Beyond ‘Bubbie,’ Jewish grandparent names get a reboot
Gone are the days when Jewish grandparents defaulted to the age-old Yiddish standbys of "Bubbie" and "Zayde." Now, they're getting creative.
Choosing the perfect name for a child can occupy expectant parents for months, but for many prospective grandparents, deciding what they want their new progeny to call them can be just as taxing a task.
Gone are the days when Jewish grandparents defaulted to the age-old Yiddish standbys of “Bubbie” and “Zayde,” or even the slightly hipper Hebrew versions, “Savta” and “Saba.” Instead, many of today’s Jewish grandparents are looking to other cultures to find suitable monikers, dipping into the wells of their own creativity or even leaving naming rights to the new offspring.
“It’s always a very exciting thing to do, to talk about grandparent names,” said Malori Asman, the founder of the Jewish travel company Amazing Journeys. “When we were talking about what we wanted to be, we realized that these names stick with you really for a lifetime.”
Asman and her husband, Barry, quickly dismissed the more traditional Jewish names.
“We don’t look like our bubbies and zaydes,” said Asman, now a grandmother to three boys. “So, I went to the international side of things, and looked up what the grandkids call their grandparents in other parts of the world.”
Asman finally settled on “Bibi,” which translates to “grandmother” in Swahili, as well as in Uzbek.
“So, I was covering several continents, and also the word sounded a lot like ‘Bubbie,’” she explained. “I thought, ‘that’s a nice blend of an offshoot of Yiddish, but with an international twist.’”
Barry Asman settled on “Z” as his grandpa name because it is the sound that begins the word “zayde,” but is “very contemporary,” his wife said.
“‘Bubbie’ is too old — it’s the babushka thing, and the rolled stockings,” Louik said.
At the suggestion of a friend, former Pittsburgher Dan Karp, Louik instead became “Bubbie Jo.”
“And when I want to be formal, the grandkids can call me ‘Dr. Bubbie Jo,’” quipped the South Hills dentist, whose patients call her “Dr. Betty Jo.”
“I love it,” she said. “It’s a play on my name, and it makes sense.”
Her husband, Howard Louik, is known to his granddaughters as “Poppy,” which comes from his own children calling him “Pops.”
“‘Bubbie’ doesn’t fit me, that yiddishe mama type,” said Mt. Lebanon resident Janet Mostow, who now has one granddaughter, and another grandchild on the way. “I can’t relate to it.”
Instead, Mostow goes by “Mimi,” which is what her own daughter dubbed Mostow’s mother when she could not pronounce “grandma.”
Mostow’s husband, Jack Mostow, was happy to go the traditional route, so together, they are “Mimi and Zayde.”
Educational consultant Michelle Lubetsky also goes by “Mimi,” explaining that she was 14 when her twin sisters were born, and when they began to talk, they could not say “Michelle.”
“So, I have been Mimi to my family ever since,” she said. “It was a natural progression to keep it going into the next generation.”
Her husband, Marty Lubetsky, is called “Papa” by his grandkids to honor the memory of his father-in-law, who “wore it well,” Lubetsky added.
“At first, Marty was hesitant to step into those shoes, but it keeps my dad ever present to hear the endearing term referenced with loving kindness. It is especially heartwarming since our grandson was named for my dad,” she said.
Kanal’s handle is Deeda, which was what her oldest grandson — now 15 — called her in lieu of “grandma.”
“My kids loved it, and there was no going back,” said Kanal, who also had no interest in being called “Bubbie.”
“I don’t want to insult anyone, but to me, ‘Bubbie’ is very old-fashioned, and it sounds oldish,” she said. “I was in my 40s when I became a grandmother.”
Her husband, Manny Kanal, however, “insisted on being ‘Zayde,’” she noted. “It was all he knew.”
The children of one of Kanal’s sons have two sets of grandparents in which the grandfather is “Zayde,” so to distinguish them, Kanal’s husband is “Deeda Zayde,” and the other grandfather is “Safta Zayde,” differentiating each one in terms of his spouse.
But not all local grandmothers sidestep convention when it comes to choosing their grandma names.
“I’m ‘Bubbie,’” said Nina Butler of Squirrel Hill. “No pretension. I just looked in the mirror and a bubbie was looking back at me. I embrace it and frankly don’t understand the people who are upset or ashamed that they’re old enough to be grandparents. I say, bring it on.”
Her husband, Magisterial District Judge Dan Butler, on the other hand, wanted a name that the kids would find “unique, and summon visions of greatness and achievement,” she said. “So, he was considering — threatening — that the grandkids should call him ‘Elvis.’ Ultimately, sanity won out. He is known by our five grandkids as Zaidy.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.