A few years ago, my daughter graduated from a women’s college in Massachusetts. Before the actual commencement ceremony, there was a parade of the alumnae led by the oldest class and followed on down to the current graduates. As the amazingly sprightly women, many well into their 90s, made their way across the parade ground, a young voice close by called out, “Hey, Gramma! “ And you could practically hear the whiplash as the legions of smiling Grammas in the group responded to the cry.
Grammas and Grampas around the world are usually given their designated names by their first grandchild. It is done without ceremony and usually when the child approaches the age of two. The parents may make suggestion and sometimes the tots will go along with them, but in my family there were few Grammas. My maternal grandparents were Bahzee and Doku. Who knows why except that that grandfather was a doctor.
My husband’s grandmother was Foo-Foo, the best he could do with Grandmother DuFour. We taught our children to call my parents Opa and Oma, the German name for Grampa and Gramma, not because we were German, but because it was easy to say.
When we met our first grandchild we suggested the French version, Pepere and Memere. He took to Pepere but in his 18-month-old wisdom, decided Mimi was a better fit for me.
I think I got off easy. I come from a family of children named Pigge, Gigge, Taffy, Meem, T-Bone, Doc and Mike. I don’t know how Mike was allowed such a normal name. The rest of us were, and are, called by names fit for the Seven Dwarfs, especially Doc.
When Doc was in the military, serving with Special Forces, I asked him. “What do your friends call you; they don’t know your family nickname.” He adjusted his signature Green Beret and said, “They call me Sir.”
I tried to avoid all that when choosing names for my own children but the sweet simple name of Ann now translates to Anna Banana. And her daughter Julia was, until a recent concentrated effort to the contrary, known as Peanut.
I don’t know why we seem to want to change perfectly good names into something silly, but it usually is done as an affectionate term. Like my friend Biz, who I think is Elizabeth. It can backfire, though, when a cute name follows one into a more dignified future. Take prominent members of a Connecticut community, Wimpy and Frosty, for instance. And a bank president who will always be Buzzy in my heart.
Then there’s that guy in the news, a West Wing mover and shaker: Scooter. How seriously can you take a guy named Scooter?
In school we used to have a teaching nun known to the students only as “Iggy the back scratch.” He real name was Sister Ignatius and she would always rub one’s back while scolding. Well, teachers were fair game, right? Another in different school was named Duda and therefore dubbed “Zippidy.”
It’s just a thing we do.