“A nickname, because it’s custom-made, rather than installed at the factory, can seem like a better reflection of one’s true self.” – David Owen
The above quote is from “Call Me Loyd: The Strange Power of Nicknames,” a clever, laugh-out-loud essay that ran in the “New Yorker” in February 2008. It’s hardly been farther than arm’s reach from me since I first saw it. I read it a couple of times a year and teach it in my Law & Literature class.
The big news in my family of late is that my daughter (and her husband) are having a baby. Yes, come February, the “I Swear” columnist is going to be a granddad! Which raises an issue: What will the kid call me? If that makes me seem self-centered, it’s because I am.
Owen noted that if you live long enough, the moniker hung on you for grandparental purposes will likely be the one you die with. Thus, it had best be “something you don’t mind hearing.” He tells of a woman who wanted to be “Grammie,” and was more than a little miffed when a grandchild chose to call her “Ninnie” instead. And of a toddler who called his father’s parents “Man” and “That” before learning “Grandpa” and “Grandma.”
There’s no issue here for my spouse. She’s been called “Susu” for years by parents, cousins, nieces, nephews, etc. She’ll be Susu to grandkids. She’s her father’s daughter.
My father-in-law was called “Googie” by everyone in his life, including five grandchildren. My mother-in-law is “Doll” to those five, as one of her grandmothers was to her. My wife’s grandmothers were “Tee” and “Toney.” Both her grandfathers were “Dado.”
The only grandfather I knew was called “Dad” by his kids (my father and his sister) and his two grands, my sister and me. The thought of my using this name collided with the thought of my son-in-law’s prerogative to be called “Dad.” To say nothing of the confusion that might be wrought if the kid actually called us both by that name.
My grandfather Dad’s wife was called “Mom” by the only grandchild who knew her – my sister. My mother’s mother was “Dedo” (someone’s mispronunciation of her given name, Leo) to 17 grandchildren. Dedo’s husband died before any of those 17 were born, so we don’t know what he’d have been called.
My son-in-law’s parents are going to be “Mumsie” and “Boo Boo.” Among my friends, there’s Papaw, Papa, Poppa, Poppy, Popsie, Grandad, Bebe, Yaya, Honey, Granny, and Mimi. My mother was a proud and loving “Mimi.” As was my sister.
My dad was “Pop Pop,” a name he wore with dignity and honor, despite the fact that it was coined by my mother and sister. To my daughter, I floated the prospect that I might resurrect that handle for my tenure as a grandfather.
Her reply: “I love Pop Pop for you.” Words that may have sealed the deal.
Have you a story about grandparent nicknames? I’d love to read and share it.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at email@example.com.