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Subject: Re: Southern names
Author: Mary   (guest, 198.81.26.49)
Date: March 21, 2004 at 5:00:43 PM
Reply to: Southern names by Meghan
Below is a long way of saying that if you want to name your baby in the Southern tradition, you must be able to say "he's named for his grandpa" or "her great aunt" or "my best friend since college." It doesn't matter what the name is. If you don't have a family or personal connection as an answer for the question "and who's little Freddie named for?" a Southerner won't consider it Southern. Particularly in the past, Southerners were likely to ask that question if the information wasn't volunteered when the baby was introduced.

I'm not a name expert, but my family is Southern (and very extended.) My experience is that the first and foremost "rule" of Southern naming is that it must be a family name, or at least one with strong personal connections to the parents. That is why even large extended families often don't have many first and middle names shared among them. That's a bit of a joke in my extended family. It also accounts for "old-fashioned" names such as Mildred or Lucius continuing to be assigned to innocent babies even unto this day.

A nuclear family with many children that exhausts the family first & middle name supply (easy to do) would then look to names of close friends and last names from the family tree. Another technique is to re-spell a name across genders. In my family, the boy's name Mordello (from a Spanish noble who did the family a favor in the 1830's) was also used for girls as Mordella (nicknames Maudie and Della.) Although past generations also used names of prominent leaders, heroes or historical figures, I suppose the current skepticism regarding public figures has put this out of fashion for a few decades. In the last century, names from history or literature were intended as a message that the family was educated (probably more so than previous generations had been,) but now this is considered a bit pretentious or odd - or just unnecessary.

These traditions sort of limit the creativity and originality of the parents, often to their frustration, but Great-Aunt Mildred or Grandpa Lucius can't be disappointed - the repercussions are too severe to be faced. :) Another Southern tradition is that you see the extended family often - so it is hard to get away with breaking "the rules" of Southern society. The only open door to originality without hurting someone's feelings was the middle name, which could then be passed on to later generations.

Sharing names is an interesting behavior. I think the purpose is to strengthen each child's family identity, and increase the feeling of family unity among the group. Southerners are all about connections, and naming is a way of demonstrating family connections, even beyond the baby's last name.

In my family in the past two generations - I would say since the 1970's - parents have rebelled against this naming tradition, just as they are dropping the old Reconstruction politics of previous generations and moving to other states to pursue careers. They are choosing non-family names that often have nothing whatsoever to do with the family or its history. This shocking :) choice bewilders the more traditional members, who are wondering what the special meaning of these new names is for the baby (probably "you don't have to live in the past.") My first reaction was that this change certainly gave the name pool a needed expansion, but I also wonder if these new names will go down to future generations, or if these children will also not use family names for their own children.

A last note. In my limited family pool of names, re-used across generations and genders to complete exhaustion, there is one long-dead prominent family member whose name was never used again. No one will speak ill of this individual so I don't know the whole story, but I have no doubt that events in his life excluded him from being considered a "decent person." Many Southern families have no tolerance for behavior that they feel brings shame to the family, and I think eliminating his name from consideration was their way of "cleaning up" the family image.

I think it is only fair to mention that my experience of how Southerners choose baby names applies to caucasion Southeners. I can't speak with authority about the significant percentage of the Southern population that is non-white, and who often have different customs. I believe there has also been a general tradition of passing along family names that is also being left behind to some extent by more recent generations. Someone with more personal experience could speak to that more directly.

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