Black America Web Featured Video

My name is Nini, and I’m a proud, new grandmother. Just don’t call me Grandma.


I can’t really say. Maybe it’s because I think I’m too young — or young at heart.

I’m not alone. Just ask G Mommy, YaYa, TaTa orUmi, for starters.

“I want to be known as a vibrant, strong grandmother — not some old fogey,” says Denys Davis, an interior designer in Philadelphia, who’s known to her twin 5-year-old granddaughters as Umi.

Since so many baby boomers are defying the aging process, they’re looking for names that match how they feel, notes Lin Wellford, aka Mimi, author of “The New Grandparents Name Book” (ArtStone Press, 2009).

“Today’s newest grandparents tend to look, feel and act younger than their predecessors,” Wellford says.

Umi has special meaning for Davis, who participated in a naming ceremony in the village of Kounoune in Rufisque, Senegal, in 1997. “The name given to me was 'OhmyDiop,' which means 'mother,'” according to Davis, but she uses the spelling from the song “Umi Says” by Mos Def.

“I really wanted to use the name somewhere and thought that having grandchildren was the opportune time,” explains Davis, whom I worked with on “The Spirit of African Design.”

“I wanted something unique,” she says.“I did not want to be called Grandma or anything old-fashioned.”

The only thing unique about my moniker is the sound. Nini is based on the second syllable of my name: YA-nique. And I copied my Toledo mother, Laneta Goings, whose three grandchildren call her Ninyi, a Swahili word.“It has long taken on a deep meaning that tugs at my heartstrings,” Goings said. I also hope to copy her nurturing and inspirational skills. Her eldest grandson, Toure McCord, is founder of literacy nonprofit, Books 4 Buddies, at the ripe old age of 14.

Nicknames for grandparents are nothing new. They tend to be terms of endearment — or terms of distinction to make it clear who’s who, for example, in families with a Mama and Big Mama.

In my family, Grandma was our matriarch, my great-grandmother, Pearlie Willis. One of her umpteen daughters, my paternal grandmother, Ida Mae Rice, was Mama (nothing big about her at roughly 5 feet and barely 100 pounds). My maternal grandmother, Tercia LaForest, was Maman, which often came out “Muh-muh.”

My sister and I didn’t know what to call our step-grandmother, Callie Jordan, so we avoided calling her anything and never asked. Silly kids. We had no real reason to be hesitant since she treated us the sameas the rest of our cousins. And she unknowingly warmed our hearts with a great parting gift on our final visit, when she introduced us to her hospital roommate as “my granddaughters.”

While we didn’t take control of any of our grandparents’ names, that’s not the case in some families. “Kids sometimes will dictate what you will be called,” says Davis, whose grandchildren tried Mom-Mom. “I kept pushing Umi, and finally it stuck.”

A G Mommy in Maryland didn’t have such luck. She’s made peace with being called Grandma. However, one woman indicated that she never cared what her grandchildren called her. “They could have called me Dirt, and I would have been thrilled,” she said in a comment accompanying a list of “Trendy Grandmother Names” at

Thrills notwithstanding, my grandson has no choice in the matter.

So, read this carefully, Santana, you adorable baby. (I know you’ll be an early reader, especially with so many books!) Don’t call me Grandma — at least not for another 20 years. Love,Nini.

Yanick Rice Lamb, co-founder of, is an associate professor of journalism at Howard University.

What’s your nickname? Share yours or nicknames of other grandparents in the comments section below.


Also On Black America Web:
The Ten Most Interesting Little Known Black History Facts
5 photos