Hebrew Name for Grandmother

Jewish Grandmothers May Opt for a Different Name

Jewish grandmothers often choose to be called savta or bubbe.
Whether they call themselves savtas, bubbes or some other name, Jewish grandmothers are important family forces. Photo Ariel Skelley | Getty Images

The Jewish mother is a staple of folklore, fiction and humor. Some may be offended by the stereotyping, but others recognize the positive qualities that fed into the making of the stereotype. The Jewish mother is an involved parent, wanting above all for her children to be successful, to marry well and to have children. When that last ambition is realized, the Jewish grandmother is born -- a savta or a bubbe.

The Hebrew word for grandmother is savta. Since Hebrew uses a different alphabet from English, making transliteration necessary, words often exist in several different spellings. In the case of savta, variations are saftasavah or sabta. Some Jewish families prefer the Yiddish bubbe, sometimes because they consider it easier for children to pronounce, but some Jewish families find savta more modern and less old-world. Of course, some Jewish grandmothers opt out of the traditional terms and choose their own grandmother names.

Jewish Family Traditions

Jewish grandmothers have traditionally been considered repositories of great wisdom, especially with regard to topics such as childbirth and child care. Today young parents are more likely to turn to their friends, their doctors or the Internet to learn about these topics. That can be challenging for Jewish grandparents. Grandmothers remain, however, a valuable repository of information about the Jewish faith and Jewish traditions. Many face the challenge of grandparenting in an interfaith family. 

Jewish grandmothers have also been noted for their cooking. Many of them are skilled in making the traditional foods, such as challah, matzo ball soup and kugel. Following a period when the younger generation didn't seem too interested in cooking from scratch, today websites such as Beyond Bubbie flourish as they preserve recipes prepared the old-fashioned way. That's fortunate, as many old-world recipes may have been on the verge of being lost. 

Traditionally, Jewish children of all ages are expected to honor and to care for their parents. In the past, multigenerational homes were traditional, the better for the adult children to care for aging parents. In the modern age, adult children are often separated from their parents by many miles, a phenomenon driven by the careers of the younger generation and by the pattern of older Jews moving to warmer climates upon retirement. These long-distance grandparents typically live quite independently and utilize technology to stay close to family members. That does not mean that the grandparents are uninvolved. Family ties typically remain quite close.

Jewish children are traditionally named after grandparents. The Ashkenazic tradition restricts the practice to grandparents who are dead. In Sephardic practice, it is fine to name a child after a living grandparent. Sometimes Jewish parents alter the name somewhat, or choose a name that is similar to the grandparent's, so that the grandparent will be honored while the child has a name that is unique. 

Helping Others

Jews have a strong tradition of charitable giving and volunteering to help others, and this is one quality that Jewish grandmothers excel in modeling for their grandchildren. Many grandmothers are active in the Hadassah Foundation, which works on behalf of girls and women in Israel and the United States. One of the most striking examples of Jewish philanthropy at work is MachsomWatch, an organization of Jewish Israeli grandmothers who monitor West Bank checkpoints to insure that the Palestinians who pass through are treated humanely by the Israel Defense Forces. 

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