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Southern Names

Misnomers

As fun and interesting as some of the classically Southern names are, they're often not good choices for today's babies. Names such as Florine and Beulah are very dated, regardless of how they are used.

Name Dropping

If your family is from the South, you may have ancestors with names that have a decidedly Celtic flair, as many of the earliest settlers of this region were Scottish, Irish, or Welsh rather than English. Because the majority of people from the South are descended from settlers arriving at later dates, using these Celtic names are not a strong indication of a Southern heritage, but they are indeed as authentically Southern as they come.

The South has long been a leader in unusual or uncommon names, and known for using name forms that are entirely unique to this part of the country. Virtue names have always been popular here. Also a favorite are flowery, feminine names for girls, thanks to the early settlers of Louisiana, who brought with them the French name forms of the harder-edged English names commonly used in the Northeast. You'll find more Annabelles, Claudettes, Paulettes, and Claires here than anywhere else. Beaus and Fredericks also abound. You'll also find lots of Bible names in use down here, both common and unusual. (It isn't called the Bible Belt for nothing!)

Many southern names are derived from Civil War heroes or from places where strategic battles took place. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell's classic southern novel, is a treasure trove of these names, as well as other traditional southern names. Such southern authors as Pat Conroy, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Flannery O'Connor use southern names extensively in their work. You'll hear some great southern names in plays like Steel Magnolias (which was also made into a film and is sure to be available at your local video store), which was set in Louisiana. Truvy, Oisa, Shelby, Arnelle, and Jackson are just some of the quintessentially southern names that were used in this movie.

Other examples of southern names can be found in movies such as:

  • Gone With the Wind. While Scarlett was probably the only name to gain much fame (and then, only briefly) from this popular novel turned movie, it remains a treasure trove of southern-sounding names to this day, including Suellen and Careen (Scarlett's sisters); India and Ashley Wilkes; Beau (Ashley's son by Melanie Hamilton Wilkes); and Maybelle.
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The 1958 film version of Tennessee Williams' play included characters named Maggie, Brick, Mae, Sonny, Dixie, and Trixie.
  • The Big Easy. Set in New Orleans, Louisiana, this 1987 flick starred Dennis Quaid as the Cajun cop Remy McSwain. Remy means “from Rheims,” a town in central France, and reflects the strong influence that the French settlers of Louisiana had on the names given to children here.
  • Driving Miss Daisy. Based on Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, this 1989 movie contained some classic southern given and pet names, including Daisy, Hoke, Boolie, Florine, Idella, and Beulah.

Howdee, Billy Bob!

Alphabet Soup

Double derivative boys' names are also known as good ol'boy names.

The South is the home of the “double d,” the only place in the U.S. besides Texas where the combination of two derivative names is often used as a given or a pet name. No one is quite sure how these names came into being, but there's no denying that such names as Jim Bob, Billie Sue, Bobbie Jo, and Peggy Ann are the property of the South. You won't hear them much above the Mason-Dixon line, and they're virtually never given to children in any other part of the country but here.

Surprising, for as much as southerners like feminine names for their girls', a diminutive masculine name followed by a single-syllable girls' name, like Charlotte Sue or Rayette Ann, is also a popular name form.

Southerly Stars

What's in a Name

According to name researchers, mothers in the South—particularly the Deep South—are more likely to invent names than those in other parts of the U.S.

Another resource for southern names are the movers and shakers whose names you probably see fairly often in the news or on the silver screen. Following is a short list of a few famous southerners whose names may or may not conjure up images of life below the Mason Dixon, but they definitely are packed with star power:

  • Lamar Alexander. Former Tennessee governor who hails from Maryville, Tennessee.
  • Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Defense attorney who rose to fame defending O.J. Simpson. He's from Shreveport, Louisiana.
  • Elizabeth Dole. Although Elizabeth isn't particularly southern, her pet name, Liddie, is. She hails from Salisbury, North Carolina.
  • Delta Burke. This actress hails from Florida and is as southern as they come.
  • Dixie Carter. Also as southern as they come, Carter was born in McLemoresville, Tennessee.
  • Sam Nunn. Politican from Georgia.
  • Dolly Parton. This famous singer and actress calls Sevierville, Tennessee, home, and maintains a presence there to this day thanks to Dollywood, the theme park she built nearby.
  • Billy Graham. The famed evangelist entered the world in Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • Billy Bob Thornton. This actor/director hails from Hot Springs, Arkansas.
  • Loretta Lynn. The chart-topping country western artist was the daughter of a coalminer and grew up in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky.

More on: Choosing a Name

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baby Names © 1999 by Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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