Thursday, February 15, 2007

Understanding Traditional Southern Baby Names

Any true southerner has trouble understanding why Yankees get such a laugh out of some Southern baby names. People not in the loop think double or even triple names are slapped together for no other reason than locally pleasing meter or syntax. It may be unreasonable of me, but the idea of anybody poking fun at a tradition they don't understand just makes me mad. Southerners choose their babies' names for excellent reasons. Never mind that the names that they select are most likely different than those on the list of most popular baby names for any given year!

Southern moms don't just flip through the latest books and pick names because they are cute or trendy. These ladies go through more pains in naming their kids than they did in giving birth to them! That statement may be taking it a bit too far, but folks in the south do literally agonize over what to name their baby. This is because choosing southern baby names involves much more than reading the few words in some generic baby book that lists the copycat definitions of various baby names.

Definitions are all fine and good, they have worked for the people who publish Webster's Dictionary for years! But when you start talking about naming southern boys and girls you're looking at meanings of names within families, not what they might mean to a person who speaks Latin or Hebrew!

As far as meter goes, I don't care how lightly a certain name trips off the tongue, diligence and research has to be exercised in the naming process. Care must be taken so as not to risk naming a child after a second cousin somewhere in the lineage that committed some type of faux pas back in the day. The unlucky ancestor's unfortunate misdeed could have been anything from having fought for the north to having done time in Atlanta for not having been discrete about the location of the family still. The crime would be in having been caught, as there is certainly no dishonor in making your own refreshments even in the New South.

Don't be mistaken to think that only the names of a southern child's parents or even grandparents are passed forward. There may have been a brave great great uncle who fought bravely in the war and deemed worthy of remembrance. In this instance there may be a competition every generation or so among siblings to have the first boy child. The prize for winning this rather unusual race will be that the first born son can have first dibs for the famous great grand uncle's name! Sometimes the rules of first come first serve are violated and the results are that there will be a covey of first cousins all bearing their famous ancestor's name! Talk about chaos at the family reunion! How in the world can you differentiate between all those little Beauregard namesakes? How does a body manage a shout out to one of them without bringing in the entire clan? That's where middle names come in handy and brings me to a possible theory on the southern tradition of double names!

As we all know southerners are famous for double names. Some are forced to resort to triple names so that their little Mary or Michael stands apart from the rest. Why this is a tradition credited to the south I'm not really sure. I would like to think that southerners have so many famous kin that they want to claim. This fact makes it necessary to give each child several names so that each illustrious departed family member is sufficiently honored.

I can't count the many theories where credit can be given for the reasoning of traditional southern baby naming patterns and the traditions behind them. There seems to be no definitive answer on why family names and history appear to be more important to new parents below the Mason Dixon Line than in other parts of the nation. There is however, no argument that the results are some of the most elegant and romantic names you will find printed on a birth certificate anywhere. The next time you feel tempted to giggle at a child named Billy Bob consider that the first person that bore the same name may not have perished defending a southern belle's honor but that he may have died defending our freedom and our country.

Jan Bay is a Freelance Author of Nursery Decorating Articles Baby Gear Reviews and Webmaster for Use of this article requires an active link to

About the author

Jan Bay's love of interior design and parenting was the motivation behind UNIQUE BABY GEAR IDEAS. This website details many of her nursery theme ideas, sources for decorating accessories and baby gear reviews.


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