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For Openers: Beyond Bubbie & Zayde

Rochel Burstyn

When my oldest was about 2, I took out my wedding album and carefully, carefully (“Don’t touch it; don’t breathe on it; just look!”) looked through the pictures with him. When we came to a picture of me sitting with my mother, mother-in-law, two grandmothers and my husband’s grandmother, my little one pointed in turn, pleased he knew who everyone was and said, “There’s Mommy… Bubbie, Bubbie, Bubbie, Bubbie and … Bubbie!”

A wide ocean split our little collection of bubbies onto two continents, which was why the name issue hadn’t come up until then. But the time was ripe for some differentiation. My in-laws, who live locally, stayed simply Bubbie and Zayde; my parents title got an important addendum — “ in Australia;” my Detroit grandmother became “Bubbie Greenwald;” and my husband’s grandmother decided to update her name along with her promotion to great-grandmother and became “Bubbie-Bubbie.”

It seems our solution is pretty standard; many grandparents out there add their first name, last name or city to their title. With life expectancy longer than ever, and all kinds of blended families, coming to a solution can be easier said than done — some families can have up to 20 or so grandparents to find names for!

Luckily, the choices abound: Savta and Saba, Grandma and Grandpa, Nana and Papa and, of course, practically a million variations and combinations of each. Here’s a cute one: Lolly and Pop!

If you feel like exploring your family’s history, things can get really fun! Got some Russian blood? Try Babushka and Dedushka. French? Grand-mère and Grand-père. German? Oma and Opa. Greek? Yaya and Pappoús.

I took an informal survey of what local families call their grandparents; many said they let the grandparents choose.

And here’s where people get really creative. Like the grandmother who felt much too glamorous to be a granny so became Glammy. Or the bubbie who felt much too young to be a great-grandmother so updated her “Bubbie” to “Bubbsy.” There’s the family with a “Young Bubbie” and “Old Bubbie” and a family with “Big Grandpa” and “Little Grandpa.”

Many new grandparents find it meaningful to be known by whatever they called their grandparents, but then what should the new great-grandparents be called? Do they need to be dislodged of a title they’ve been comfortably using for the past few decades?

My neighbor’s mother, Helen Fink, who passed away May 31, was thrilled when she became a grandmother 39 years ago. She didn’t want to be called Bubbie because that was her mother’s name, so she started tossing around suggestions. She settled on the Hebrew “Savta” and excitedly called her cousin to share the news but in her excitement forgot the word and ended up saying, “I’m so excited, I’m a – Sofa!” From that day on, she was Sofa. It stuck!

And that’s the funny thing about names. They stick just as fast as lollypops to a spoiled grandkid’s face. For many newly crowned grandparents, the first time the little heroes or heroines of their brag books attempt to call them anything at all, they simply kvell with pride and joy. And that is why there are so many Memes, Gigis, Gammas and Babas … or whatever it was the little darling said the first time they looked at the proud grandparents and tried to say their name. That heart-melting, “He knows me!” soundbite is then used forever.

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