (Maybe both regions?)
But how do pet names in the South originate? Usually the first grandchild gets naming rights, by virtue of his or her adorable and unusual ways to pronounce grandmother and grandfather.
If a child is unable to say grandma, for example, and Bama comes forth instead, grandma has her name! Likewise, if the child is unable to say grandpa, but Gundy spills out, grandpa, forever more is known as Gundy.”
For more nicknames than you’d ever want to discover, look at this website.
I didn’t get very far on actual etymology of the English nicknames because they seem to be culturally generated and not language driven. That’s interesting in itself.
So, share your family’s grandparent nicknames and the story, if any, behind them. I’d love to hear them. I might even find a new nickname for me to put into the mix!