Grandparent nicknames: How Chattanooga families make one of life’s most important decisions

Grandparent nicknames / Getty Images

One of the best things about life's great milestones is the opportunities they provide for beginning a new chapter in the family storybook and the fun and exciting job of naming the characters.

Wherever you are in your own family's story, you've surely played some role in the crucial task of naming a grandparent, a decision that affects the entire family for perpetuity.

We asked Chattanoogans to tell us about the names they've given their grandparents, which we learned is rarely a choice made by one person. And often, these names morph and take on a life of their own. From granny to gammy to meemaw, here are some of the interesting ways locals gave or received their grandparent names.

When Karen Elliott learned her first grandchild was on the way, she asked friends and family for suggestions of names she could be called.

"Our girls kept returning to Honk, which college friends and sorority sisters still call me," Elliot says of her college nickname, a shortened version of her maiden name of Honkanen. "I'm one-half Finnish, which my girls and husband have always loved."

She knew the decision was cemented when she spotted "Honk visits" written on her daughter's calendar.

"As I cuddled our Elliott, I thought, 'Yes, I'm his Honk,' and it just felt right," Elliott says. "Besides, I'll always be able to know who he needs when he calls, even in a crowd!"

Sometimes grandparent names come about because children have difficulty saying an adult-chosen name, and sometimes they seemingly come out of nowhere.

"My parents are Daddy Daddy and Moosh," Tracy Smithson Mozingo says. "Our oldest couldn't say Granddaddy, and we don't know how he came up with Moosh. We were calling my mom Grams!"

"I named my great-grandfather Papa Toodley," Krissa Barclay says. "Where I got it is a mystery, since his name was Ben Limbaugh, but everyone else followed suit."

Gail Dooley called her grandmother Mammer, an older cousin's corruption of the classic name, "grandmother," and her grandfather was Hooie.

"That's how he would respond, in a sing-songy voice, when the boys who worked for him hollered out for him when he was down in the dairy barn," Dooley says. "My own mother became Mammer to my sons as well. My older son heard us refer to my grandmother as Mammer so often while in the presence of my mother -- that he began to associate that word with my mother."

Many grandparents choose a shortened version of their first name – SuSu for Susan, KayKay for Karen, MayMay for Margaret – or another variation of their first name -- like Mamphy, as Samantha Teter's grandchildren call her.

"It was a childhood nickname my sister gave me, and my family still calls me that sometimes," Teter says. " I never really liked it, but my son-in-law started calling me that when our granddaughter was born so it's now my grandma name!"

Animal names are always cute, such as Tiger or Bearcat, and they are particularly cute when repetitive, like Chick Chick or Duck Duck. The latter is Beth Murphy's son's name for her mother, and it came about through another common grandparent-naming tradition, in which one of the child's first words becomes a name that sticks around for life.

"My granddaddys were Gar," says Jan Tiano. "They snored. So I made that sound, and it stuck."

It's also nice to have a name that stretches across generations, but not every family -- or family member -- can be so consistent.

"My grandfather was Poppop to me, then my dad was Poppop to my kids, and now my husband is Poppop to our grandkids," says Pinky Young, who keeps her own nickname flexible. "I have been Grandma, Grammy, Gramgram... whatever she calls me, I answer!"

The reach of a fabulous family nickname can even extend beyond just relatives.

"When my niece was little, she pronounced Suzie as Saussie," Suzan Smith Gibson says. "It has become my name that's used by all my grandchildren, children, nieces, nephews, family and lots of my friends. I absolutely love being Saussie."