What is Your Word for Grandmother?
In honor of my grandmother, who passed away from Covid-19 last week at the amazing age of 100, I wanted to share some of the words for grandmother in various languages from around the world. Some will be familiar and some strange. Some are quite formal, and some sound as sweet and warm as a nicely baked cookie.
Origins of the Word Grandmother in English
In Old English, the word was ealdemodor, which sounds a lot like “old mother,” and likely has roots in Old Norse. It was replaced by grandame, literally meaning “old lady,” due to the French influence over English.
The French word for grandmother is grandmère but often the nickname mémé is used. In English, the most common nicknames for grandmother are grandma, gramma, gran, nan, and nana.
In the Celtic languages, for example, Gaelic, it’s maiméo. In the Manx language, your grandparents are your shennayryn, and your grandmother is your grannee, or mwarree, or your shenn voir. In the south of Wales, you would use mam-gu, but in northern Wales, you’d use nain.
Scandinavian Words for Grandmother
In the Norse languages, the word for grandmother changes depending on whether the person is your maternal or paternal grandmother. In Swedish, mormor means, “mother’s mother,” and farmor means, “father’s mother.”
It’s the same in Danish, but they have another word for just “grandmother,” which is bedstemor. Norwegian also uses mormor and farmor, though sometimes bestemor, and sometimes forelder or forelderen for just “grandparent,” or besteforeldere for “grandparents.” In Icelandic, the word is simply amma, and often the person’s first name is added to the end.
In Finnish, the word is isoäiti, a combination of the words iso meaning “great” or “big” and âiti, meaning “mother.” Also used are isänäiti for father’s mother and äidinäiti for mother’s mother.
Grandmother in Hindi
There are many words for grandmother in the numerous dialects of Hindi, but in most of them, your nani is your mother’s mother, and your dadi is your father’s mother. Sometimes the word ma is added, so nani ma and dadi ma.
Words for Grandmother in the Romance Languages
Strangely enough, the romance languages all have different words for grandmother that hardly resemble each other. As previously mentioned, in French the word is grandmère, but in Italian, it’s nonna. In Spanish, the term is abuela, or if you want to be cozy and cute about it, you’d call her your abuelita, which means “little grandma.” In Portuguese, the word is avó. These last two most resemble the Latin word for grandmother, via.
In Romanian, the word is bună, or bunică, a combination of the word bun, meaning “good” and a Latin word-forming suffix that implies a belonging to or connection with whatever word you’re trying to emphasize. So the Romanian word for grandmother literally translates to “belonging to good.”
In the Slavic languages, the word is some variation of baba, babushka, or babcia. In the Basque region, they call their grandmothers, amona. In German, the formal word is großmutter, and the familiar word is oma.
How to Say Grandmother in Hebrew and Yiddish
In Hebrew, the familiar word for grandma is savta or safta, and in Yiddish it’s באָבע pronounced, “bubbe.” In Greek, the word is γιαγιά, which is pronounced yaya.
In Arabic, the word grandma is جدتي pronounced jadati, though the many dialects of Arabic have different words. In the Zulu language, grandmothers are called gogo, or ugogo. In Swahili it’s bibi, in Sudanese, nini, and in Somali, ayeeyo. In the Igbo language of Nigeria, the word is nne nne.
In the Maori language, the word is kuia. In Samoan, tinamatua, from tina meaning “mother,” and matua meaning “grand.” In Hawaiian, it’s kupunawahine, a combination of the words kupuna, meaning “grand,” and wahine, meaning “woman.”
In Filipino the word is lola and in Thai the word is ยาย which is pronounced “yeeai.” In Dyirbal, the Aboriginal language of Australia, your gumbu is your mother’s mother, and your babi is your father’s mother.
Grandmother in Japanese, Chinese and Korean
In Japanese, the general word for grandmother is おばあちゃん, which is pronounced obaasan, but sometimes people call their own grandmother 祖母 which is pronounced, sobo. In Mandarin Chinese there are different words for maternal vs paternal grandparents. Your 奶奶 (pronounced nai nai) is your father’s grandmother, and your 姥姥 (pronounced lao lao), is your mother’s mother.
In Cantonese, those would be 嫲嫲 (pronounced maa maa) and 婆婆 (pronounced po po.) In Korean, the word is 할머니 (pronounced halmeoni.) In Thai, ยาย (pronounced yeeai.)
Treasure Your Elders
Whatever you call your grandmother, I hope you call her soon, if you can, to tell her that she is wonderful and that you love her dearly. We must do everything we can to treat our elders with dignity and respect. We should protect and honor them and treasure the time we get with these living pieces of history. I was lucky enough to get 41 years with my amazing grandmother, and for that, I am very grateful.
What is your word for grandmother? I called mine grandma. Do you have different names for your various grandmothers? Share them in the comments below.