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Where does "Nan" come from?

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ProfilePosted byOptionsPost Date


Malcolm Report 27 Jul 2013 11:53

I always use correct titles when posting about relatives...Father, Grandfather, Grandmother etc.

In Scotland we refer to our Grandmother as Granny or Gran....but I notice that English people use "Nan". I used to think this was short for Aunt and still find it a bit confusing as a "Nanny" is a child carer in my book.

So where did "Nan" originate? (I'm not including Catherine Tates version which is IMO Vile)


+++DetEcTive+++ Report 27 Jul 2013 12:00

We would use Nan as a derivative of Nana - also spelt Nanna.

No - don't know where it comes from!


Graham Report 27 Jul 2013 12:04

I think it is only rich people that can afford to hire a nanny. Most people rely on relatives to give a helping hand. ;-)


+++DetEcTive+++ Report 27 Jul 2013 12:06

Medieval Latin nonna old woman]
The word nan for grandma is a shortening of the word nana. Both of these words probably are child pronunciations of the word nanny. Etymonline describes this word as originating as a child's word for "female adult other than mother". This is why nanny is used as the word for a caretaker of children (since the 18th century) as well as a grandmother (since the early 20th century). Etymonline also notes that nanna is also a Greek word for aunt.

"female adult other than mother" could originally apply to working families where the grandmother lived with them and helped out with child care


Reggie Report 27 Jul 2013 12:19

That's rather a sweeping generalisation...........

I'm English, and have never used the term 'Nan'

I addressed both of my grandmothers as 'grandma'.......and when speaking about them, added the surname for clarification


+++DetEcTive+++ Report 27 Jul 2013 12:26

I only had one living female grandparent left by the time I was born. She was called Nana.

When our children came along, one grandmother wanted to be called Nana, the other Grandma.

OH's grandmothers were alive when he was born. They were also differentiated as Nana and Grandma!


DazedConfused Report 27 Jul 2013 12:36

My g/gran and my gran hated the term Nan/Nanny

My g/gran had been a Nanny so as far a she was concerned a Nanny was a paid servant.

I also hate the term Nan or Nanny

But as I have no children this will never bother me.

And Nan as a name is just a derivitive of Ann - Anne Boleyn was also known as Nan Boleyn


jax Report 27 Jul 2013 12:42

I called both of my grandmothers Nan or Nanny....I wont be called it myself, will be called Grandma when she can talk

My daughters call my mum Grandma and their father's Nan


nameslessone Report 27 Jul 2013 14:13

Nan was never used in my very English family!


Sally Report 27 Jul 2013 14:36

I had only one grandparent alive when I was born who lived with us and I called her nana my mum was also known as nana and my grand children call me nana and their pals call me nan or nanny

sally w <3


wisechild Report 27 Jul 2013 14:58

As a toddler. both of my grandmothers were nan & identified by their surname. To my child´s mind, if they were Nan, my grandfathers must be Nandad & that´s what I always called them.


Potty Report 27 Jul 2013 15:34

Papa in this part of Scotland means Grandfather! My MIL (Irish) was Nanna to all of her grandchildren.


KathleenBell Report 27 Jul 2013 16:01

My son's used Nana and Gran to differentiate between my mam and hubby's mam.

Kath. x


Malcolm Report 27 Jul 2013 16:31

Thanks for the many and interesting replies. I can see that a Latin root might apply as in Nonna. In Spain the formal form of Grandmother is "Abuela" and Grandfather "Abuelo" however most small children refer to their Grandmother as "Yaya", In the Netherlands they use the informal "Oma" for Grandmother and "Opa" for Grandfather but Grosvader/moeder in the formal sense.

As I said, in Scotland it's Gran or Granny...which I suspect must also have a Latin root as a Catalan word for "old" is "Gran".

Whatever, when I see someone mentioning their Nan i'll wonder whether it's their Child Nurse, Granny or part of an Indian Meal. ;-)


SylviaInCanada Report 28 Jul 2013 07:00

I never used the word Nana ......... nor do I remember any friends who did.

Only my mother's mother was alive by the time I was born ................... and I called her Mother.

Mum was just that .............. Mum

The story goes that Mother thought she was too young to be called Grandmother when my brother was born, and so they settled on Mother and Father.

She would have been about 45. :-)

I came along 10 years later ................... and that's how I addressed them.

We were the only 2 grandchildren.

I actually don't like the word nana ....................... I'm Grandma to my grandson, OH is Grandpa.

Child's other grandparents are Grammy and Granddad .................... Grammy being a peculiarity of the Maritimes here in Canada


maggiewinchester Report 28 Jul 2013 12:56

I called both my grandmothers' Granny or Gran. When referring to them they were Granny (surname)

When my children were born, one grandmother was still alive, so my mum opted to be known as Nana.
When my first grandchild was born my Gran was STILL alive!
I don't like the term ;Nanna', so was known as Granny Mags or, later, Granny Meow, and the grandchildren's other grandmother is Granny Ruby (the dog's called Ruby, not the Gran), and her mother was Nan.
My sister has grandchildren, and is known as Grandma.
This makes it easier when on family holidays, my grandchildren refer to my sister as Grandma, and, to my sister's grandchildren, I'm Granny - much easier and friendlier than 'Great Aunt'. and slightly more distanced than 'Aunty'.

Actually, must point out that the term 'Granny Mags/Meow is moveable.
I was on the sofa watching TV with my elder grandson, when he was about 3. This was a leather sofa. He kept sliding his foot on the sofa, thereby making a 'Parping' noise - he laughed, looked at me accusingly and started calling me 'Granny Parp'. I had to point out that 'Granny' doesn't go with 'Parp'. If he must call me 'that' then the correct term was 'Grrrrrandmamamamamama Parp'. As the child is slightly tongue-tied, the 'Grrrrrrr' bit was difficult, so I became Granny Meow again

:-D :-D

I never knew my grandfathers, but they were referred to as granddad (surname).
My children only had one grandfather - my dad - who was called Grandad.
My grandchildren call one grandfather 'grandad' and the other 'Pops'.

So, basically, it's a matter of preference, there is no 'correct' title for a grandparent :-D

Edit: I'm English, but when I lived in Scotland as a child, I heard some children referring to a grandmother as 'Nan'.
So maybe it's also an 'area' thing, rather than Scottish/English thing.


GlasgowLass Report 28 Jul 2013 19:03

Odd how we use various terms for our grandparents isn't it?

My mum's mum was "Gran in Ireland" and my dad's mum was always called "Maw"

My children called my mum "Granny Bridie" and OH's mum was plain old Gran !
My dad was their Papa and the other was Grampa


Lyndi Report 28 Jul 2013 20:39

I used to call my maternal grandmother nanny - apparently she hated the thought of being called granny :-S
I hated calling her nanny and would always refer to her as granny when she wasn't in earshot!!

I am grandma to my granddaughter, but when I take her to play sessions or meet people out they invariably ask her 'are you with your nanny today?' :-| :-|

Nolls from Harrogate

Nolls from Harrogate Report 28 Jul 2013 20:54

My MIL in Scotland was always Nana or Nan to the children.

Nolls from Harrogate

Nolls from Harrogate Report 28 Jul 2013 20:56

Lyndi I don't like granny but my oldest g/son (the wee devil well 6' 2" devil) always calls me that ... It's "Aw! Here's ma wee granny coming" He's too big to give a slap to :-D