Category: Southern 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.
Some authors have a genuine knack for character naming, usually spread over their entire oeuvre. In the case of Margaret Mitchell, it was all focused on her only novel–Gone With the Wind–whose character names still resonate today. The 1933 book (almost titled Tomorrow is Another Day) was an unprecedented smash, selling 30 million copies and winning a Pulitzer Prize, as was the movie, released in 1939 and receiving a then-record ten Oscars. Its frequent revivals and TV screenings have kept it alive for later generations. So how have its characters’ names fared for babies over the years?
SCARLETT O’Hara. For four years following the debut of the film, Scarlett sneaked onto the bottom edge of the Social Security list. It took a glamorous young, modern movie star–Ms. Johansson–to propel it to the upper echelons. A stylish color name, it’s now in the Top 300 and sure to move higher.
RHETT Butler. So closely connected to the Clark Gable persona, it took Rhett a long time to make it into the mainstream, which it finally started to do in the fifties, along with similar names like Brett and Brent, all of which have pretty much faded.
ASHLEY Wilkes. At the time of the book’s writing, Ashley was very much a Southern gentleman’s name. It wasn’t until the early 1980′s that it really crossed the genderline, when it started to appear as female characters on soap operas like The Young and the Restless. Margaret Mitchell would have been shocked to see it beome the #1 girls’ name in America in 1991.
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