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posted by: Aimee Tafreshi View all posts by this author
southernmag

By Aimee Reneau Tafreshi

Some baby names call to mind sweet tea savored on a porch rocking chair overlooking Spanish moss-covered trees on a humid summer day. If you are looking for the perfect baby name for your Southern belle or gent, look no further. After living in Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, I have enjoyed hearing different variations of uniquely southern names. Some I have heard myself; others are among the most frequently bestowed names in the southern states, and some I just associate with the South.

Rhett is a distinctly southern name, as the love interest of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, and is a strong and timeless choice. My husband’s boss is named Rhett, as well as an older woman who lives down the street. As with Scarlett, the South can’t get enough of Rhett.

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pinmap

Hyperlocal is a word you hear a lot today. There’s hyperlocal news and hyperlocal food, hyperlocal weather and hyperlocal — yeah, baby names.

What are the name trends where you live? Which popular names ring through every playground and crowd every class list? What kinds of names are considered cool, and what names do you NEVER hear?

In my diverse liberal suburb of New York City, for instance, names that are ethnically distinctive and unconventional when it comes to gender identity are definitely cool. Names you hear a lot include Henry (there are three on my short block), Zoe, Izzy, and my younger son’s name, Owen.

Please tell us where you live to help put your hyperlocal baby names report in context. If you’re not comfortable revealing your exact locale, you can say “a gentrifying neighborhood of London” or “a prosperous town in Silicon Valley.” But something vaguer like “a conservative small town in New England” works too.

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A Girl Named Ellis

unisex names

On a recent trip through the South, I met two young sisters charmingly named Mason and Ellis.  Surname-names for girls are characteristic of the traditional South, where family last names have long been passed down as firsts to girls as well as boys.

Little girls might well have a conventional first name like Mary or Elizabeth, but their full name is Mary Ellis (say) and they’re known as Ellis.  The Mary or the Elizabeth might be mom and/or grandmother’s name; it’s the Ellis part that makes the name distinct.

Of course, surname-names are used for girls in many places beyond the American South these days, though not everyone likes the practice.  Boys’ names should be left to the boys, some feel, and girls’ names should be decidedly feminine, and unisex names are all-around unappealing.

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southe

There’s something unique about Southern names, with their smooshes of two girls’ names together, unusual nickname names and old-gentleman surname names, as well as classic appellations dating back to slave-naming traditions, that sets them apart from say, typically New England or Midwestern names.

So here are some interesting choices from books and plays by Southern writers about characters in Southern settings, from classics by George W. Cable and William Faulkner to more modern works like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Since we’ve covered Gone With the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird pretty thoroughly before, you won’t find Scarlett or Ashley or Atticus in this list; here are some less familiar finds.

Girls

AdaCharles Frazier, Cold Mountain

Alma—Tennessee Williams, Summer and Smoke 

AmandaTennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie

BlancheTennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

Calpurnia—Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Castalia—Allan Gurganus, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All

CelieAlice Walker, The Color Purple

ChablisJohn Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Clytie (Clytemnesta)– William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom

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mardigras2

In this week’s dispatch, Abby Sandel of AppellationMountain uncovers a treasure trove of wonderfully unique names from the history of Mardi Gras.

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, and in New Orleans, that means one thing: a parade featuring Rex, King of Carnival.  Mardi Gras parades begin days earlier, and every parade organization – called a krewe – has its royalty.  But Rex and his Queen, along with their court of Maids, Dukes, and Pages, occupy a special place in the revels.

Rex traces its roots to 1872, and their royals have been drawn from the most prominent of New Orleans families.  The men named Rex are accomplished civic leaders; their consorts are chosen from the season’s debutantes. 

Over the years, Rex and his court have worn some fascinating names – a mix of old Southern tradition and French influence.  Here are some of my favorites, drawn from decades of Mardi Gras’ reigning royals:

 GIRLS

Southern Doubles – Early days, plenty of Maids were listed as Lulu or Bessie.  Over the years, the listed names became more formal.

Bonny Lorette

Cherry Thalia

Constance Claire

Emmy Lou

Lee Logan

Maria Lisette

Marie Celeste

Mary Nell

Nancy Eugenie

Shawn Ruth

Family Surnames – While the widespread popularity of choices like Madison and Taylor is a recent phenomenon, Southern girls have worn family surnames for generations.

Hanton

Ingersoll

Lanier

Sedley

Townsend

Wilder

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