This is my first question here so please be gentle with me. I have a relative staying with me from Mississippi who says things about manners and behavior in reference to his grandma-ma. It goes a little like.

My grandma-ma always said X.


My grandma-ma raised me better than to do X.

Now I've just kind of assumed that grandma-ma was a southern way of saying grandma but recently I've been lead to believe that it refers to a great-grandmother.

Sadly my relative has continued their travels and I don't have a way of touching base with them to ask.

Can someone explain to me this difference and maybe include a source where I can find out more about how it came to be. Running a google search on this kind of took me to a bunch of places that didn't answer my question.

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    Is that hyphen significant? Did your relative actually pronounce it as ‘grand-mama’ /ˈɡɹæ̃mɑːmə ~ ˈɡɹæ̃məmə/, i.e., with the same stress pattern as ‘grandmother’? Or did he pronounce like the word ‘grandma’ with an added ‘ma’ on the end, so /ˈɡɹæ̃mɑː.ˈmɑː/? I’m not sure if there’s a difference, but if there is, I would be quite likely to interpret the latter as referring to a great-grandmother (a ‘grandma[’s] ma’) and the former as a grandmother (a ‘grand mama’). Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 14:29
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    Pet names for grandparents are highly variable, in time and in place. For grandmother we have grandma, gramma, mee-maw, bubby, bubbe... these are just a few that I have heard in my life at different times and in different places; I suspect there are many, many more. I would distrust what any central source had to say, and would instead ask people who lived in the same time and place as your relative.
    – Lee Mosher
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 14:46
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    "Grandma" vs "Grandmama" could also be a family-specific distinction. I've known families where the father and son both have the same name (e.g. James) but one goes by a nickname (e.g. Jim). There's no "standard" for how the nicknames are decided; it's up to the families and individual people involved. So maybe once "Mama" became a grandma, it became necessary to call great-grandma something else... or maybe great-grandma always went by "Grandmama" in her older years because that's what her young grandchildren called her. There's a story behind everything! Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 15:16
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    There are two main possibilities. 1) "Grandmama" is simply "baby talk" for "grandma" -- a family's term of affection. 2) "Grandmama" is intended to mean "great grandmother". Many languages and dialects have such contrived terms for great grandparents.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 16:27
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    @JanusBahsJacquet I’m wondering whether his hyphenation mightn’t indicate something else in the third syllable than was in the second, perhaps [ˈɡɹæ̃məˌmɞ̞], which some rounding on that final syllable’s centralized vowel, the way you hear something of that in the meemaw of the American Deep South. But maybe I’m more thinking of French grand-maman [ɡʁɑ̃mamɑ̃] here.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 18:06

3 Answers 3


" Grandmama is an archaic form of grandma according to the http://www.oxforddictionaries.com which is is another name for a grandmother, or the mother of one's father or mother.""a grandmother; an old woman"", from ""grand"" (adjective) + ""dame"".

An interesting etymology of the word 'mama'. 1707, spelling variant of mamma. Meaning ""sexually attractive woman"" first recorded 1925 in African-American vernacular; mama's boy ""soft, effeminate male"" is from 1901. Hve a look at http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=mama But the word Grandmama was dated by 1749.


Many of my extended family members, in the North of Yorkshire, used grandma for their mother's mother and grandmama for their father's mother. I have heard of other people using variations on this to differentiate between paternal and maternal grandparents.


Simply meant Grandmother in my Georgia, southern family. I feel certain this must have been the same for your friend.

  • The other answers already cover this, though... Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 3:50

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