Recently, I learned that I have fallen short of mark in a life skill that I had never previously contemplated: Grandparent Nomenclature.
Several months ago, while my first-born was expecting her first child, the grandmother-to-be casually asked, "What do you want to be called?"
"What do you mean?"
"By our grandchild," she sighed. "What do you want your grandchild to call you?"
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Until that moment, it hadn't dawned on me that grandparents not only had the right to choose a moniker, but there also was urgency to staking out a name.
A few weeks later, the Mrs. said: "Well, you waited too long. Kevin's father has chosen his G.N."
"Really," I said. "And ..."
"'Poppy,'" she said. "He wants to be called 'Poppy.' Arlene (the paternal grandmother) is going to be 'Grandma,' and I will be 'Nana.'"
Clearly, the ball was in my court.
"Well, she can call me 'Grumpy,'" I said.
"That's a terrible name for a grandfather," she said.
"Grumpy was one of the seven dwarfs. Besides, I'm pretty sure that the Disney Company owns the rights to the name."
I had pretty much chalked this off to a family eccentricity, but whenever I mentioned to a friend that we were to be grandparents, the inevitable question followed: "Have you decided what you want to be called?"
I liked the sound of "Grandfather" but quickly discarded that as pretentious. The only time you hear that appellation, it's followed by either "Mountain" or "Clock."
My bride was convinced that something was wrong with me. Perhaps I lacked a key grandparent gene.
Then it dawned on me: I never had a close relationship with a grandfather of my own.
My father's father was killed in a accident eight years before I was born, and I could count on the fingers of one hand the times I recall seeing my mother's father. "Daddy Luc" (for Lucius) lived in Michigan, and by the time I came along, motor trips from our home in Florida were far between. He passed away while I was in elementary school.
Since word of our granddaughter's arrival has spread, the grilling has increased.
If I encounter someone who has a grandchild, they ask, "What do you want to be called?"
"Well, I was thinking of 'Grandpa Plumb,'" I say. "I like the alliteration."
They nod, but I can tell what they're thinking: "For a guy who made his living with words, that's pretty lame."
The real point
Then the real point of the exercise becomes clear; they want to boast about THEIR G.N.
"I'm Pawpaw," said one. "Papa Jack," said another.
I've heard such grandparent names as "Dougy," "MeeMaw," "Siggy," "Mama Sue," -- everything you could think of except "Grandpa."
Clearly, I lacked the knack for Grandparent Nomenclature.
Thankfully, a friend let me in on the secret.
"Look," he said, "what you want to be called doesn't make any difference."
"No," he said. "What counts is what your first grandchild decides to call you. That will be your Grandparent Name for every grandchild that follows.
"Your own kids will start calling you that, too, and before you know it, your spouse will start referring you by that name."
In his family, he said, his mother-in-law is known to everyone as "Weegee."
"Oh, great," I said. "I won't know my Grandparent Name until my granddaughter is old enough to talk! What am I going to call myself in the meantime?"
"Don't worry," he said. "Herald subscribers have plenty of names for you."