Monday, August 18, 2008
Finding Names in a Flavorful Family
I went to a baby shower recently for my friend who is Japanese and Irish-American. My friend's mother and mother-in-law were both in attendance so I started chatting with them. I was just making small talk and without thinking of the implications, asked if they were going to allow their new grandchild to call them "Grandma" or would they pick some other, less age-defining name...like Nana or Big Mama (just kidding!).
"Actually," my friend's mother replied, "I will be Obaachan, which is Japanese for grandmother. The only problem is since my husband is White we don't know if he should be Grandpa or Ojiisan?"
I understood her dilemma.
Then the mother-in-law piped in. "Well technically I would be Bubbe because I'm Jewish," she said. But since she's not a very observant Jew and her husband is a gentile, she wasn't even sure if Bubbe was right for her, yet "grandmother" felt wrong. It didn't fit.
In my family, my sons refer to their Spanish grandparents as Abuela y Abuelo. My parents are Nana and Grandpa so there's never any confusion. But now I see, when the hubby and I reach that age, will I be an Abuela or a Nana? Will my Spanish husband morph into a granddaddy or will he hang on to Abuelo?
These are the issues that creep into multicultural, multilingual family life. Finding names that respect a person's culture without denying the Other is fraught with challenges and possible unintended hurt feelings. Not to mention, it can just get downright confusing. But on the other hand, it can also be fun to play around with names, to combine and blend languages and cultures to create something new.
How do people in your meltingpot families deal with these issues?
(p.s. I'm not sure if I've spelled the Japanese words for grandmother and grandfather correctly. I apologize for any mistakes.)