Posted by: downtothesea | April 21, 2009

The language of genealogy.

In Swedish, the words for one’s grandparents delineate which side of the family each grandparent comes from.  For example:

Your mother’s father:  morfar

Your mother’s mother:  mormor

Your father’s mother:  farmor

Your father’s father:  farfar

My mother is a first-generation Swedish American, so she always referred to her grandparents this way.  She still does.  It only recently occurred to me how incredibly useful this system is.  When she talks about “Mormor,” everyone always knows which grandparent she is speaking of:  her mother’s mother. 

When I speak of my grandparents, I have to use their last names to differentiate, and now because I’m deep into genealogy, confusion arises.  I was recently asking my mother a genealogical question about her mother, who was always “Grandma Erikson” to me.  But my mother inadvertently skipped back a generation in her mind and began telling me about her “Grandma Erikson,” her father’s mother.  We went back and forth for a while, each of us confusing the other more and more, until I realized the problem and said, “No, no–not your farmor, MY mormor.”  “Oh,” said my mother.  “Now I understand.”

Oh English.  Why can’t you be more like Swedish?

My morfar and mormor, Gus and Margaret Erikson, and me, 1979.

My morfar and mormor, Gus and Margaret Erikson, and me, 1979.



  1. Hey there Amy – Thanks for stopping by my blog. Glad you had a memory moment reading about the Northampton State Hospital. I hear that many liked to walk the grounds of the place. Too bad they demolished it.

    I love the idea of this naming convention for grandparents. My kids refer to their grandparents by the pets that they have… Grandma Bandit, Grandma Puffer and Grandma Spud and my 91yr old grandmother is lovingly referred to by my 4 year old as “the small grandma”. The problem with this pet naming – the pets eventually die and the younger kids have no idea why they’re called this 🙂 You’ve given me a great idea for a blog post.
    Thanks again for stopping by and commenting!
    have a good one!

  2. I agree – English isn’t very good for relationships. Russian distinguishes among various types of in-laws and uses patronymics in addition to given names and family names, so that’s helpful.

  3. Something I may have mentioned to you before, but we’ve always called my mom’s mom ‘Gran’. No one else I knew as a child used that word, it was always ‘grandma’ (with or without surname), ‘nanna’, or variations. It was only when I got to Scotland and started to hear people using ‘gran’ quite commonly that it clicked; this word had come with my great-grandfather from greater Glasgow and it didn’t get lost in translation. Such a funny little thing to get excited about, but I was.

    And Swedish has got it sorted when it comes to naming grandparents.

  4. Hi ~
    I just nominated you for the “One Lovely Blog” award. Please stop over at Random Relatives to pick it up!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: