The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Grandma picks the name ‘Mama,’ an identity with the crisis built-in

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My brother and his wife have a baby due this summer, and my parents are in the throes of choosing their grandparent names. My dad has settled on "Grandpop," and my mom has changed her mind approximately 592,129 times. My brother and sister-in-law finally told her to stop sharing every idea she had and just to let them know when she landed on something, so she has started vetting her new ideas with me.

Her current front-runner? "Mama."

Yes, she wants her grandchild to call her Mama. This seems like a major boundary violation to me and I am almost positive my sister-in-law won't like it. Moreover, I don't like it. I hope to have kids someday and don't want them to call another woman Mama!

Is it okay to tell her that she needs to take this option off the table?

— Grandma Mama

Grandma Mama: Yes, please. “Mom, you’re losing it. [Sister-in-law] is the mama, you are the grandmother, and if you did that to me I would not be pleased.”

Tell her you’re telling her this as a public service and she’s welcome to be as annoyed at you as she wants, but you’re saving her from herself.

Any regular readers know how hands-off I normally am about third-party business, but this is a Cher-slapping-Nic-Cage, “Snap out of it” moment. Sometimes it needs to be done — before the surface silliness seeps in deep enough to cause foundation damage.

Re: Grandmas's name: You do realize the kid is going to come up with a name, regardless of what you want, right? My mom's oldest grandson called her "Bop." And Bop she remains, even though he's now graduated from college.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Yep, this is always where things end up. But it helps not to firebomb all the goodwill before nature takes its course.

Re: Grandma Mama: My husband is Hispanic, and everyone is Mama and Papa. His mother is Mama Victoria, her mother is Mama Lucy, Victoria's cousin is Mama Patty, Patty's cousin is Mama Isabel, and on it goes forever, probably back to Ponce de Leon. My point is, it's possible the sister-in-law won't mind, especially if she sticks with Mama Liz instead of just "Mama," but she needs to tread very carefully.

— Mama Amanda

Mama Amanda: Hm. In this context I’d be totally okay with it, would think it was awesome even, so don’t you think the context needs to be part of the story? Meaning, it seems self-evident from the question that the family doesn’t have that tradition.

Re: Mama: Remember the Mamaji fiasco? There be more than dragons.

— Column Historian

Column Historian: Mamadragons.

Re: Mamaji: Please provide a link. This is ringing a hideous and distant bell.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Courtesy of another chatter (thank you!):

Re: Grandma Mama:
You say 592,129 times she's changed her mind? You could just play the odds and wait for 592,130.

— Gambler

Gambler: You would think — but, no, the universe says she’s settling on this one. Now, though, it’ll be because the letter-writer takes my advice and begs her not to.