Growing up, I often felt like my sister and I were the only kids on Earth whose family included a Saba, Safta, Abuelo and Abuela. Grandma and Grandpa? Those words described sweet, elderly strangers. Now, of course, I know that I’m most certainly not unique in having immigrant grandparents. But I’m also continually fascinated by the number of grandparent nickname variations Americans come up with. And it turns out that even as this country’s geographical differences get blurred by mass media, we still have bit of regional variations when it comes to our parents’ parents.
Life insurance marketing firm Coventry Direct recently conducted a survey of 5,000 Americans to find out the most common grandparent nicknames in every state, because I guess I’m not the only one fascinated by these things.
Coventry didn’t share its exact survey questionnaire, but it seems like they asked people their nicknames for “Grandma and Grandpa,” which might explain why Grandma and Grandpa themselves don’t actually appear on this list at all (even though they’re likely the grandparent terms many people use). Instead, the top five names for the matriarchs of the family are Nana, Grammy/Grammie, Granny/Grannie, Nanny and Mamaw. Mawmaw, Mimi, Grandmother (so formal!), Memaw and Abuela/Abuelita are numbers 6-10.
When you drill down by state, you can see Nana is spread all around as the most popular nickname everywhere from Washington state to Florida, with a whole lot of states in the Midwest covered, too. Surprisingly, Abuela is number one in Alaska, while Alabama is the only state where Granny tops the list. “Mom Mom,” which we had no idea was even a thing, seems to be specific to the mid-Atlantic states of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. Texas is where Mimi reigns, and Hawaiians prefer Mama. Who knew?
Over on the grandfather’s side, there’s a lot less variety. Maybe that’s because men are much less worried about the perceived aging effect of being called Grandpa (we do know a few women who have outright banned anyone from calling them Grandma). Anyway, the men are mostly going by Papa in 36 states. Pawpaw is the preferred moniker in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, with the variation Papaw tops in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana. Mom Moms must be matched up with the Pop-Pops in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware. Nevada, meanwhile, is the only place where there are more Granddads than Papas working those slot machines. (Just kidding, they might be all at the Blackjack tables.)
If you or your own parents haven’t decided which nickname to go with, you can pull up this map and decide whether to go with something popular in your state, or to go against the grain. Unlike all the mothers whose ears prick up with every “MOMMMM” on the playground, it might be nice to be the only one of your nickname by the time you reach retirement.