Guest blogger Elisabeth Wilborn of You Can’t Call It “It”, a writer, artist, and mother who lives in Brooklyn, New York, brings us this look at the jambalaya of names native to the Louisiana Bayou.
An inspiration for everything from vampires to voodoo, from zydeco to the Krewe of Zulu, Louisiana has been a colorful melting pot of divergent cultures for centuries. Cajuns from Canada, Creoles and others of Haitian, African, Italian, Spanish, or Native American descent, all come together to form a mélange of backgrounds, and in point of fact, names. Most share a history of French language and Catholicism, even if it’s not by blood. While these may not be the choices in use today in the Bayou, they have been culled from historical documents, maps, and folklore from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries. The majority are either French proper, or my favorite, Frenchified. Still more trace their roots to Classical Greco–Roman civilization, deep Southern culture, or are somewhere farther afield and include a curious preponderance of the letter Z.
So come on! Allez-y! Chew on these names (and some maque choux), prepare to bare all for those beads, and laissez les bon temps roulez!
Acadia– The word Cajun itself has its origins in Acadian
Avoyelles– This Cajun Parish might be picked up as a first name, piggybacking on the current Ava and Ellie love
Bernadette– A much beloved Catholic saint, and one of the prettiest songs in the native New Orleans Neville Brothers repertoire
Delphine– While Delphine is a lovely and lilting name, Delphine LaLaurie was a famous socialite and sadist who tortured her slaves
Dixie– Used to refer to the South at large, this may have originated in New Orleans on the ten dollar bill, upon which a local bank printed “dix”, the French for ten.
Eugenie– Napoleon‘s first love
Evangeline– An epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow recalling the 1755 deportation of Acadian Canadians to the newly Spanish Louisiana
Hiawatha– Another tale regaled by Longfellow, Hiawatha may not have been from the Bayou, but she had namesakes here
Josephine– Napoleon‘s (second) love
Magnolia– The state flower of Louisiana
Mahalia– Mahalia Jackson is a gospel and blues singer from the area, with a name worth borrowing
Marie– Marie Laveau was a reknowned Voodoo Queen who was visited by slaves and owners alike
Ola, Olla Mae, Olima
Sabine– The Sabine River runs through Louisiana
Tammany- Parish north of New Orleans
Zenobia (also spotted as Senobia)
Amos– Amos Moses is a song by Jerry Reed about a fictional one armed alligator-hunting Cajun man
Beau, Beauregard– Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard was the most famous Civil War soldier from New Orleans and fought in the Battle of Shiloh; his ghost is said to roam the streets of New Orleans whispering “Shiloh“, which means “place of peace”
Bernard– Parish east of New Orleans
Charles– Geographically, Charles is everywhere, from a street in NOLA to the western city of Lake Charles to St. Charles Parish in the east
Dagobert– Pere Dagobert was a well-respected 18th century priest who is still said to be heard singing “Kyrie” while keeping a watchful eye over the city of New Orleans.
Gustave –2008’s Hurricane Gustav (yes, that’s the way the storm was spelled) may have dampened enthusiasm for this name.
Jean–Baptiste– Jean–Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville founded Nouvelle-Orleans in 1718
Landry– St. Landry Parish is home to many a Cajun
LeRoy– Leroy is originally from “le roi” or, “the king”
Louis –Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima are both Louisiana natives
Philippe– The city was named for Philippe II, Duc d’Orleans
Pierre– Pierre Augustin Charles Bourguignon Derbigny was among Louisiana‘s Creole governors
Theodore, Theodule, Theophile, Theophilus
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