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A 'grandma' by any other name would still be sweet

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The names "Grandma" and "Grandpa" once sparked images of rocking chairs and canes.

Today's grandparents may be found kayaking, camping, backpacking, swimming, hiking, biking or participating in any number of activities.

And to reflect their young attitude, many grandparents - especially grandmothers - choose to be called by other names. Some want to distance themselves from terms that make them seem old. Sometimes grandchildren come up with their own names. And with step-grandparents in the picture, children need different names to clarify who is who.

Karen Sherr, the principal at Alum Creek Elementary, asked students what they called their grandparents.

A short list included MaMaw, Mimmy, PawPaw, Grammy, Nanny, Poppy, Granddad, MomMom, Pops, Grandmere and Grammy.

"We have ethnic groups," said Sherr, who rattled off some names she didn't know how to spell. "A family from Syria uses Bubbie for grandmother. I've heard Granda for grandfather and Grandee for grandmother. I am a grandmother of a 1-year-old, and I wonder what he is going to call me."

Katie Ross, who is in charge of children's programs at the Kanawha County Public Library, said lots of grandmothers and a few grandfathers bring kids there for programs or to check out books. She has heard grandparents called Nana, Mamaw, Papaw, Pops, Poppy and the German names of Oma and Opa.   

Pam Rowe of Dunbar has a 10-year-old grandson, A.J. Blankenship, who refers to her as "Mamaw Red."

"It's because of my red hair," she explained.

"His mother's mom's name is Pam. Things took a turn for the worse and his parents got a divorce. His father remarried to a girl named Kelly. Her mother's name is Pam. He identifies his real grandma as Pam. I'm Mamaw Red with Papaw. He refers to Kelly's mom as MaMaw Kelly's Mom."

Erin Ledsome of Elkview is the mother of 23-month-old Jayden. He calls his grandmother Nanna Boo. Nanna Boo, also known as Susan Ledsome, 52, explained how she believes she got the name.

"After having three daughters, a grandson was a delightful surprise," she said. "I would call him Nana's Boy. When he learned to talk, I guess he thought my name was Nana's Boy. But when he said it, it came out Nana Boo."

Pam Lynn, a Charleston massage therapist, recently visited her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in Chicago. Kristina Dodson Chetkovich and Dane Chetkovich are the parents of Nia Aralyn, 7, and Kolter Dane, 5.

The grandchildren and their friends call Lynn Gaga, a name given to her by Nia.

"I was calling myself Grammy," said Lynn, 64. "Nia was 16 months old when she started calling me Gaga. It stuck. They do love their Gaga. It's good for an aging heart to have the love of these kids."

Laura Ellis of Charleston became a grandmother before she turned 50.

"I was excited about being a grandmother," she said, but was unsure what she'd be called.  She was at the pool with girlfriends one day discussing the issue when a friend noted that Ellis would be a glamorous grandmother and should be called Glamma.

As soon as Hayden Tharp, now 5, was born, Ellis purchased a license plate with "Glamma" on it. He and his 3-year-old brother, Ryder, call her that.

Cheryl Skiles, sales manager for Old Colony in Putnam County, is called Hunnie by her grandchildren, Samantha Mansfield, 8, and her brothers Brandon, 6, and Garrett, 2. Step-grandson Colson Paris joined the family in 2002 and also calls her Hunnie.

Samantha came up with the name as a toddler.

"I love my grandmother name," said Skiles, who added that her daughter came up with the spelling. "I was 43 when Samantha was born. When she was 18 months old and her brother was 2 months, their father was deployed to Japan with the Navy."

While he was in Japan, her daughter and grandchildren stayed with her. Skiles called Samantha honey and her granddaughter began calling her by the same name.

"I just melted," she said.

Therese Cox of South Charleston has a 9-year-old granddaughter, Gwynnie, and a 2-year-old grandson, Jasper - both children of her son, Jordan Cox.

"Gwynnie and Jasper call me TT because it was easy for them to say," said Cox, who may be found swimming, biking or skating with her grandchildren.

"Gwynnie had a Granny, a Gran, and a Mim. She didn't need another Gran, or Grammy, or anything with a G."

Cox said grandchildren should be able to choose their own terms of endearment, although she would draw the line with one name.

"When I was little, there was a woman in our neighborhood called Memaw," said Cox, 62. "She was so cranky and mean to the children. I decided then that any grandchild I might ever have would not call me Memaw."

Nora Lowe, a Realtor for Old Colony in Charleston, is the grandmother of Philip, 16; Matthew, 14; Maddie, 7; Taylor, 7; and Tristan, 4.

When she first became a grandmother, she couldn't decide what she wanted to be called.

"My mother was Granny," she said. "That sounded old. I did not want to be Granny. I thought Grammy would be OK."

The grandchildren stuck with Grammy or Gram until recently, when Philip left a note at her office addressed to Graham Kraker-an official name change for her.

"Whatever they call me, as long as they call me, I don't care," Lowe said.         

Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at or 304-348-1246.



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