Category: Southern baby names
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.
Castalia—Allan Gurganus, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All
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:
Blame L’il Abner, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Andy Griffith and even The Simpsons, for the fact that some names have long been stereotyped as aw shucks, rube, hick, hayseed, country bumpkin names. Well, one of our causes here at nameberry is the slaying of stereotypes, and we think there are names here that are definitely worthy of resuscitation. Some of them are already making their way back from that cartoony pigeonholing—there have, for example, been starbabies and civilian named Chester, Gus, Homer, Jasper, and certainly lots of Lukes—but they all deserve a second look–I think several of them have a nice, down home, funky appeal.
BARNEY (has other problems related to prehistoric purple)
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