I finally have a reason to celebrate. No, I didn’t win Powerball and I didn’t get a promotion to Senior Vice President or even Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. I became a grandfather. Becoming a grandfather for the first time was a wonderful thing, at least until the wise guys—usually in my family, usually one of my four daughters—started calling me “Gramps.” It made me think of myself as Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies or old Uncle Joe Carson on Petticoat Junction, grizzled and cantankerous. Since the average age for new grandfathers and grandmothers is in the early-50s, we need some new, hipper terms to describe ourselves that don’t have so many connotations of rocking chairs and prostate problems. For me, nicknames like Grandpappy conjure up images of corncob pipes and dentures. At least for today, I still have all my teeth, with a gold crown or two. Anyway, my second daughter, Dana, had a beautiful little girl named Lennox Anne, and I wanted a nickname for myself that she could be proud of when she tells her toddler friends in daycare who I am, once they learn to talk.
It turns out I’m not alone. A poll by the BabyCenter said that some 50 percent of 3,000 people surveyed didn’t like to be called Grandma and Grandpa. An increasing number, about 20 percent, are choosing unique nicknames like Yubba, Zippy and Vava, which are pretty scary if you ask me because they call to mind Jabba the Hut and that cartoon character Zippy the Pinhead. My wife wasted no time in adapting to our new situation. They call her “Nana,” whatever that means. And by extension, they figured I should be called Papa. I said “no way” because it reminds me of Walter Brennan on The Real McCoys. (On the other hand, if you can remember The Real McCoys, you deserve to be called Papa or maybe Pappy.)
A lot of this reluctance probably has to do with being a member of the Baby Boomer generation, one of the 76 million who refuse to grow old gracefully … or just plain refuse to grow old. I tried to figure out what the best name for me would be—something creative and hip—but before I could pick out my own special name like, say, Ice-T, Brad Pitt or Obi-wan-kenobi, my family commandeered the process, and in an overbearing act of self-righteousess, they chose a name without consulting me and began calling me “Pop-Pop.” “Where the #@%&* did you get that???” I asked indignantly. “It sounds like a breakfast cereal. You might as well call me Mr. Lucky Charms or Tony the Tiger.” “It’s your new name! Do you want to be called Grandpaw instead?” they said, upset that I didn’t share their enthusiasm. “It’s a bit presumptuous for you to decide what my name should be.” “Not really, you’re always having trouble making decisions,” my wife, Sandy, insisted. “You can’t even pick out a new cell phone. You still use that iPhone 4.” “Lennox needs to know what to call you, and it has to be something simple and meaningful,” Dana said. “Okay, then have her call me Sir,” I replied. “It’s simple and it’s one syllable. Or maybe she can call me Mr. Pisani, Sir.” That ended the debate for about 15 minutes, but when I left the room, I heard my wife telling Lennox, “Pop-Pop is mad.” The crazy thing is that the BabyCenter listed the top 10 favorite grandparent names and they are, in order of popularity, Grandma, Nana, Grammy, Granny, Mimi, Gram, Nanny, Oma, Mamaw and Gran. For grandfathers, they are Grandpa, Papa, Granddad, Gramps, Pop-Pop, Poppy, Papaw, Pop, Opa and Pappy. I don’t care what the research says, I want something cool for myself. Call me Ishmael. Call me Jay-Z. Call me anything but Pop-Pop. By Joe Pisani Joe Pisani, a journalist for 30 years, approaches life with wisdom and wit. He writes frequently for ACT TWO. His most recent pieces for ACT TWO include Age Better with Positive Thinking, The Silver Tsunami, When It Comes to Love, It’s a Dog’s World and La Dolce Vita Americana.