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    All in the Family Name

    by | 4 | Jun 18, 2009

    060babyL_468x523-1Up the hill from my house in Athens, looking out on Atlanta Highway, there’s a brick building that houses the Foy Horne law office. Foy and Horne are not partners. They’re one in the same. Foy is the attorney’s first name, Horne is his last. He’s a fine example of one of my favorite Southern traditions: family name first names.

    Southerners are not the only cultural group that goes in for this sort of familial nomenclature, but we do seem to do an outsized share of it. Why this is, I’m not entirely sure. It probably has something to do with Scots being so heavily represented among the early white settlers of the southern regions. Scots were big on signifying lineage —  honoring a father or respected uncle, or keeping a mother’s family name alive. So were the English and the Irish, for that matter.

    What I do know for sure is that because of this family name-first name predilection, I grew up among men and boys whose names sounded like law firms or brokerages even though, in most cases, they weren’t lawyers or brokers. And the names weren’t just distinctive. They felt good to say. Still do. They’re part of the poetry of the South, part of the music.

    Say these out loud as you read them:

    Hilton Landrum.

    Chalmers McCallum.

    Baxter Sellers

    Sellers Scoggins.

    Larkin Davis.

    Morgan Holifield.

    Hutton Poythress.

    Ethridge Mixon.

    Bancroft Weems.

    Granville Walters.

    Orr Summerall.

    Summerall Poole.

    Deavours Yelverton.

    Nothing against the many fine and decent Billy Rays and Joe Bobs I have known, but for me, it’s the Hiltons and the Huttons — and the Lampkins and the Listons  — that truly represent Southern naming.

    I am not, as you may have observed, a member of this club myself.  I would have been Simpson Holston, like my father and his father before him, but my mother put her foot down. Before I was born, she said to my daddy, “Simpson, I think you have a beautiful name, but I am not fond of your nickname. And I refuse to have our first son be referred to as Little Simp.”

    They compromised on Noel, the name of his father’s favorite brother, who had been a Christmas Day baby.  I got back on the family name-first name train when my first son was born and we called him…no, not Simpson. A certain TV show had by that time put a comic hex on that one. My son got names I would have liked — my mother’s maiden name, Damon, and my grandmother’s maiden name, Spence. I love the rhythm of it, the meter. Damon Spence Holston. And whenever I write his name out, I feel like I should have it notarized.

    ###
    Noel Holston

    Noel Holston

    Noel Holston, originally from Laurel, Miss., is a freelance journalist, songwriter, storyteller and actor who lives in Athens, Ga., with his wife, singer-songwriter Marty Winkler. In a previous life, he was the TV critic at Newsday in New York and, before that, a critic and feature writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Orlando Sentinel.

     

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    • Enjoyed your piece.
      Re your lead, however, I believe the expression is “one and the same,” not” one in the same.”

    • “Psycho”

      Great stuff, Noel.
      But did you leave out the pseudo-honorable Saxby Chambliss by design?

    • Bob

      I love Southern names, and most other things Southern. I often check the obituaries from the Columbus, MS (where I once lived) paper just to revel in the names. I think you’re right about the perpetuation of the clan being one of the reasons for using and reusing family names. My own names were given names and not surnames, but they came from family--such as it was--my ne’er do well dad and an uncle who claimed to be epileptic, but really just liked to hit people with the one arm he had left after an unfortunate hunting accident. Thanks for a fun read!

      but

    • Michael

      I particularly enjoyed the article. And a big part of that being Southern, with roots that go on forever in the South, was your info on our inheriting a mother’s maiden name as part of our names. A nice way to keep family history alive and I share in that.

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