By Ellen Warren
Hearing, "You don't look old enough to be a grandparent," is a little like being a good-looking corpse. Not the greatest compliment.
For the corpse corps, time has run out on the age defying process. But Baby Boomers entering the grandparent years are launching a small semantic revolution to avoid the traditional label of senior citizen status. These youth cult Boomers are demanding that their beloved ankle biters - the children of their own sons and daughters - call them names with a younger sound than the traditional "grandma" and "grandpa."
"Baby Boomers don't want to adhere to the blue-haired old granny stereotype. They are choosing young-sounding names for themselves because generally they don't think of themselves as grandparent age," says Norah Burch, 30, a self-described "name nerd" who has been tracking options for the new slew of first-time grandparents on her Web site, www.namenerds.com.
Burch's own mother, Laura, decided that her grandchildren would call her "Moogie," the term for "mother" from "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."
"I don't have any problem, even for one second, being a grandmother. For me it's just the name," explained Laura Burch, who became a grandmother, at age 51, to Mikala, who is now 9 (followed by Jacob, 5, and Ari, 2).
Norah Burch says it was after long deliberation that her mom, a potter who lives in Ithaca, N.Y., chose the unconventional name "because she associated `grandma' and `granny' et al with Bingo playing and driving a giant Oldsmobile."
"My mom and her whole circle of friends, when they started having grandkids in their 50s, the thought of being called `grandma' was pretty awful to them. They weren't gray-haired old ladies sitting around in rocking chairs baking cookies. Also, a lot of them were divorced and remarried and what do their step-grandkids call them?"
How about Zsa Zsa, Pitty-Pat, Marnie, Muna, Minnow, Muffer, Murmur, Mima, FaFa, LaLa, Chippy, Cappy, Greena, Graga, Gigi, Gankie, Ging-ging, Dappy, Butchy, Boo-Boo, Blah Blah, Bubba, Boowa, Happy, Duke, Honey, Koko and, unfortunately, Grumpy, Poo Poo, Dodo and Rubber Ducky? These are just some of the examples Burch has turned up in response to a question about grandparent names on the Web site, which gets 10 or 12 new examples every day.
"My dad gets called `Guapo,' which means `handsome' in Spanish." Not surprisingly, he picked the name, says Burch, who works in an office at Harvard University. She admits, "We come from a long line of non-traditional names," including her own grandmother, who was known as `Sweetie.' "
Susan Bennett knew she didn't want to be called anything resembling "grandma" when her daughter was pregnant with her first child. "I'm young. I wanted a young-sounding name. 'Grandma' sounds like a prim little old lady with rolled down stockings driving along the expressway at 40 miles under the speed limit, afraid to make left turns," says Bennett, an international director of the Newseum, a museum of news based in Arlington, Va.
Bennett, who is 40 plus, chose to be called "Mimi" by grandson Nick Mendez, now 15 months old.
Grandparents on the baby's Latino father's side are sticking with the traditional Spanish "Abuela" and "Abuelo."
One correspondent on namenerds.com writes, "My mom is your typical white middle-class suburban Southern Baptist Bible-thumpin' Dubya-suppportin' Texan. She has big, puffy, shellacked blond hair and wears T-shirts with three-dimensional objects hanging off them. She believes in Jesus Christ, the Republican Party, craft fairs and spiral perms. She has rebelled against Grandma because it sounds 'old' and she's only 41."
She wants her grandkids to call her "Peaches." "She's even thinking of having a peach tattooed on her toe."
Incidentally, President Bush's twin daughters Jenna and Barbara, 22, call their grandparents - the former president and first lady - Gammy and Gampy.
For grandparents of any age, what they're called is apparently a matter of high import. Type "unique grandparent names" into a search engine and you'll turn up Internet forums featuring picky debate ad nauseum on the issue of who calls who what, with a lot of venom spewed on the choices of the dread mother-in-law (MIL) and, to a lesser extent, the FIL.
One writer, Chris, says, "Personally, I can't stand that my MIL insists on being called Gram. She thinks that Grandma sounds too old. I secretly hope they call her Granny ... That sounds even older. It could be worse though, my sister's FIL insists on being called Grandpa Fat Belly."
At the other end of the grandfather spectrum, a Chicago mid-50s first-time Chicago grandfather thought for awhile a while about what he wanted his first grandchild, a girl, to call him. "I told her mother that my desired form of address is 'Mister T,' and later, when she is more mature, she should referred to me as 'Mister Tim.' "
But, says the proud grandfather, "At this point, however, she manages 'Hi' and I am very pleased with that."
© 2004, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.