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I frequently get asked about the Irish word for “grandmother” or “grandma,” so children in Irish-American families can start using it as a pet name. Sometimes the basic term “Grandma” has already been taken by one side of the family, so the other side may look for a different name, like “Nana” in English. Most of the people who ask for this are the actual grandmothers, not the grandfathers, but in this blog, I’ll be an equal opportunity terminologist and assume that the male and female terms are of equal interest. A Sheanaithreacha (grandfathers!), please take note!
seanmháthair, seanathair: based on the prefix “sean-“ (old)
máthair chríonna, athair críonna: based on the adjective “críonna” (wise, prudent, aged). Please note: despite the endearing bit of misinformation currently circulating on the Internet (sites will remain nameless), these terms do NOT mean “mother of my heart” and “father of my heart.” Those phrases would be based on “croí” (heart), not “críonna” (wise).
máthair mhór, athair mór: based on the adjective “mór” (big, great). I’ve mostly heard this term in Donegal.
For the more familiar terms, there are “Mamó” and “Móraí” for “grandma,” and “Daideo” for “grandpa.”
Using these words is one way that Irish words can be come part of a child’s life, and perhaps stimulate further study of the language later. Needless to say, the terms can now grace mugaí (mugs), t-léinte (t-shirts), or léinte aclaíochta (sweatshirts, lit. “exercise shirts”). Or, for that matter, any other merchandise that allows you to send in customized text for printing.
One curious feature of all of these terms is that none of them are used to create the words “grandchild,” “grandson,” or “grand-daughter.” So how do you do it? Bhuel, ag bogarnach ar an aill sin (Well, hanging on that cliff), slán go dtí an chéad bhlag eile (goodbye until the next blog).
Bhur mblagálaí – Róislín