Names for Grandmothers From Around the World

Many grandmothers choose ethnic grandmother names.
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Modern grandmothers are expanding their roles and selecting varied names for themselves. There are lots of Omas who aren't German and many Lolas who aren't Filipino. If you like the sound of one of these grandmother names from another country, you should feel free to select it, although it's a good idea to discuss whatever name you choose with the parents of your grandchild first.

Many of these names appear in several variations and spellings. Remember that languages use a variety of alphabets, which can make translating them into English tricky.

Grandmother Names From Around the World

These names are among those most frequently chosen, likely because they sound familiar and are easy to say and spell.

  • The Phillippines: Lola is the most popular grandmother name. Other names used by Filipinos include names for mother which grandchildren pick up, such as Inang and its variations Nanang and Nanay.
  • France: Popular choices are Grand-mère or Grandmere, but Grand-maman is also used occasionally. Children in France may call their grandmothers Gra-mere, Mémé, and Mamé.
  • Quebec: Mémé and Mamie are most often used by French Canadians.
  • Germany: Oma is one of the most popular international names for grandmothers and is often used to address grandmothers with no German heritage.
  • Greece: Maybe because it just sounds joyful, the Greek YaYa is a popular grandmother nickname. It's sometimes hyphenated and sometimes rendered as YiaYia.
  • Hawaii: Tutu is often used for grandparents of both genders, although technically grandmothers are Tutu Wahine and grandfathers are Tutu Kane.
  • Italy: Nonna is a popular grandmother's name, possibly because it is close to Nana and other familiar grandmother nicknames.

Less Familiar Grandmother Names

The names that follow don't roll as easily off the tongue, and some of them can be real challenges to spell. For that reason, not too many grandmothers select them unless they do reflect at least a part of their heritage. Also note: In Europe, where there has been a lot of movement across borders, grandmother names used in one country are frequently heard in neighboring countries as well.

  • China: Popular Chinese names for grandmothers include NaiNai, Ma Ma, Po Po, and Wai Po, but the exact name chosen depends upon the region, the language and whether a grandmother is on the maternal or paternal side.
  • Flanders: Flanders is the northern part of Belgium, where the primary language is Flemish. Bomma and Bommi are common Flemish names for a grandmother, but the Flemish also uses Oma or Omi. 
  • Israel and Hebrew-speaking communities: Jewish grandmothers typically choose either the Hebrew Savta or the Yiddish Bubbe. Both have several variant spellings.
  • Ireland: Seanmháthair is Irish for grandmother, but Irish children are much more likely to use Maimeó or Móraí.
  • Japan: Obaasan is the Japanese word for grandmother, but Japanese boys and girls are much more likely to call their grandmothers Sobo.
  • Korea: Halmoni is commonly used, although it can be spelled as Halmeoni or shorted to Halmi.
  • Poland: Babcia, Babciu, Babunia, Babula, and Babusia are all variations of Polish names for grandmother. Is it any wonder that Polish grandchildren often shorten these terms to Baba?
  • Brazil and Portugal: Both the Portuguese term for grandmother and the one for grandfather are spelled Avo, but they have different diacritical markings and pronunciations.
  • Russia: Babushka is the name children in Russia call their grandmother, and, yes, the Russian nesting dolls are sometimes called babushka dolls.
  • Spain and Latin America: Abuela and Abuelita are common terms, often shortened to Lita.

More International Choices

These languages offer some more interesting options for grandmother names.

  • Armenian: The Armenian language is an ancient tongue that uses its own alphabet. The Armenian word for grandmother, transliterated, is Tatik.
  • Khmer: Khmer is the official language of Cambodia, and a grandma is Yeay or Yiey
  • Croatian: The Croatian language is spoken in Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and neighboring areas. The Croatian word for grandmother is Baka.
  • IcelandicAmma is the Icelandic word for grandmother. In several other languages, the word means "mother."
  • Malay: People in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia may speak Malay. The Malay word for grandmother is Nenek.
  • Romanian: People in Romania and Moldova may speak Romanian and may call their grandmother Bunica.
  • Swahili: Many Africans speak Swahili. It is the official language of Tanzania, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Swahili word for grandmother is Bibi.
1 Source
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  1. University of Kansas, African and African-American Studies. Introduction to the Kiswahili Language.

By Susan Adcox
Susan Adcox is a writer covering grandparenting and author of Stories From My Grandparent: An Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild.