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 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.)


maybelles parents said...

interesting post. (I found you from coco cooks.) This is one real toughy in our family. I am indian-american and my daughter calls her grandparents the Hindi name for each as I grew up doing. but for my husband's parents they would rather be nana and grandpa than nonna and papa-nan, even though that is what they called their grandparents.

Kohana said...

We have an Oma and Pappa B (because my husband's dad doesn't want to be Opa, the Dutch word for Grandpa), and Omi (derived from Oma, but changed to distinguish between them) and Pappa D. My parents took on the Dutch names because they liked them, even though they are American. Confusingly enough, my children call their father "Pappa", which is common in Holland, but unusual in America, and Australia , where we live. I think my niece calls my parents by Korean names, as she does her Korean grandparents. It will be interesting to see if the children migrate to other terms over the course of time, but right now, these all work for us.

Me said...

Maybelle and Kohana,

Thanks for sharing. I love hearing how this all works out in different families.

Thanks for visiting the Meltingpot.