Aging boomers seek ‘grand’ appellations
By SUSAN FELT, Arizona Republic
Posted Monday, April 23, 2007
Mercedes Thomas, 2, calls her grandfather, Bruce Thomas, “Papa.”
Baby boomers may be besotted with being grandparents, but they’re not embossing “Grandma” or “Grandpa” on their T-shirts.
The generation that redefined parenthood is looking for a cooler title than “Granny.”
The image of grandma and grandpa has moved from actor Will Geer, who played Grandpa on “The Waltons,” to rocker Mick Jagger and actress Goldie Hawn, who anointed herself “Glamma” when her grandson was born.
This is the generation that says middle age begins at 48 and old age doesn’t start until 75 or later, according to Matt Thornhill, founder and president of the Boomer Project, a marketing, consulting and research firm in Richmond, Va.
“Boomers are going to change what it means to be a grandparent,” he says. And they want names that reflect that relationship.
But it’s not just about boomers’ drive to feel forever youthful and relevant that has many scouring Web sites such as grandboomers.com and name nerds.com for names their grandchildren can call them.
Only 12 percent of boomer grandparents — 27.2 million — are retired, Thornhill says, quoting from a survey the Boomer Project conducted in February.
They generally are healthier, more active and wealthier than previous generations.
When Julia Sohn’s 3-month-old granddaughter, Shobi, is old enough to talk, Sohn does not want to hear, “Hello, Grandmother.”
” ‘Grandma’ just didn’t fit,” says Julia, a 47-year-old human-resources executive in Phoenix.
“Grandpa” suits her husband, Ed, just fine, although he indulged Julia in a search for alternatives before Shobi was born — even toying with “Opa,” the German word for grandfather.
But Julia will be called “GG,” a name that morphed from “GJ,” for Grandma Julia. At least, that’s what she hopes.
“I will bake cookies. I will do all the grandmotherly things, but I see being called something more silly and fun,” she says.
Rebecca Bond, the 53-year-old step-grandmother of 3-year-old Bridget, agrees.
“I’m not a little old lady with white hair sitting in a rocking chair and knitting,” says Bond, who’s director of Tempe, Ariz., Connections Cafe, a place designed for boomers like herself. “And I’m going to be called this in public. It’s weird that it seemed important, but it is important.”
Bridget calls her grandmother “Nina,” a name the little girl devised on her own.
Boomers’ high divorce rate has added a twist to the grand name game. Those in second or third marriages may have grandkids as well as their own young children and want a jazzier name.
Consider boomer Donald Trump, who becomes a granddad this summer as he cuddles infant son Baron.
“You don’t want to be called ‘Daddy’ and ‘Grandpa’ at the same time,” says Allan Zullo, who with wife Kathryn, wrote “The Boomer’s Guide to Grandparenting” (Andrews McNeel Publishing, 2004, $12.95, paperback).
A blended family triggered the what-are-the-grandchildren-going-to-call-us conversation for Martha Christiansen, associate vice president of student initiatives at Arizona State University in Tempe: What is her stepson’s child going to call Dad’s second wife?
“We asked the kids what they (the grandchildren) wanted to call us,” Christiansen says. It was “Nana” and “Poppy,” in keeping with a family tradition.
“I don’t see myself as a grandma or grammy,” says Christiansen, 59. “I wanted something perkier.”
Generations specialist Chuck Underwood, president of Generational Imperatives, a Cincinnati-based research and marketing consulting firm, argues that boomers don’t mind being called “Grandma” and “Grandpa” as long as they’re not marketed to in a way that conjures up the stereotypical white-haired, rocking-chair image.
“If there can be an alternative name that doesn’t attach aging to that life stage of grandparenthood, boomers are certainly the generation that will embrace that name change,” Underwood says.
Boomers are embracing grandparenthood, he says. Those who were divorced and perhaps distracted by careers as their kids grew up now want to strengthen the family unit they feel they damaged.
“They are coming into grandparenthood with a desire to connect with their grandchildren,” Underwood says.
If boomers are reluctant to embrace the traditional titles, it’s because they see their roles as more involved, Zullo says. Their children may be single parents struggling to raise their own kids and thus depend on Mom and Dad.