Southern-Fried Baby Names: Rhett, Scarlett and Savannah
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.
Wyatt and Luke – I hear these names everywhere–I have four girlfriends with young sons named Luke. Luke is a strong name, rooted in the Bible and is classic, but a little cooler than other traditional names. I can’t help but think of Wyatt Earp when I hear the name Wyatt, with: a great choice for your urban cowboy. Also along the cowboy lines, McCrae is an edgier choice that calls to mind Lonesome Dove and writer Larry McMurtry. A Texas childhood friend of mine bestowed this name upon her new baby boy.
My daughter knows a little boy named Chevy, but he pronounces it like the truck, not as the actor Chevy Chase does. It doesn’t get much more Southern than being named after a tough truck. We have also encountered little friends named Rainey, Nola and Pate (shortened from Payton). Nola is the popular nickname for soulful New Orleans and was also the name of Scarlett Johansson’s character in Woody Allen’s film Match Point.
Many celebrities have taken the southern route when naming their children. Reese Witherspoon’s young son is named Tennessee, possibly an homage to her home state. Brad Paisley named his two sons William Huckleberry (“Huck”) and Jasper Warren, both names befitting a country star’s offspring. A new reality series, Southern Charm, includes two Charleston gentlemen with the names of Whitney and Shephard, who goes by Shep. Nothing says Charleston like a name that combines old money with a little eccentricity.
Out of curiosity, I took a look at the most recent Social Security Administration state popularity lists. In the Palmetto State of South Carolina, Hunter, Eli, Bentley, Austin, Easton, Chase, Cooper and Levi all made the Top 100. Cooper is also the name of a prominent river that runs through the state.
For the debutante set, South Carolina prefers Savannah (Charleston’s Georgia counterpart), Avery, Amelia, Paisley, Scarlett, Ryleigh, Annabelle and Jasmine, Avery being a name that could be used for a boy or a girl. In the South it is perfectly acceptable to reassign names to the opposite gender: I know a little boy named Avery and a little girl named Elliott. Annabelle was a nice surprise; I haven’t heard the name too often, and the moniker is oozing with charm.
Further south down the interstate, Georgia parents favor Logan, Bryson, Owen and Jace for boys. Some non-southern place names made the Top 100 list for girls: London and Londyn, as well as Brooklyn. More traditional names Lillian, Charlotte and Caroline also made the cut, as well as bubbly cousins Kinsley and Ansley. Rounding out the list are Hannah, Peyton, Morgan, steadfast Faith and the graceful Camila.
Down in Mississippi, similar sounding Hayden, Braylen/Braylon, Brody and Rylan are all the rage. Cameron and Colton are also well liked, while Sawyer and Tucker tied for the 100th spot. Sawyer calls to mind Mark Twain, Huck FInn and adventures along the Mississippi River. Hearing Tucker, one might think of conservative commentator Tucker Carlson and his conspicuously southern bow ties.
Like their state’s name, Mississippians continue their love of double letters by adding ‘e’s to Aubree, Kaylee and Kylee. And speaking of Kylee, these southerners can’t get enough of it, also using the traditional Kylie and artsier Kyleigh. Some residents may have big city dreams with names like London and Londyn, while classic Anna, peppy Skylar, sophisticated Alexis and beautiful Bella also made the Top 100 list.
“A” names were also popular, with the vintage-sounding Adalyn, whimsical Ariel and girl next door Allie joining the group. Finally, Presley (a shout-out to the Mississippi-born King of Rock), Sadie and Hadley (also known as Ernest Hemingway’s first wife) rounded out the Top 100.
In Alabama, the tide rolled in with Carter, Christian, Gavin, old school Justin, Tristan and preppy Preston for boys, while Reagan, Ellie, Lydia, Evelyn, Layla, Maci and Maggie scored big for girls. Lydia has a classic sound but a fresh feel.
The last state I examined was Texas. The popular girls’ names surprised me, as many choices that were popular in the ‘80s when I was growing up have made a comeback. Allison, Amy, Andrea, Ashley, Jennifer, Lauren, Melanie, Nicole and Stephanie all cracked the Top 100. Shortening Andrea to Andi or Jennifer to Jenny adds more twang to these options. More modern choices included Maya, Jade, Giselle and Ruby. For boys, some less traditional choices comprised Gael, Damian, Evan, Ivan and Joel.
For those who are hesitant to commit to a name that is too evocative of the South, other techniques include adding a middle name such as Lynn, Rae, Jo, Rose or Mae. I knew a girl whose family moved to Texas from the Midwest and was worried about fitting in, so they gave their youngest daughter the middle name Lynn, and voilà, instant southern street cred. The singer Delta Rae has the perfect southern combo name and calls to mind another strong southern woman, Delta Burke.
Whether you go whole hog with a fully loaded southern name, or sprinkle in a middle accent name, there are many ways to add southern charm to your baby’s image. My personal favorite du jour is Jessalyn, and the more traditional Jessamine is interesting too. For boys, I adore Rhett and Beau and like Courtney and its shortened form Court. What are your favorite names of the South?
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on March 10th, 2014 at 8:37 am
I may be a Yankee, but Southern-style names are some of my favorites- especially for girls. Hannah, Hadley, and Morgan top my list for girls. Also Rae and Lee are great names for the middle spot.
on March 10th, 2014 at 8:54 am
As a Texan, I can confirm that all these names are well-used. I go to school with a Jesslyn, actually. One of the reasons for more “exotic” names is that we have a very large population of Hispanic people.
One Southern tradition I didn’t see mentioned is that of giving the first-born child in a family their mother’s maiden name as a first. I have friends named Mason, Cameron, and Deas as well as a friend with the double-barrelled name (also very Southern) of Mary Payne with Payne being her mother’s maiden name.
on March 10th, 2014 at 10:02 am
I’m actually not American, but Gone With the Wind is one of my favourite novels (actually reading it again now)! I love so many of the names from it. Scarlett, Melanie, Rhett, and Ashley of course, and so many of the minor characters’ names: Maybelle, Fanny, Darcy (on a boy!), Stuart, Gerald, India, Beauregard, Henry, Beatrice, etc. I wonder how many of those names were actually used in the South at the time though- Scarlett and Melanie especially seem too modern for the 1840s when they would have been born in the novel.
on March 10th, 2014 at 10:19 am
Interesting and enjoyable article!
on March 11th, 2014 at 8:00 am
Trysaratops, I like your favorites, especially Hadley! Cait, yes, there are indeed a good number of Hispanic names on the top 100 list for Texas — I am a native Texan too, and you can really see the population shift to a greater Mexican-American population. And I like the tradition you pointed out about giving your child the mother’s maiden name as a first name — I saw a lot of that when I was living in Charleston, too. My grandmother’s maiden name is Wortham, and I always thought that would be neat for a first name. And you’re right about the “double-barreled” names — there are a lot of those in the South too! Bonfireazalea, I agree that Gone with the Wind provides some fantastic naming inspiration! And they do seem ahead of its time! Thanks for your feedback Saracita!
on March 12th, 2014 at 12:01 pm
The maiden name thing is all over the South. My daughter’s name is Cates, which was her great-grandmother’s maiden name. When I tell non-Southerners her name, I get a lot of, “Huh, that’s interesting,” but other Southerners always get it 🙂
on March 14th, 2014 at 8:07 pm
I am a lifelong Georgian who now calls Savannah home, and I found myself nodding and smiling throughout your post. Southern names abound in my family. My brother’s name is Gardner, my mother’s maiden name. My three boys are Carter, Benton and Jon Tucker. And to further solidify the stereotype, we love bow ties and seersucker.
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