Twanglish Lessons: Tell Big Momma and Them We Said “Hey”


Grandparents (Photo credit: Wm Jas)


Now that we’ve gotten past our 15 minutes of fame (or was it infamy?) brought on by being wantonly slanderized in The New Yorker, it’s time to get back to the business of “reveling in the New South and wrasslin’ with the Old.” And what better way to do that than a new Twanglish Lesson?


We here at RSM are fascinated with the depth and breadth of the Official Language of the South. It ain’t just “ain’ts” and “y’alls,” y’all. Nowhere does the creativity and diversity of Twanglish display itself more prominently than in nicknames, especially the nicknames we use for our grandparents.


Many are derivatives of “Grandma” and “Grandpa” – starting of course by adding a “w” to the end of each of those. We Southerners never met an “ah” than we didn’t round out to an “aw.” I think it’s because we don’t stop talking until our mouths are closed. To cut off a sound with the mouth still agape seems wasteful. It’s just good stewardship, really.


The most interesting grandparental nicknames, however, drift far afield of anything that resembles sensible … or even respectful. When my wife was expecting our first child, I joked that we’d teach our daughter to call my parents “Bonely” and “Squatnutter” … because those names made about as much sense as some of the ones you’ll see here.


We asked our readers on Twitter and Facebook to share with us the names for their grandparents. Here are their responses. Enjoy!

(And don’t forget to add yours to the comments below.)


Of Grannies and MeMaws, Grandaddies and PawPaws


Maternal Grandparents: Grandmother & Grandaddy, Paternal Grandparents: Granny Wright and Grandaddy Wright, Maternal Great-Grandparents: Granny and Grandaddy (could get confusing bc they lived right next to each other), Other Maternal Great-grandparents (yep, knew them all) -Mo Mo and Pawpaw. My kids call their grandparents Granny, Nana, and Pawpaw. -Wendy Wright Clark

Mawmaw and Pawpaw (on mom’s side… wasn’t close to the other ones.) My kids call their grandparents Mawmaw and Pawpaw (dad’s side) and Grammy and Pawpaw (my side.) -Jenn Kirby

One set was Mamma Doris and Pop and the other was Grandmamma and Granddaddy. -Ned Boggan

I only actually knew one grandparent, but my dad had foster parents that I regarded as my grandparents. They were MeMaw and PawPaw. My mom’s mother was Granny.  Our kids call/ed their grandparents Granny & PaPa, and GrandMaw & PawPaw. -Kelli McCall Franklin

I had a MawMaw/PawPaw and a Grandmomma/Granddaddy -Chez Knox

Pawpaw and granny – Mallory Tew

GranGran and MawMaw -Laura Knight

I had a Ma & Pa, a Meemaw & Peepaw, a Memaw Ruth, and a Memaw Wallen. My daughter has a Mimi, a Grammy, and two Grandpas. -Nicklaus Louis

Paternal – Papa and Granny Lovell. Maternal – Peepaw and Meemaw Franklin -Darryl L. Lovell

My parents are PawPaw and Nana. His parents are Poppie and Nannie. -Katrina Pickering

We only had our maternal grandparents whom we called Poppa (grandmother) and Poppy (grandfather) -Tommy Tyler

One set was called Papa, and Moma T. The other set was called Paw Paw and Maw Maw -Kurt Lee Wheeler


I got a great Big Momma


I have relatives that called their grandparents Big Mama and Big Daddy. -Kelli McCall Franklin

Mine were called Nanny and Pawpaw and a great grandmother called Big Momma -Kimberly Taylor Torchia

Paternal: Bigdaddy and Bigmama, Maternal: Grandma and Granddaddy. -Rick Williams


Is that your surname or your Christian name?


Mamaw Rose and Pop Rose (we called them both by my grandmother’s first name, poor man), and Mamaw Lawrence and Poppaw Lawrence (my grandparents’ last name). – Deborah Jones Krauss

Father’s side: Mammaw and Pappaw. Mother’s side: Daddy Jim and Ruth. My grandmother Ruth lived with us. She was very proud to be a grandmother … but didn’t want to be called anything in particular. She wasn’t going to give herself a name and stated as her oldest grandchild, that I would decide on her name. I picked up on everyone calling her by her middle name, so she remained “Ruth”. Despite the fact that it is her given name. To her grandchildren it has the same endearing quality for us as “Grandma” would for anyone else. -Lisa Simison

My paternal grandfather died when my dad was 12, so there never was a grandparent name for him. My maternal grandfather’s nickname was Cy, after Cy Young (my grandfather played semi-pro ball, apparently in a similar style, although off the field he was kind, gentle, and soft-spoken). We kids called him “Pappy Cy.” My grandmothers were “Mama Lucy” (paternal) and “Mama Louise” (maternal). -Ginny Hall

Grandmother…for one, didn’t know my dad’s Father. Mama Jess and Pop Homer on Maternal side. -Lee McBride

Always full ‘Grandmother’ and then their first names. At one point I had 3 on my mom’s side! Never met my maternal grandfather, but yankee step-grandfather was ‘grandpop’ and paternal was ‘Pa’ – I couldn’t say ‘Grandfather.’ -Beth Sanborn

By their first names, that is the way I was raised. They did not want to be known as grandparents. -Tim Rose Mitcham

Grandma/Grandpa, Memaw/Papa Bill, Papa/Lela, Mama Gladys/Papa Burly -Tamme Phipps Seale



Umm… What was that again?


Florrie & Bootsie (maternal), Mama Ditty & Pop Bond (paternal). I plan to be named something grand: open to suggestions. -Lynn Sherrill Bush

I had a great-grandmother I called Bom-Bom, and grandfather called Bo. -Karen Solomon


12 Responses to “Twanglish Lessons: Tell Big Momma and Them We Said “Hey””

  1. My kids call my dad “Haha.” We have no idea what prompted the nickname from our first daughter – it just stuck. It had nothing to do with being funny (though that’s what Emily now assumes).

  2. I had a “Granny” and a “Gramps” (paternal) and “Grandma” (maternal). But my dad had a “Grandma Panks”, as well as a “Poppie” (stressing the last syllable, like “Pop-ee”), which I always felt was an interesting one.

  3. We have good genetics so I knew 4 great- grands & 3 grands most of my life. Here goes: maternal great-grands: Daddy Paul & Gene Mama, MeMa & Diggy (yes, you read that correctly) paternal great grand: Maw-Morris. Maternal grand: Grandmother (self-named because all the crazy names were already taken) paternal grands: Daddy Royce & Ma-Pollye. (Which got converted to My-Pollye when we were very small & Jolly Pollye as we became teenagers because she was always happy)

  4. Maternal: Nannie and Grandpop. Paternal: Grandpop and Granny, though the great-grandkids called her Flossie. My parents are Mawmaw and Pop. My uncle was a grandfather first and he is Big Daddy – boy was my dad jealous when his first grandchild came along and Big Daddy was already taken 🙂

    Thanks, this was fun!

  5. Maternal grandparents: MawMaw and PawPaw. Paternal: Grandmama and Granddaddy. My kids call my parents Shuggie and Papa. My dad always called my mom “Sug” so we modified it a bit to get “Shuggie.” My in-laws were known as Nana and Papa (pronounced “Paw Paw”) to their grandkids. One of the most unusual grandma names I’ve heard is “Ooh-we” (not sure how the family spelled it). Apparently, the first grandchild always heard his grandmother yell, “OOOH WEEEE!” every time she saw him so he thought that should be her name.

  6. We called our grandparents Nana and Pop and Grandmama and Grandaddy. My kids have Papaw and Grandmommie and Grandmama and Grandaddy. This is my favorite though…my niece calls my parents Granny and Hoo Hoo. When she was little, my father would whistle for her so she started calling him Hoo Hoo. I can’t wait til she gets a little older and realizes the connotations of that!

  7. My family was boring-I had a Mawmaw and a Pawpaw (although my stepsister who is originally from CA called her THE Mawmaw) and a great aunt who was called Mommie-I had a great-grandma who was just Grandma Pritchard or Lillie Belle if she bonked you on the head as she was wont to do

  8. Tracey’s experience was similar to mine; we called our grandmothers “Mama + her surname”. Other grown women in the family went by their first names after “Aunt” or “Cousin”. Anything less seemed a little whoopdedoo. All other women in the world were “Miss Betty” or “Miss Loreen”, although some private tragedy or foible could earn a person a nickname that fused with the honorific; e.g., “Poorolmiss Nancy” or “Thatrascal Doodle”.

    My widowed grandfather’s (papaw’s) second wife was a shrew, and, while no one dared cross the woman, the family retaliated by calling her just “Ruby”, which in the ’60s and ’70s was pretty cold indeed.

    After I moved to New England, a friend made the observation that Southerners have a habit of calling people their own age by their entire name. He said that Bostonians introduce a man as “Bill” whereas a Southern person may introduce the same guy as “BillHunkapillar”–and then continue to call the man “BillHunkapillar” all evening. When I ruminated on this, I did think I do this sometimes.

    • Good stuff! Something that Southerners don’t often do, but Northerners do, is call people by just their last names. I like the way it sounds, but I’ve never been able to do it without sounding like it was meant to be sarcastic.

      • There is one place in the Deep South where I regularly observed young men call each other by their surnames: Greek fraternities. Whether that’s a Southern Greek custom, like sui generis, or a case of Southern Greeks undergoing some cultural cross-pollination with Yankee Greeks, I won’t hazard a guess since it’s Friday and I washed down my supper with strong drink.

        I also don’t often call men by their last names lest it feel mannered or artificial. Maybe in the gym, because you all are standing there in the shower together, and a little formality in your language makes the meeting seem less, you know, nekkid? Just a hypothesis.

        I do believe there’s a common species of scrappy Southern tomboy who never feels entirely at home in the moonlight and magnolias realm of Southern womanhood who likes to go by her surname because it makes her feel like one of the boys, all the more so if she got saddled with a first name like Daphne or Clementine.

      • The infant daughter of the main character in my new novel is named Clementine. It’s a little early to tell if she’ll be a tomboy.

  9. I have a Mamow, and a Gaga . Seems as if the first grandchild humiliates the rest of us for life.

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