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Mama More than Just a Name

Mama: More That Just a Name

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

I’m expecting my first baby in June. It’s the first grandchild on both sides, so, as you can expect, everyone is ecstatic and totally freaking out with happiness. Especially my MIL. She lives a few blocks away from me and my husband and is just chock full of plans. Sometimes, yes, she can overstep boundaries and needs to be gently yet laughingly reminded that the baby is not going to actually live with her or that whether I breastfeed is not her call, but overall she is really great and I genuinely love her.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesSince we found out we were pregnant, she’s been buying heaps o’ presents for the little one, and she signs every card with the name she’s picked out for herself: Mamaw. I had a Mammaw, myself, and I’m excited my little girl will, too. My own mom had actually planned to be Mammaw herself, but since the names are so similar, and MIL “called it” first, she’s thinking of another name and my MIL keeps having packages delivered, cards signed Mamaw, Mamaw, Mamaw.

Then I heard her say it out loud. And Mamaw? Is not pronounced like I thought. It’s not MAM-AW, to rhyme with…HAM-RAW, I guess. The terminal W might as well not be there. Because when my very Southern husband’s family says “Mamaw,” it sounds like exactly like they are saying “MAMA.” As in the diminuitive for “Mother.” As in…kind of what I hoped my kid would call me.

It might just be that I am hormonal, but this is hitting me a lot harder than I thought it would. I never thought I would ever have a baby, due to chronic health problems. And this pregnancy has been fraught; I’ve been in and out of the ER for a lot of it, including a stint of hospital bed rest when it looked like baby would come disastrously early. I guess what I’m saying is that the role of Mother, the title, is really important to me. I’m going to be sharing this baby with a lot of different people, and I’m so glad, I want her to have a lot of people who love her in her life, and I know nobody can replace me in her life, blah, blah, blah. But dang it, I want the title of MAMA for my own.

But on the other hand…I love my MIL. She’s had a tough year, job and healthwise, and I want her to be happy. And being Mamaw, like her mom and her own grandmother, will make her happy, even if it makes me feel pretty sad and a little stepped on. In my ideal world, I would be able to tell MIL how I feel and she would immediately understand and say that actually, being called “Gigi” or “Nana” is fine, too, and unicorns would hold hands (hooves?) and dance together around a pot of leprechaun gold. My husband, however, assures me that his mom is unlikely to give this up, and has advised me that the quickest solution is probably for me to get over it.

Amy, can you see another way? Or do I, like husband says, just get over it?


But…she’s NOT Mama. Not in name, accent-affected pronunciation aside, and certainly not in spirit. Your mother-in-law is NOT going to be your baby’s mama, mommy or mother. She’s Mamaw. Which, for the record, I’ve always pronounced closer to Maw-Maw, which I guess also kind of sounds a lot like “Mama” with a bit of a drawl. But I’ve never honestly noticed that similarity until well, right this second. (While very very quietly saying it out loud in the middle of the waiting room at my son’s occupational therapist’s office, trying not to seem EVEN WEIRDER THAN EVERYBODY PROBABLY ALREADY THINKS I AM.)

I’ve heard other friends and kids and friends’ kids all talk about their Mamaws and Mammaws and Mawmaws, and I always knew they were referring to a grandmother. You might not be hearing that all-important W, but it’s there. And everybody will know that it’s there.

I DON’T want to sound like I’m belittling your emotions over this — or dismiss you with a crappy little headpat that this is something that will surely evaporate once your baby is born into a cloud of “I can’t believe I got myself worked up over that” concerns of the past. But…it might. I was a big fan of being called “Mama,” but once Noah started preschool at three years old he switched to “Mommy” all on his own, probably thanks to peer pressure and a school curriculum that used “Mommy and Daddy” as the default language. I fought the switch for weeks but ultimately lost, quite definitively. And I was sad about it. (I naively thought we lived “south” enough that I’d be able to hold onto Mama as my permanent title.) And then Ezra NEVER called me “Mama,” going right from calling me nothing at all to mimicking his older brother and using “Mommy” no matter how hard I lobbied for the more traditional baby-name.

There was also a stretch of time where I was “Mommy Mommy,” which baffled me for a couple weeks before our part-time nanny admitted that Ezra occasionally called her “Mommy Tati.” If you told me that would happen when I was pregnant — or before I made the decision to hire her in the first place soon after Ezra’s first birthday — I would have…oh lord. My head would have probably exploded the hell off in angst and weeping and working-mother guilt. But when it happened…I laughed. I thought it was cute. I was happy he had bonded so closely with the woman I trusted with his care 20 hours a week. And I knew it wouldn’t stick.

It didn’t. Maybe a month or two. And sometimes? I kinda miss hearing myself called “Mommy Mommy.” It was soooo cute, you guys.

Point is, your kid may also bring his/her own name ideas to the table, both for you and the other adults in his/her life. Maybe even for dear old Mamaw herself. (Just read the comments on a recent column about step-grandparents and note the number of kids who overrode the Grandma/Gammy/Nana decisions and made up their own unique names.)

Since your husband thinks it’s unlikely his mother will take too kindly to having her chosen name yanked out from under her with two months left to go (and I usually award the tiebreaker vote to the person who is actually related to the in-law in question), what about tacking on a name AFTER the Mamaw title? Like her first name or last? “Mamaw Sue” or “Mamaw Davis” or something? This would also leave the opening for your mother to stick with her first choice of “Mammaw” if she agrees to also go with “Mammaw Beth” or whatever. (Because even with the subtle pronunciation difference you hear, a very young new talker probably won’t be able to distinguish the two very well — or between “Mama” and your preferred “Mammaw,” for that matter.) Hell, I’ve heard about kids who simply use “Grandma One” and “Grandma Two,” which strikes me as a kind of Dr. Suessian approach to the name wars, and awfully darn cute.

I get why you’re protective of the “Mama” title. I really, really do. It’s obviously a really important, meaningful title and one that many of us spent ages dreaming about and longing for. I know you’re picturing your chubby little Future Baby looking across the room and calling someone else “Mama” and it’s breaking your heart. And I’m typing from the privileged point of view 2.5 kids later, as someone who has witnessed my babies use “Mama” as the default word for every grown-up woman in the world, from aunts to grandmas to the cashier at the supermarket. But even without that, I just don’t think the “Mamaw” moniker necessarily takes anything away from your title, at least not at the level you’re currently afraid of. If you really, really feel like you’re unable to “get over it” as your husband suggests, try incorporating her first or last name into the name in your head for the next couple months, or hell, applying your own regional pronunciation (that’s what you called YOUR Mammaw! it’s just a hard habit to break! it’s a Yankee thing!). At some point, you may no longer feel compelled to do either mildly passive-aggressive thing anymore, but for now it’s definitely preferable to spending the final weeks and months of your pregnancy in a stressed-out competitive snit at an otherwise loving, involved and excited grandma-to-be.


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Published April 4, 2011. Last updated June 29, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Susan

    April 4, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    I usually TOTALLY agree with Amy, but this one hits close to home for me and I did the opposite of what she advised (not that she gave bad advice), and I’m so glad I did. In my husband’s family, they call the maternal grandmother “Mama Betty” or “Mama Jean” or whatever the grandmother’s first name is. You could argue that the kids could then just call their moms “Mama” and the grandmothers by “Mama First Name,” but none of them do. They all call their moms “Mom.” And I wanted to be Mama. Period. I didn’t think to worry about it until my husband’s mom signed a card to the baby-to-be as “Mama First Name,” but when I saw it, I told him that I didn’t like it and wouldn’t just accept it, even though he told me that would be easier. In the end, he got it that he either needed to tell her to pick another name or I would. He told her, she wasn’t thrilled, but we helped her find another name that is pretty awesome, and all is right with the world. And my son calls me Mama.

  • Olivia

    April 4, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Have you seen the show “Raising Hope”? They have a “mamaw” and it is said quite differently than mama. I’ve never thought they sounded the same, anyway. The accent on mamaw is on the last syllable (mah-MAH) and both As are pronounced the same. Whereas, the accent on mama is on the first syllable (MAH-muh), and the As are pronounced differently.

    I also wanted to be called mama and yet my 2 yr old is already calling me mommy. Heck, I’m even calling myself mommy now that she is. In a few years she’ll probably switch over to calling me mom, like I think most kids do and it’ll be a moot point.

  • Michelle

    April 4, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    My son, now 8.5, has a MAM-aw (which is what I called my grandmother) and a MEE-Maw, and my mom HATED it for the longest time – she wanted to be super special and not having anything close to the other…but kids will be kids, and that’s how it all shook out. And trust me, from the time he was teeny and saying them, he knew the difference. I would just encourage the MAM-aw for your mom if that’s what you want and let the weird pronounciation (seriously, I’d never heard MEE-MAW) lie. And as others will tell you w/r/t grandparent names, kids have their own ideas about parental names too – Mama might not stick like mom or mommy. I have friends that are “Mommy and Papa” – you just never know!

  • Susan

    April 4, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Kids do have a way of picking their own names for the people in their lives. Some have stuck like the person wanted, others not so much. When my oldest was first talking, he ended up combining my brother’s name with uncle. So instead of “Uncle Mike”, it came out as “Muk”. And the name stuck. And all four of the kiddos have always called him that. And truthfully, he loved the fact that Josh came up with this name all on his own and that it stuck (although he wish it didn’t sound like – muck!) My parents were mammaw and pappaw for a long, long time, but have switched to grandma and grandpa as the kids got older (my oldest is almost 17 – eek!). And I was Mama until school and then became – “MOM!!”.” In the grand scheme of things – it works itself out. I do like Amy’s answer with the “attaching a name with it – Mamaw ____”. Good luck and congratulations on your soon-to-be bundle of joy!

  • Jenniphyr

    April 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    What about doing what Sheldon does on the Big Bang and pronouncing it Mee-maw. I think that’s cute. : D

  • Hillary

    April 4, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    I just wanted to applaud the tone of your letter and your clear love for your MIL. Your family is blessed to be so close and have so much love! I’ve had brief moments of insecurity/jealousy when I see how attached my daughter is to her daycare teachers and grandparents, but then I remember that we are so lucky she has so many loving adults around. The impulse to get upset would probably be significantly worse if any of those people were calling themselves ‘mama’ or something similar – I feel your pain!!! If you don’t decide to ask her to change her name, remember that you’ll have a few years before your daughter is calling your MIL anything, and you’ll hear your MIL repeating her chosen name at your daughter over and over again. So, steel yourself for that and keep repeating the name change you can make peace with in your own head. Hopefully your daughter will make up a whole new name altogether.

  • Morgan

    April 4, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Another vote for the fact that kids often have the final say. In my part of the great white north, ‘grandma’ is the usual title, and I ended up with ‘grandma lastname’ who was in my city, and ‘grandma teddy’ who lived a few hours away. Teddy? Was their dog’s name.

  • Elizabeth

    April 4, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    I’ve got mawmaws. My maternal grandmother and a great grandmother both. (when speaking to them, mawmaw, when speaking about them -mawmaw first name. Husbands family is similar, except it was mawmaw last name. )

    We say it so it rhymes with “paw” or “law” or “jaw”. it doesn’t sound like “mama” which rhymes with “llama”. This may not apply in your case, but most kids around here don’t have any problem distinguishing.

  • a

    April 4, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    I HATE the grandparent-name turf war. Grandma asked to be “Nana”– God knows why. Step-grandma is also “Nana”, because that’s what her grandkids already call her. Where I grew up, “Nana” meant great-grandmother; but great-grandma wants to be called “Grandma”, because that’s what her grandkids call her (huh? by this logic, shouldn’t everybody be “Mom”?). And to add to the fun, my kid currently has speech difficulties that make “Nana” come out as “Mama” anyway.

    But you know what? The first time he looked me in the eye and said “Mama”, any question I could ever have about who I was and what I meant to my son was blown clear out of my mind. I’m his mama. Period.

  • Linden

    April 4, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    When my son was in-utero, my mom decided that she wanted to be “Oma” and my MIL wanted to be “Grammie”.  Lo and behold, when the time came for my son to start calling them something, he decided on “Ama” for my mom (which she loves) and “Nini” for my MIL.  Her other grandkids call her by a different name, even though she has tried hard to get all of the kids to call her “Grammie”.

    Also, I had a slight preference for “Mommy”, but over the past couple of years I’ve been called “Mum”, “Mom-Mom”, “Mommy Linden”, “My Mom”, and now usually just “Mom”.  You really can’t enforce a name very easily, no matter how much you may want to be called something specific.

  • Lisa

    April 4, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    First time I’ve ever disagreed with Amy, I think. It sounds like you have a good relationship with your mother-in-law, so maybe you need to discuss it with her. If you’re okay with the mam-aw pronunciation but not mama, that might be a good compromise.

    I’m kinda a jerk, though, because I didn’t approve of my children calling their grandpa “Papa” (to me, papa = dad) so when I kindly informed my in-laws that we wouldn’t be doing that and they raised a fuss, I gave them their choice: “Grandpa FirstName” or “That Guy We Never See”. They chose Grandpa FirstName.

  • Lisa

    April 4, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    My favorite grandparent-name story is my great aunt’s. When her first grandchild was born, she said she was going to let him call her what ever he wanted to call her, and no one was to influence him one way or another.

    And now grown-ass people are walking around calling her BeeBo.

  • Jillian

    April 4, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    I hope it helps to hear that my sons have a Mawmaw. It has never occurred to me that it sounds like Mama. As Elizabeth said, the a sound is different.

    I agree with Amy’s advice. It sounds like you have a lovely relationship with this woman. And the truth is that at some point you will have to rein her in on something. So I wouldn’t spend that capital here.

    My son who is 3.5 started calling me Mommy right off the bat. Then for a few months after his third birthday he started calling me Jillian. And now, half the time it’s Mommy and half the time it’s Mama. Go figure.

  • Jessica Panzer

    April 4, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Can I second (3rd? 4th?) the advice / comment that kids sometimes pick their own names no matter how hard you try. I wanted to be Mama. My son up to 18 months was calling me Dada. Then he switched to Mama. Then, at 20 months he went from Mama to Mommy to Mom over ONE WEEKEND. With no prompting from anyone, as far as I know. So now my BABY is calling me Mom, which I thought wouldn’t happen until at least the teenage years. I only got Mama for 2 months.

    My husband wanted to be called Pa (don’t ask me, I think it sounds too little house on the prairie to be honest). The baby calls him Daddy.
    My mother wanted to be called Baba (which is what she called her grandmother, and is very weird to me because I remember my great-grandmother). My son calls her Baba. So, one win. BUT – he has also started calling his other grandmother Baba; she had wanted Nona. He did the same sort of thing with the grandfathers. My dad was supposed to be Papa. My father in-law was supposed to be Pop. Well, both are Pop.
    So, sometimes there is just no winning this battle. I’m not sure it is worth any hurt feelings, since the chosen names so often don’t stick anyway…

  • Rachel

    April 4, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    ““Grandpa FirstName” or “That Guy We Never See””

    That made me laugh out loud. Well-played!

    My brother refused (REFUSED) to call our maternal grandmother “Grandma”. The adults in the family gave him other suggestions along the line of Nana etc, but he decided to call her Joanie (her name is Joan). 24 years later we ALL call her Joanie, including her own children.

  • JenVegas

    April 4, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    My son is just 4 months old today and my mother is visiting (again) and has announced that she would like to be known, going forward, as Grammy Cammy which is just the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I am sorely tempted to email my aunt and let her know so when “Grammy Cammy” gets back home to NY there is someone there to make fun of her a little.

  • Maggie

    April 4, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    My Mother In Law wants to be “Mama B” (B is her last initial and mine). I really don’t like that because I’m the mama! It’s going to be tough to lay down the law since her other granddaughter has already started calling her that, but it really bothers me and I do plan to say something.

  • Melissa

    April 4, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    We never gave it much thought before the kids were born. Our oldest kind decided on his own what to call them and the names have kind of stuck for all of the grand kids. My in-laws are called Papa and G’ma or G and my parents are called Memah and Bebah. I don’t know where he came up with these but we like them!

  • Melissa

    April 4, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Well, my mother is uncomfortable being called Granny (thats her mother) or Nana (my father’s mother). She announced on Saturday that the baby could call her Kate. Yes Kate. Is Kate her name? No. Does anyone in the world call her Kate? No.

    My sister and I laughed her off the block and told her to go back to the drawing board.

    Fortunately she laughed and agreed that she has 6+ months to pick something else that makes some bit of sense.

    Also, it never occurred to me that Mothers steer their kids into calling them something particular.

  • Hil

    April 4, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    I don’t know if this is part of the issue, but it could be contributing to your trouble…

    You mention that your husband’s family is very Southern, which kind of implies that yours is not (or isn’t as much).  Is there a difference in the way that they say Mamaw vs. Mama that is not as obvious to you since you didn’t grow up hearing it that way?  It sounds crazy, but it happens when adults learn words from other languages, too- for example, I was trying to learn to say the french word “pistou” and thought I was saying it exactly the same way my teacher was.  Turns out, the difference between what I was pronouncing and the correct way was huge, but I couldn’t tell the difference.  My teacher had me change the way I moved my lips when I said it to correct the problem, and I still could just barely tell the difference.  

    As a southerner, I feel like there’s a big difference between mama and mamaw, not in their actual sounds, but in their rhythm.  Mama, as a metrical foot, is trochaic (long-short), and Mamaw is spondaic (long-long).  Is it possible that your ears don’t pick up this difference as an obvious one?  Combine a little bit of that with lazy southern drawls, and it could get confusing.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that 1. this could be contributing to your problem, 2. your son will be “native” and thus better able to tell the difference, and 3. you risk sounding llke a crazy person if you raise a stink like there is no difference between the two appellations where your in-laws hear an obvious one. 🙂

  • andrea

    April 5, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Through the whole letter I keep feeling like the more you were defending being “really okay” with all your MIL attention and gifts that maybe you weren’t really okay with it at all and this name was just a way to express it.  I do it all the time “why is this little thing driving me nuts!” when really it’s a much larger thing.  
    I think it’s that you fear that your MIL is *so* into this that she may overshadow you as a parent and just “take over”.  MILs are tricky.. or Amy wouldn’t receive so many questions about them!  I think you need to think about your boundaries and what you want them to be after the baby is born.  Then talk about them with your MIL.  Better than blowing up over something trivial and not knowing why you are upset. Something to think about.

  • charlotte

    April 5, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Again, 1st time I think I’ve ever disagreed with amy! I think maybe this is an american thing, because grandmothers here are usually either gran, granny, nan or nana. Anything that sounds like mama? Or a mums nickname? Hell no. And we wouldn’t be so polite about making our name preferences known!!

  • Liz

    April 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Amy is right about kid’s totally making up their own thing eventually.  My grandmas became, get this, Grandma Taffy and Grandma Birdie.  After the names of their pets.  I’m sure they were thrilled, but to this day, that is still what I call them.  And it’s sort of our little “thing” since none of the other grandkids call them that.  Good luck with your little one…such a sweet time!

    (My little one is currently shrieking at me because I’m typing this instead of giving her more Craisins…)

  • Ali

    April 5, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    My daughter calls my parents Bita and Bito ( short for Abulita and Abuelito Spanish Grandma and Grandpa) and she calls BOTH of my Inlaws GRANDPA which annoys my MIL to no end. I’m evil enough to laugh on the inside everytime I hear it and hear her try to correct it. She probably should have bothered spending time with her when she was younger. hehehe

  • S

    April 5, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    I can totally see why “Mamaw” would upset you; I’d be upset, too! If the pronunciation can’t be “maw-maw” (which is how I initially thought it was pronounced), then I think you’re entitled to raise the issue (or better yet having your husband raise it with his mom) and have her name be something else (maybe of your MIL’s choosing), or at least “Mamaw Betty” or whatever. Your husband should not be telling you to get over it, since you are the mother of the baby, and his mother is not. My daughter calls my husband’s father “Dadu,” which is “grandpa” in his native language, and it always sounds like “Daddy” to me. Even though it’s a little grating, I let it go, but if it were impinging on my “Mama” title, I would absolutely have come up with something else for him! So, don’t sacrifice your feelings on this point for the sake of greater harmony – your MIL will get over it and delight in some other special nickname that is hers and hers alone.

  • liz

    April 5, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    My grandparents are all Grandma [firstname] and Grandpa [firstname], but my mother’s grandparents were Bubby [firstname] and Zaydie [firstname]. My MIL didn’t want to be Grandma and chose Grandy Teddy, which makes me think of Ted Grandy, the Burser on The Love Boat My husband didn’t want his mom’s husband (remarried after his father died a few years ago) to be “Grandpa” so he’s PopPop [First Name]. In the end, it’s not the name, it’s the way you say it. Is it said with love?

  • Kat

    April 5, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    We had problems with my MIL when I was pregnant too. MIL went from wanting to be grammy, nanny, granma, grandma to pretty much any variation of a Grandma title. As soon as she changed her mind, she changed FIL’s name too, pappy, poppy, grandpa, etc. She also made it a point to let us know that is what she wanted them to be with each change. She ended up picking Pappy & Grammy but now doesn’t like it as much as what the other set of inlaws are called. My other set of IL’s went with the flow and let our son pick what they are, so they are Papa & Mamom. Now “Grammy” is a tad jealous of the fact that our son picked the names and that it’s something he can say well. He can’t say Grammy yet 🙂

  • LB

    April 5, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    I made the same comment on the “Wicked Step Grandmother” post- but I want to repeat that it’s not a good idea to leave it up to the kid to pick names for grandparents. We used “Grandma and Grandpa” for both sides of my family growing up and my paternal grandmother was “Fat Grandma” to me and my sisters for years because we hadn’t been given other logical suggestions on how to refer to them. I remember getting lectured about NOT calling her that and my mom suggested referring to her amongst ourselves as “Grandma with the candy jar”, which was just an awkward name that never caught on. Really, it would have been a lot easier to make a distinction in conversation from the start- Even calling them Grandma B and Grandma G would have helped. Two Memaws will be confusing when you’re at home talking about them- so even if they are both Memaw to their face, you need names to help a 3 year old distinguish between them.

  • Maggie

    April 5, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    My daughter is not old enough to call anyone anything yet, but I called my paternal grandmother “grandma lastname”, which was an easy to pronounce name but my maternal grandmother had a hard to pronounce last name so she became “just grandma”

  • Linda

    April 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    We did Grandma [First LastName] and Grandma [Second LastName]. In person, both sets were “Grandma and Grandpa.” Always worked for my family, but my parents were strict about showing respect to their parents — no “Meemaw” or “Papa” for us.

  • Mama Bub

    April 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Well, okay. My MIL wanted to be called Mommie. No matter how you spell it, that was my name. And no, I wouldn’t be okay with mama, or mawmaw or anything. I am not particularly assertive, but at some point, before we even had children, I stated in no uncertain terms that I would be Mommy. Or Mommie. And Mama. The end.

    So she decided to be Mommy-Cultural Term of Endearment. And bless his little heart, all my son heard was the Term of Endearment, which he now calls her and for all future grandchildren this will be her name.

  • Robynn

    April 5, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    I got my way by being passive aggressive about it. I grew up calling my 4 grandparents Grandma/Grandpa FirstName and that’s what I wanted my kids to call their grandparents. In-laws wanted mommom and poppop. I didn’t like those names and just decided not to argue. When I spoke to my children, I referred to my inlaws by the names I wanted my kids to call them. Since I’m around my kids more than any one else, my names stuck. Ta-da!

  • Cheken

    April 5, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    I agree that the Southern mamaw is inflicted much differently than mama. But if you’re not living in the South, I can see the problem.

    My MIL is grandmama, which bothers me and I wait with confidence that my kid won’t be able to say so many syllables and she will be named something else. I want to be mama, but my husband still calls MIL mama and perpetuates “mommy” here so I think I’m losing my mama dream along with my fantasy of a wraparound porch and a magnolia tree.

    My kid is currently calling me meow-meow along with the cats so I’m just letting it ride. There’s too much legit shit to fret about than grandparent names.

  • ChloeB

    April 5, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    When I was pregnant with my first my sister told our mother she had 5 months to pick a name, or we would end up calling her Mopsy. She never did manage to find an alternative she liked, so Mopsy stuck!
    For the record, our father is Papa, and my husband’s parents are Nanny and Poppy.

  • Hannah

    April 6, 2011 at 8:05 am

    My parents are Nanny & Grandad. Before he died, my father-in-law was Grandpa and his lady companion was Grandma {first name}. No fuss, no muss. Beware of letting kids pick the names themselves… one of the kids I look after calls his grandmother Gicky and his grandmother MiMaw. GICKY, people. It sounds like something you’d scrape off the bottom of your shoe.

  • Trista

    April 6, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Add my vote to the “The kid will decide” list. We have a “Grandma Sweetpea and Grandpa Jim” for my parents. Sweetpea because that’s what my mom called my son as a baby and he reciprocated. My dad wanted to be Papaw but he became Grandpa Jim when my kids heard everyone calling him Big Jim…(as in Big Jim, and Little Jim…my brother is a JR.) And My own Grandfather whom I called Grandpa? He became Papaw on the Farm…cause he lived on a farm.
    My husbands parents are just grandma and grandpa.

  • Jessica

    April 6, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    I think the idea of making it more, “Mee-maw” or “Mamaw Sue…” Remember, also you will be controlling more of this kid’s life than she will, so you can say, “Okay little girl, we are going to see Mamaw Sue today!” and then keep saying it. Kids catch on. Or, just REALLY pronounce the W… “Ma-mawww” In the South though (and I’m from here) the Mama/Mamaw makes for two VERY DIFFERENT sounds.

    And the BeeBo story has me giggling.

    My grandfather is named Ganga. And FOREVER I thought it was Norwegian or something equally as fancy and then just recently (and am, uh 31 years old) found out that actually the first grandchild could not say “Grandpa” and said, “Ganga” and it stuck. Funny.

  • Laura

    April 6, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    I had to laugh in remembrance when I read this. When pregnant with my firstborn, my MIL announced that she was going to be called … wait for it … Memommy. Yes. Like, “me” plus “mommy.” Which I found a) weird as hell, and b) irritating as all get-out. Husband I tried to tell MIL that child would call her whatever she called her, but no; she was bygod going to be Memommy. Fast-forward to child talking and what comes out? Mimi. My MIL spent literally HOURS trying to get our daughter to call her Memommy, but it didn’t matter. “Mimi” she became, and “Mimi” she still is.

    Whether or not the fact that husband and I spent hours calling MIL “Mimi” to child and when pointing at pictures of MIL has anything to do with it – well, that’s up for debate… 😉

  • VG

    April 7, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I’ve read this and the comments and I just don’t get why this is SUCH a big deal? Maybe it’s just my naietivity (sp?) but I would just leave it up to your child(ren) to call them whatever they choose, as long it’s not derrogitory. My daughter just turned 1, and we call my parents Nanna & Pop-Pop, and my MIL GiGi or Grandmom. Now my daughter can say Nanna at this point (because it’s easy) but hasn’t said GiGi yet. Does my MIL care? No. My mother never cared what the g-kids called her. My MIL never cared either. I do miss the name Mom-Mom since that’s what I called BOTH of my g-moms. So I say leave it up to your child. It’s going to change over time. Relax 🙂

  • KatiSo,

    April 7, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    My Mom spent the week with us a couple of weeks ago. My daughter can say Nana but since she heard me refer to my mom as Mama the entire time that’s what she called her too. Not sure if that makes it any easier, but kids will call them whatever they want.

  • Jenn

    April 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    My girls each spend 2 days a week with my mother and see my MIL at least once a week. At about age two, my oldest declared 1 “Red Grandma” and the other “Blue Grandma”. Why? Who knows. But, it’s stuck. Blue Grandma has become BooRama with the addition of my youngest. And, you know, sometimes they call me Grandma too, and them Momma. I suppose I could get bent out of shape that they slip and call me Grandma – oh my poor hurt feelings, my working mom guilt, don’t they know who their momma is – but life’s too short. I know they love me. They know I love them. And, they know I’m the mom.

  • bhn

    April 7, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Kids definitely end up having the last word on what they call the people close to them. My kid has three grandmas and three grandpas (lucky boy) and they all have different names THAT HE CHOSE. It all just materialized on its own after months of angst on the part of all the grandmas about what they would be called, whether they sounded too similar, whether he would be able to differentiate, etc. He’s only 20 months old but he knows the difference between amma, granny and nana, and none of them gets confused with Mama.

  • Leigh

    April 8, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    My mom wanted to be Grandma, but the first time my oldest called her anything it came out “Bubba.” Now, my husband and I thought that was AWESOME, but my very Southern mama got her to change it to “Baba,” which stuck. My MIL wanted to be called “Grandmother,” which I thought was WAY too formal plus my husbands’ grandmothers were both called that and three “Grandmothers” was just too much, so now she’s Grandmom. But my FIL has the best name: his name is Bob, so he’s called “GrandBob.”

  • josie

    April 10, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    I’ve never heard of Mamaw in my life.  Is it a Southern thing or a Midwestern thing or something?

  • kari Weber

    April 10, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Well… You could be like my sister-in-law.  Her kids have a “Grandma Candy Cane” because their great-grandmother has some severe back issues that force her to walk stooped over, and a “Grandma Slot Machine” because they have, yep, a slot machine at their house.  The kids and my sister-in law and husband call them those names to their face, away, doesn’t matter.  I don’t know how the actual grandmas feel about it, but that is the draw.  My mom is Grammie, and my MIL is Gramma, from a young age my son’s were able to tell the difference, even though sometimes I make a mistake.  THEY usually correct me! Kids will do what THEY want to, your worry is mostly unnecessary.

  • Deb

    April 11, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Well, I can relate with what you are saying. My mother and my MIL both wanted to be Mom-mom’s. My MIL won. My mom became a “Gam-ma” because my brother’s son came up with that, and she thought it was just wonderful. Well, my two sons didn’t catch on to that, so she became a Mom-mom to them also. However, here is a problem that we encounter that I don’t like. My 2 year old will have a boo-boo and cry for me: “Mom-Mom-Mommeeeee” as he is crying. My MIL will step in (LITERALLY) and say “Oh he wants ME; he said Mom-mom.” My husband says I need to suck it up and deal with it, let her go. Here’s the thing, maybe I am being territorial. But they are MINE!! I went through ALOT to have them, I carried them, I breast fed, etc. Let me be their Mommy for crap sake!!!

  • Valerie

    April 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    My mother–in-law is also “Mamaw.” When my son first started talking, it sounded like he was also calling her “Mama” but he seemed to know the difference between the two. We just kept pronouncing it the preferred way (rhyming with HAM-AW) and he eventually got it.

  • Emily

    April 11, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    to be fair.. the child will choose the monikers. Usually the first grandchild chooses what that person will be called to all the grandchildren. Therefore, my mother is mamaw, my MIL is grammy and my step-MIL is grandma. Your MIL can choose whatever she wants, but baby might change it and I can’t imagine her correcting a baby/toddler. Keep a photo of your MIL around and refer to her as whatever you want constantly (LOL) – you’ll win. 🙂

  • Missie

    April 11, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    My parents are older than my inlaws, thus had grandchildren before my hub and I ever got married. My brothers’ children called them Gran Gran and Papa Jim. That became what my kiddos called them. My inlaws decided when my sisinlaw had her first (which was two years before our first) that they wanted to be Grammi Mel and Grampa. After calling her many different things, including Bammaw, my son finally settled on just plain Grammi. Now my daughter calls her that too.

    My husband’s grandparents, when hearing that my sis in law was having a baby, decided that they would be called the Super Grandparents instead of the great grandparents. So now, everyone refers to them as Super Grandma and Super Grandpa. Or if we’re going to their house, we just say, “Let’s go to the Supers.” 

  • Della

    April 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    All my grandparents have always ever been “grandma/grandpa + last name”. We thought we’d do that with my folks, too…. and my son’s pronunciation of Grandma was Nana! Honestly that isn’t my favorite grandparent name… but that’s what my son says, so I rolled with it. As a consolation, along with it came “Gapo” (gap-oh) for Grandpa, which is pretty original!

    For several years, my own Grandmas were “Jellybean Grandma” [based on a jar she kept stocked] and “Sweetie’s Mom” [sweetie being what I called my aunt… grandma was SO thrilled to be identified only by her relationship to my aunt… she STILL complains], while the respective Grandpas both stubbornly remained Grandpa Lastname.

    Having said that… although it’s true the kid will pick the names, what they pick WILL be based on what they are fed. You’re not going to get a kid saying Gapo if they’re mispronouncing “abuelito”. So I think this question isn’t solved 100% by that.

    I’m not sure how I would solve this, but I can tell you I would probably be upset about it too. I would probably try to skew the pronunciation of it to Mah-maw (rhyming with dad-saw) or maw maw (saw saw), and see what happened. Having said that, even if the kid calls you, and the grandmas, and the aunts all Mama with the same pronunciation, he will definitely, certainly, absolutely mean and feel something different when he’s saying it to you instead of anyone else.

  • Elisabeth

    April 12, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    My beloved “Grandmother” wanted to be called “Grandmother” or “Grandmama”. Yeahno. When I was two, I learned to say the “G” part, and well..that’s all I ever got to. So she was “Gee” until she passed. When my little brother came along 11 years later? He called her “Geegee”. *shrug*. I agree with the people who say the kid will choose on his/her own. I called my own Mother “Hey” until I was 5, because I thought that was her name (thanks, Dad). Kids have the bonus of being so damn cute that you’re not really going to correct them. 

    I have a very very southern MIL, so I’d dare suggest you can  just flat out ask her what the baby is supposed to call you if her name sounds like “Mama”. Perhaps it’s just my family, but I’ve found Southern Women respect a bit of pluck (as long as said pluck is also respectful).

    Either way, sorry that this has been hard for you. 

  • Elizabeth

    April 13, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    I am surprised to see so many people who WANT to be called Mama, only because my own mother grew up in a rural area where mothers were called “Ma” and she hated it so much we weren’t allowed to call her Mama. My kids called both Grandmas “Grandma” in person and “Grandma ” if both were around at the same time. In an ironic twist, when my mother remarried she suggested the kids call her new husband “Papa G” (last initial) and the kids (teenagers by then) automatically started calling her “Mama G” – so she’s back to the name she worked so hard to avoid as a mother!

  • Elizabeth

    April 13, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    How funny – my last post said the kids called their Grandmas “Grandma first-name” if both were around, but I used angle brackets around first-name and apparently the comment box thought it was formatting code.

  • Zhaneh

    May 30, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    I agree that what will probably happen is that the child will end up deciding names for everyone. I was the first grandchild in my family and ended up calling my maternal grandfather Bob-ba. His name was Bob and that is how my father addressed him all the time so I guess it was just a mutation of that. All the subsequent grandchildren, even my cousins, ended up using that name. Sometimes names will change with time as well so any name might not be static. My younger sister called me Sissy for the longest time because Danielle was too hard for her to say and then one day she just stopped and I was Danielle forevermore. 

    My husband and I had a discussion with both sets of parents about what they would want to be called. My husband’s Mom wants to be called Mrs. V, with V being the initial of our last name and we were both like, hell no, seriously that is like what you call a teacher. She is a teacher but that is not what you have your grandchildren call you.

    My own parents were like, they’ll pick their names for us no matter what we want, so they were very chill about the subject probably because of their own experience with the fickleness of children and names.  

  • Liz

    November 19, 2013 at 3:12 am

    I was not raised in the south and thusly would find it super uber creepy that anyone would want my kid to call them something so similar to Mama. But I wanted to agree that kids will eventually settle upon their own choice. My nephews called my mother Grandma, and because the youngest couldn’t pronounce it properly, he called her Pamba, and it stuck for him.

  • Mrs.Reyes

    September 22, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Yes, this comment is extremely late for your post, but I’m so glad someone is the same way I am. My mother is being called ‘Mamaw’. My daughter is in a stage that she calls everyone ‘Mama’, even though she knows who I am. However, my mom will answer her with “Yes, Baby!!?” every single time she says it. Obviously, she isn’t talking to her, and it annoys the daylights out of me!!! My mother will also slip up, (and at this point, with the amount of times she does it on a daily basis, I can’t consider it a slip up anymore) she’ll call herself ‘Mama’ or ‘Mommy’. Talk about wanting to kick someone in the tookis. I am very, very protective of her and my title. So, it is fair of you to feel that way also.

  • Dee

    February 1, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    You are NOT overreacting. Just like nobody would expect their husband to call someone else “WIFEY” or the rest. 

    Sorry but NO–we do not carry these babies 9 months and create them with love to have MIL or mom come along and start the petty name wars.

    My MIL is Latin American and overstepped that boundary and actually tried to argue with me and I had had enough and told her I didn’t want to hear about HER culture–I’m the mom and in MY culture, it’s disrespectful to refer yourself as mama, PERIOD..and my child will call her abuela or (her first name) so she better make up her mind.

    Sometimes, you have to get firm or they’ll sour your whole fucking experience as a mom. It is ridiculous and any grandma that so much as stresses ANY mom about this in ANY way should be fucking ashamed with themselves.

    YOU got to be a mom already, your time is OVER, step back and allow moms to have their special moments and bonds with their kids.

    It is sickening that anyone would think this is OK. I don’t care if it’s cutesie in (insert special areas all over the globe). If it rubs you the wrong way, it’s for a good reason. Unless mama bear is comfortable with it–it’ a NO go..end of subject–NOT up for negotation.

  • kefi18

    February 20, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    My FIL keeps changing his mind about what his name is; it’s irritating and confusing for all the kids in the family. Sometimes he’s Grampy, or Papa, or Grampa, or Poppy…pick a name! My MIL goes by Grammy, except by our niece; my SIL wants so badly to be a Southern Belle (but Oregonians don’t get to be Southern Belles, sadly) so she really pushed for our niece to call my MIL Mee-Maw, or Ma-Maw Kay because they’re cute Southern names (nobody in our family is from the South)…sometimes she calls her that (if prompted by my SIL), but the rest of the time she just calls her Grammy like the rest of the kids do. I wish my FIL would stop changing it up, though, it’s really annoying.