The Bobe, or Babushka, was the old crone in the faded sepia photograph in the dusty family album or, at best, in a tiny frame tucked behind a vase on the credenza. I was not going to be that person. Long before I discovered dozens of websites full of cool names for grandmothers, I knew names like paw-paw and mam-maw from my southern friends in Miami, and I had an aunt whose grandchildren called her Mimi. My own maternal grandmother was Bebe or Grandma B. (Her name was Bertha.) When one of my daughters was a toddler, she would laugh aloud when people called grandma Bebe, confusing “bebe” with “baby,” not understanding why this old lady was called a baby. My mother, Grandma Gert, was renamed GiGi by her wealthier friends in the assisted living residence. (It took her family several years to accept, because we thought that it was much too chi-chi).
I recently asked a lifelong friend how she also got the nickname Mimi. “It didn’t start out that way,” she told me. “I was Grammy and Bob was Pa. However, baby Baily would hold out his little arms and call out me, me when he wanted me to pick him up. My daughter gave in. ‘Mom,’ she said, ‘he’s named you Mimi, so just go with it.’”
I wasn’t a grandmother yet when I chose my grandmother name. I had g-d grandchildren, and I had even adopted a little one, but they were all in Cambodia and called me Momma. While I was working in Phnom Penh, I met a hip young Danish woman who was also there doing some international work. Her name was Dalma. I was struck by her “with-it” panache, and so the name stuck with me. For many years, I thought that Dalma translated to English as “lady,” and therefore was suitably close enough to be a grandmother pseudonym. I became Dalma to my grandchildren, to their friends, and to friends’ children with whom I was close.
Dalma, pronounced d-lmaa and derived from Hausa origins in Africa, means metal or tin. It is rarely used as a name for girls in Denmark. Not being listed in the top 1,000 baby names makes it unique enough for me.