What’s in a name? Well in the South it’s everything. It precedes a person and tells others a little (or a lot) about the background of the person and about his or her family. Names in the South are weights, and those weights can be positive or negative. It’s really hard to explain to people from other areas of the country just how impacting names are below the Mason-Dixon Line.
First of all, if you’re born with one of those my-family-signed-the-Declaration-of-Independence surnames, well…aren’t you one of the lucky ones. A good name in the South opens doors and gets you respect like you wouldn’t believe. Admittance to the right private country clubs (ones that most people have never even heard of), seats on prestigious boards, and invitations to all the happening parties are at your disposal. So…if you have one of those venerable last names like Rutledge or Harrison or Jefferson…well, “Bless your heart” (Prolific Insincere Southern Statement—P.I.S.S.).
But you just cannot rest on your laurels and hope that you are born into the “right” family. You’d better hope that your parents have the good sense to bestow a proper given name also. In the South, that starts with looking at your ancestors. And the best place to begin is with your mother’s maiden name. Yes, people…in the South, our sons’ and daughters’ first names frequently come from their mothers’ maiden names. It’s where we get unusual first names like Drayton, Ashley (now overused), Smith and Tradd. And, of course, it’s always okay to use simple, respectable ancestral first names like James or Thomas or Mary or Elizabeth. Just stay away from names like Kylie or Apple or Rocket (they’re so Hollywood—and so looked down upon by snooty people you don’t care about).
Finally, if you’re lucky enough to end up with a name like James Jefferson Middleton or Elizabeth Anson Rutledge, it’s acceptable for your family to give you an approachable nickname. Try Sissy or Skippy or Peaches or Beau, for example. They must be an equal part Southern and an equal part cute to make it through the Southern name police.
And then there’s the other part of the South—the people who make up the majority of the population—some would say…the real people of the South—people with names like Skeeter and Shrimp and Queenie and Flossie—people who don’t give a rodent’s rear about those private country clubs or those prestigious charity boards. They are the people who won’t bother saying, “Bless your heart.” At the first hint that you’ve let your illustrious Southern name go to your head, they’ll just say, “’Prolific Insincere Southern Statement’ off!”