Carolyn Hax: A name game a grandmother must avoid for the sake of family bonds


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)
Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 22

Dear Carolyn:

When my son’s eldest started to talk, I encouraged her to call me “G-ma” because I didn’t care for “Grandma.” She never could learn G-ma, but instead called me Mamaji. I thought this was adorable and very special since it was her own idea. I became Mamaji. It is my e-mail, user ID, I even had a T-shirt made! Not a word was said against it.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

After their second child was born almost four years later, I was informed that their mother did not want her children to call me by that name. My son indicated that she never approved of the name but never said anything to me. Her rationale? She is their Mama, therefore my given nickname was suddenly unacceptable as it incorporates “mama.” (Her daughter has always called her Mommy.) I tried to speak with her about it, explain how much it means to me, but she is adamant to the point of threatening to be punitive if I don’t want to cooperate.

I am very sentimental, and this hurts me deeply. This special name that my granddaughter gave me is now being discarded in what I feel is some sort of power play. She has been very manipulative in the past and this just seems to be taking it to a new level. My 5-year-old granddaughter is as confused as I am, as well as my daughter, who wants her new baby to call me Mamaji when she learns to talk. Your thoughts?

Don’t Call Me Grandma

A bunch.

First is that you can’t win this, no matter how emphatically I or anyone else agrees with you or how snarkily I point out that “Grandma” has a “Ma” in it, too. If the child’s mother has decided to dig in, then the issue is closed. Rail about it in the privacy of your own friendships — or more productively, don’t — till it’s out of your system, but in public you are On Board.

And: Especially with your granddaughter, you are the voice of conciliation and reason. “I love your name for me, too, but it’s just a name — and parents have their reasons for things. It doesn’t change how much I love you.” Run it by the parents that you’d like to make a game of renaming you together. Good sportsmanship rules.

And: Your complaint is valid and painful and I sympathize. There’s also room in it, though, for you to fit in some sympathy for the mother, as hard as it is for you to see that now. This story begins with your own strong opinion about what you were to be called; “Grandma” rubbed you the wrong way, and presumably you didn’t care to hear anyone’s rationale that the name Grandma is an honor or whatever else and therefore you should let the grandkids call you Grandma without complaint. Right? So, be the bigger person and treat her irrational name bias as you would, and did, your own.

And: If it is just a power play by a known manipulator (certainly possible), that’s even more reason to heed the preceding thoughts. Your tie to your granddaughter is everything, which reduces ancillary stuff to nothing. A useful mantra for power games: You can’t lose if you don’t play.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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