Raise your hand if you read the obituaries…in print or on line.
If you don’t, you really should. While most of them are similar in terms of the information provided, every now and then you’ll come across one that leaves you wondering what in the world the writer was thinking! I skim them, looking for anyone I might know, but I’m also on the lookout for unusual names. When I see an unusual last name, I look for where this person was born. But it’s the first name that’s most interesting to me.
Southerners have a thing for names – first names, middle names and how those names connect you to someone else. I can’t remember how many times I heard my grandmother ask, “And who are his parents?” We want to know: who are your people?
Add to that the fact that Southerners are a quirky group. The way we name our children proves it.
My family is big on the “family” name. Go to one of our family gatherings, yell “Blair, toss me that tennis ball!” and you’re liable to get a barrage of balls coming your way. We have a lot of Blairs. We have had 4 generations of Robert Alexander; no wonder Southerners use nicknames. I was named after my mom – Cornelia. It’s not a bad name, but just not one you want as a child. The classroom teacher would always pause before attempting to call my name aloud in class. Without fail, the other kids would giggle as I would replied, “I go by Connie.” My cousin was named after her mom – Erdmuth Dorothea. My aunt is called Erd (Erd Bird being the family nickname); my cousin managed to come out with the name Dottie. Older family members, like my great-uncle John Fries Blair (there’s that name again) always used our “full” names. Fortunately, our parents didn’t.
My good friend Robin has a nice name – short, easy to pronounce and spell. I’ve never asked her if she feels fortunate, but considering other names in the family, she might. Her mom’s name is Lodell. Aunts and uncles include: Creola, Mundale, Vendale and Lonie. Then there’s General Delton, General Dolan and John Target. And yes, you use both names every time.
Another friend, Dennis, tells great stories about a family in his hometown that had 6 kids – 5 girls and a boy. The girls’ names trip off his tongue with ease, like some kind of poem: Irene, Ilene, Imogene, Fayrene and Dordene. Then, bless him, comes Arvil. Add that name to the end of the line above and the rhythm comes to screeching halt. Arvil. Dennis’ father renamed him Tangerine. Now say it: Irene, Ilene, Imogene, Fayrene, Dordene and Tangerine; harmony restored!
Some Southerners just keep it simple with what I call the “interchangeable first letter formula”. One family’s example: Lonnie, Donnie, and Connie. Growing up, we had neighbors who took the opposite approach: all the kids have a name that starts with the same letter. Imagine…6 kids, all of whom had names that started with the letter T. With 6 kids running around, I think “Hey you” and a pointing finger probably worked just as well.
We like our Biblical names too. This week in the paper I found an Obadiah (now deceased) and a Messiah, alive and well at 4 years old.
There are names I have never seen attached to a person. This week’s entry: Clorine. And yes, she had a nickname – Clo.
Then there are names that should never be combined. One of the 7th grade teachers in my junior high was Mrs. Cain. Care to guess what she named her first daughter? All together now! Candy. What in the world were her parents thinking? or smoking? or drinking?
Finally, there are those names I call unfortunate. I see a lot of these in the obituaries. They seem to be older names that have fallen out of common use – a good thing as far as I’m concerned. A name makes the “unfortunate” list if it gives me a less than pleasant visual. One of them is Fanny. My maternal grandmother’s oldest sister was named Fanny. I grew up hearing that same word used to indicate one’s backside. Sure to unleash waves of giggling in the early elementary school classroom. I’m sure great-Aunt Fanny was a lovely woman, but that name. Unfortunate. Bertha; that one makes my list too.
I have never lived outside of the South, so I would love to hear from some of you how your family or your area of the country names its children. There are bound to be more interesting (and unfortunate) traditions out there.
Extra credit points to anyone who can guess the source of this post’s title.