Juliet’s declaration that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” might have resolved things for Romeo, but had she lived here in the South, we would have needed more clarification. To which Rose was she referring? Rose Iris? Rose Violet? Rose Lily?
Down here, we have more Roses than thorns, and a young lady’s good name frequently involves at least two flowers. Unusual names are not the sole domain of the South, but like making sweet tea and small talk, we have a gift for giving our children names that are meaningful, charming, and singularly Southern sounding.
In other parts of the country, having several first or middle names might indicate four or five marriages and a complicated blended family. Down here, it’s as normal as high school football on a Friday night, but it can make calling our children in for dinner a nearly 30-minute project. Often these double barrel names are chosen because they just roll sweetly off the tongue, like Mary Virginia, Ellie Mae, John Dawson, or Andrew James. But sometimes those added names are a necessary way of keeping everybody straight. Call “Hunter” at a family reunion, and eight boys might come a running. Call “Hunter Lee,” and you will have narrowed it down to perhaps three youngsters. Call “Hunter Lee Waverly the Third,” and one very nervous little boy will slink up, knowing that he is most certainly in trouble.
Some second names are more popular than others. Bob can, and has, been dropped into almost every first name under the Southern sky. Billy Bob, Jimmy Bob, Joe Bob, Tommy Bob, and even Bobby Sue have all bobbed up a time or two. And while bobbing in the sea of names, we might go to Lee as a second name that can be attached to either boys or girls, such as Mary Lee, Georgia Lee, or Cody Lee. For girls, the Lee sometimes gives way to Lynn, and you might find yourself being introduced to Gracie Lynn or Peggy Lynn. And everyone in the South knows at least one woman with a “May” or “Mae” in her name, like Lula Mae or Celia Mae. The month of May may be gorgeous everywhere, but our Maes are cuter than a June bug.
A June bug, however, might argue that she is cuter than Mae because many lady June Bugs are wandering the South. Sometimes it starts out as a nickname, but after years of being called June Bug, it no longer matters if that is the name printed on the birth certificate or not. Once a June Bug, always a June Bug. And since Southerners spend so much time outdoors, it’s no surprise that many of our children sport names that reflect our love of nature. It’s not uncommon for a classroom roster to include names like Cricket, Petal, Brooke, Forrest, Glenn, River, Clay, and of course, Rose.
If you meet a Pearl or a Ruby, there is a good chance they were born in the South. Our children are our treasures, so Micahs, Jades, and Crystals abound.
In a region where you might be asked, “What’s your church family,” right after the initial double barrel name introductions have ceased, it makes sense that many Southern names are spiritually inspired. We could pack the pews and raise the rafters with Southern-born children named Caleb, Matthew, John, Noah, Faith, Mercy, Rachael, and Rebecca.
Southerners play as hard as they work, and favorite pastimes are often considered as a possible child’s name. Hunter is a classic Southern name that is derived from a classic Southern activity, as are the names Remington, Oakley, Easton, Gunner, and Archer. Names like Ford or Axle might have originated from some big rig enthusiast born into the family a generation or so ago. Minnow and Tadpole, which usually start out as childhood nicknames in a family fond of fishing, can end up following a person throughout a lifetime. And since cooking and eating are an integral part of our Southern culture, spend a little time down here and you are sure to meet a Benedict, Baker, Rosemary, Peaches, Clementine, Olive, Ambrosia, Ginger, or Melba.
Drinking is unarguably a popular pastime in the South, so it stands to reason that some children are blessed with the names of their parents’ favorite drink. To be fair, not all such names come from a boozy beverage. Sometimes the alcohol was originally named after a person. That said, I have personally met a Courvoisier, a Skyy, and a Jameson, and have heard stories about a man whose given name was Jim Beam and another named Jack Daniels. Other more mainstream — but no less spirited — Southern names include Sherry, Bailey, and Brandy.
In the South, the title “junior” can be applied just about anywhere in a boy’s name. Sure, there is the traditional, at the end placement, like Thomas Junior. But it could also pop up in the middle, as in Andrew Junior James, or at the front, like my cousin, Junior Bill. Occasionally it is used by itself — Junior — but only in small gatherings because given more people-packed situations, such as those found in a bar, 12 men of varying ages are apt to raise their hands if the bartender shouts out, “Is there a Junior in here?”
Threes and Fours are also fairly common, and you might run into an occasional Five or Six. This isn’t just a roman numeral stuck at the end of name. A boy who is the fourth generation Wyatt in his family might be called Wyatt Four, in some cases simply Four, and others possibly Court. Trip is a nickname for the third as is Quint for the fifth.
And men aren’t the only ones given names that designate their place in the family. What might start off as a nickname, like “Sister” if a girl is the second born child, may end up being the name for which she is known her entire life. There are Sister Maes and Sister Pipers running about, none of whom are associated with any sort of convent. And Aunties are aplenty — with whole communities calling a woman Auntie Abigail even though no actual DNA is shared.
These are just a few of our many wild but wonderful Southern names. Juliet might have pondered, “What’s in a name?” but down here we know exactly what it contains. Our names, like our hearts, are filled to overflowing with family pride, an appreciation for quirky traditions, and an unshakeable love of home — and they are just one more thing we adore about being uniquely Southern.