What’s in a Real Southern Name?

Philander Flop - New York Mirror Good Humor Lu...

Philander Flop – New York Mirror Good Humor Lucky Comics Card (Photo credit: andertoons)

A couple of Saturdays ago, I sort of stepped in it. While watching one of the plethora of college football games to grace my flatscreen on any given Saturday, I tweeted about a player whose first name was “Philander:”

“One can only hope that isn’t a statement on his parentage.” -@wannabef

A friend gently responded by telling me that he knew at least two men named Philander, and that it was a traditional Southern name. He suggested I might have just insulted a good many of my friend’s grandfathers. In all my years, I had honestly never heard the name.

A quick search on “The Googler” reveals that the name was a popular one for romantic characters in 18th century literature. The more modern term, “philanderer” first appeared in the mid-1800s, meaning “a male flirt.”

In recent history, the word philander has taken on the meaning “to engage in a sexual affair.” So, I can be forgiven for not knowing the full etymology of the term when making a 140-character joke during a football game while nursing a toothache.

But the story brings up an interesting point about life in the South: every family has some great names. And the best names always take a little explanation.

In my own family, I had a great-uncle named U.B. Franklin, pronounced “Ewbie.” The U and B didn’t stand for anything. It didn’t matter. No one called him U.B. anyhow; they all called him Hot Shot. Of course. His wife was Eula Bell … or Eulabelle. I’ve never actually known if that was one word or two, but being Southerners, the whole family always said it as a single word. We couldn’t be troubled with a pause. That’s one of the great ironies of Southern speech: we take forever to say a thing, but manage to slur all the words together at the same time. It completely defies logic … and physics.

Another great-uncle was named Ellisaw, a name I’ve never seen since.

My great-grandfather, Corbett, had a brother named Colon. I never so much as snickered at the name until I was old enough to learn a little human anatomy … so I made it about nine years. That name must’ve been more common than one would imagine, as RSM Jerrod Brown also had a Colon in his family. I would’ve given anything for either of these men to have a son named Semi-Colon.

Jerrod also has an uncle Shirley. My guess is you wouldn’t want to test him by poking fun at his name. The Venn diagram of “Southern men with traditionally feminine names” is contained wholly within the circle “Men with powerful right hooks.”

Another RSM contributor, Pat Snow, has an uncle P.U. Snow: Powell Ushera Snow. I have no idea what a Ushera is, but it sounds fatal.

RSM Kris Wheeler had a great-grandfather named General Wheeler. General’s brother was Doctor Wheeler. General was not a military officer, and Doctor never practiced medicine. Their father had been a Confederate cavalryman with the “Lincoln Killers.” One can only assume he saw the respect given men with the titles of “General” and “Doctor” and chose to game the system on behalf of his sons. On the other side of his family, Kris had two great-great-grandfathers with presidential names: George Washington Wilkie and George Washington Tippens.

Our TFGC (Token Female Guest Contributor), Deb Krauss, had this to offer about her family:

“My poppaw (yes, we called him that) was named C.L., whose initials also stood for nothing. When he joined the Navy, his recruiter couldn’t understand initials that didn’t stand for anything, and so entered his name as ‘Coleman Lewis.’ And my dad had a cousin named Finley Barringer (an old fashioned straw hat wearing individual, of course), whom I always thought was named ‘Friendly.’

“My other poppaw was named “Pop Rose.” Actually, his name was Leonard, my mammaw’s name was Rose… but we were kids and so we called them “Mammaw Rose and Pop Rose.” I was literally in college before I realized the poor man’s name had absolutely nothing to do with Rose.”

I think an entire post on the names we use for our grandparents is long overdue.

Our readers also contributed some great names. Ned Boggan has an uncle Cordy. Jane Sinclair’s family has a Yustis. We can assume this is a Twanglicized version of the English name Eustace, but who knows? R.C. Housley had a step-father named Crafferd Kermit. Everyone mercifully called him Cliff.

Lesley Roy had an aunt Oochie, aunt Duck and an aunt Mean, who apparently looked and acted like Phyllis Diller. Lesley was originally to be named for her great-grandmother, Lela Almeda. We can applaud her mother for thinking that one through.

Erin Underwood’s mother-in-law’s uncle was only ever called “Uncle Brother.”

(My son recently called me “Uncle Daddy” in jest. It wasn’t funny. We live in Alabama. We don’t joke about such things.)

Stephen Rains had a grandfather named RE Rains – no periods, and the initials didn’t stand for anything. He had brothers named Hamm, Slim, Artrice and Yaller.

One of our favorites comes from Kim Trimble, whose uncle Tokyo Denver Dale was known by most simply as “Toke.”

And from the Bayou Country comes the story of Kate Larsen’s Uncle Nonkie, which it seems in Cajun means, “Uncle Uncle.”

One Southern name that isn’t particularly funny or odd, but carries a great deal of baggage hits a little close to home: Wayne. There’s a joke among us Waynes: if we’re not in prison, yet, that in itself is a victory.

Even worse is when Wayne is a middle name. For some reason, Southern mothers can’t help themselves when it comes to naming their sons with a first name that rhymes with “Harry.” They always give them a middle name of Wayne, without fail. Maybe it’s a law. That would be ironic, since a middle name of Wayne almost assures the son of a lifetime of breaking laws.

Think I’m kidding about the criminal thing? Check out this post on Freakonomics.

I’ve known Cary Waynes, Gary Waynes, Jerry Waynes and Larry Waynes. And in each case, the names get run together and Twanglicized to become Cerwayne, Gerwayne, Jerwayne and Lerwayne. Most of those men, however, never actually tell anyone their middle name … that is unless they meet another Wayne. Those of us who are stuck with Wayne as our primary moniker become a sort of safe haven for all the secret Waynes out there. Even then they are reluctant, as if they were admitting to stealing from the offering plate, being a Communist or rooting for the Yankees.

Sadly, there is no such anonymity for me. I go by Wayne – my middle name – because my first name is the same as my father’s: Terry.

Just don’t call me Terwayne, and I won’t be forced to commit a heinous crime and live up (or down) to my name.

10 Responses to “What’s in a Real Southern Name?”

  1. My paternal grandmother – my Mammaw – was named Albertine Nettie. When I was born, she called and asked my parents to please NOT name me after her. She was know as Teenie by her sisters and friends. I had an Aunt Coot, Aunt Chicken and an Uncle Bubba. Just gotta love the South! K

  2. Great posting.

    My dad is Michael Wayne and my brother is Kevin Wayne. Both great guys. No I am not biased by any means. Lol I grew up around a guy named Gary Wayne.

    Another one you did not mention was Lee. Larry Lee, Jerry Lee….

    • Sadly, Kelley, either your father and brother are harboring a secret life of crime or it lies in their future. But take heart, maybe they’ll only be wrongly convicted!

      I’ve known quite a few Jerry Lees. I didn’t mention them, because I assumed they would be too drunk to read the post.

  3. Unusual names from our family tree: Female (first names) — Twins Geraldine and Earlene, Floyd, Jossie, Era (EE-rah), Minnibell, Anzilla, Argent, Effie, Costilla, Clitele (kli-TEEL), Elmeda, Queen Victoria (no relation to Her Majesty), Lucretia Jerusha (first and middle), Athenian, Bedell, Flossie, and Vassie to name a few.

    Male — AC (went by “Bud”), Alonza, Sephers, Vernie, Rozier, Green, and Dazzie (one of my favorites).

    I also have a female cousin with the first name Tommye. She goes by her middle name, of course. I have an aunt with the middle name Robert (she legally dropped it when she got married) and another with the middle name Louidell (and yes, we call her Aunt Loui).

    My mom growing up was known by her first and middle name Barbara Ann, but it was pronounced “Barbran.” My uncle is William John, but he is known as WJ pronounced “Dubba Jay.” My grandfather’s sister was named Nellie Lee, but we always called her Aunt “Nettalee” because that’s the way he pronounced it.

    • *golf clap*

      That makes the Real Southern Hall of Fame! Wow…

      I love the names that get all mashed together. My mom’s sister is H.A., but the family always called her by her middle name of Annette … which of course became “Auntnette” from the mouths of toddlers.

  4. Ok Wayne, please know that I love my family dearly. But there are some strange names in my heritage. This comes from both the paternal and maternal sides:

    Males: Ray Burl (had a twin sister named Fay Merle), Marvis, Jerry Wayne, Grover Cleveland, Bart Lee (both names said, so it sounds like Bartlee), Homer (see below for his wife’s name, you won’t believe it), a Vernon, and I guess the most unusual name for a child ever-Bunyon. Yep, I have an uncle named Bunyon. And he was called that his whole life.

    Female: Pearline, Kristine, and Emma Jean-sisters. Although my aunt Emma Jean somehow got shortened to Emmer and she is called that to this day. Then we have Reecie, Affie Lee, and Beaulah. I have an aunt named Mary Frank and she was called by both names. My grandmother’s name was Mary Wayne and was called by both names. There is also an Arbelle and a Manillee in there also. Oh, and Charlysee Faye. And we can’t forget Elmer-married to Homer. Someone named their girl-child Elmer.

    I wonder if people are going to be scratching their heads at our names one day?

  5. “Uncle Shirley . . . powerful right hooks”, I’m cracking up, because every single sentence you’ve written is true! Such a great and hilarious article.

    And that’s coming from someone with an ancestor (woman) named “Experience.”

  6. Just found this site – love it! I live in NE Alabama. The most unusual names in my family are my grandmother’s two cousins named Excel (male) and Economy (female).

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