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Asian Grandparents Have Influence, Status

Grandparent Names, Customs Vary in Asian Families


Chinese family eating at table outdoors
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It is difficult to make generalizations about Asian grandparents as naming traditions and customs vary considerably from country to country. Some customs survive in Asian immigrant families, and some are replaced as the immigrants are assimilated into their adopted cultures. Still, some commonalities exist.

Names for Asian Grandparents

In some Asian cultures, maternal and paternal grandparents are given different names. Such naming traditions mean that cousins often call grandparents different names depending upon whether they are related through their mother or father.

Due to the difficulty of translation as well as regional differences, the following list of Asian grandparent names should be considered a general guide.

  • China (Mandarin): Ye Ye for paternal grandfather, Nai Nai for paternal grandmother; Lao Ye for maternal grandfather, Lao Lao for maternal grandmother
  • China (Cantonese): Ye Ye for paternal grandfather, Ma Ma for paternal grandmother; Ngoi Gung for maternal grandfather, Ngoi Po (sometimes Po Po) for maternal grandmother.
  • Taiwan: Agong (sometimes Gong Gong) for grandfather, Ama for grandmother
  • India (Bengali): Thakur-da for paternal grandfather, Thakur-ma for paternal grandfather; Dadu for maternal grandfather, Dida for maternal grandmother
  • India (other dialects): Daada for paternal grandfather, Daadi for paternal grandmother; Naana for maternal grandfather, Nanni for maternal grandmother
  • Vietnam: Ông Nội for paternal grandfather, Bà Nội for paternal grandmother; Ông Ngoại for maternal grandfather, Bà Ngoại for maternal grandmother
  • Japan: Oji-chan for grandfather, Oba-chan for grandmother
  • Korean: Halaboji for grandfather, Halmoni for grandmother
  • Philippines: Lolo for grandfather, Lola for grandmother

Characteristics of Asian Families

Asian families tend to have two characteristics that differentiate them from more assimilated American families. First, the responsibility of adult children to care for their parents is taken very seriously in Asian cultures. Commonly, adult children are expected to supply financial assistance and health care for their parents. Second, in many Asian cultures, grandparents reside with children as a matter of tradition and honor rather than out of financial necessity.

Obviously when Asian grandparents live in a different country than their grandchildren, maintaining the traditionally close family unit is difficult. On the other hand, when grandchildren are American-born and their parents and grandparents are immigrants, a sizable generation gap can exist. When the older generations are not conversant in English, another barrier to closeness exists.

Roles of Asian Grandparents

There are other significant cultural differences For example, Americans almost universally agree that grandparents should not interfere in their children's lives. That is a new concept for many Asian families. In addition, the Asian model for the family tends to be more restrained and hierarchical than the American model. Many Asian grandparents are not openly affectionate with their grandchildren, although they love them very much.

Grandparents do play important roles in Asian families. In multi-generational family units, the grandparents are often very useful members. Typically they are active in child care and household tasks. In addition, grandparents often take on the responsibility of teaching their grandchildren the language and traditions of their homelands.

Kamo, Yoshinori. "Asian Grandparents." Handbook on Grandparenthood. Ed. Maximiliane E. Szinovácz. Greenwood Publishing. 1998. 97-112.

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