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Georgia State University

Nick Names in Southern Culture

Today is Friday and I want to write about something fun. I’ve been thinking about nick names in my family and how that relates to southern culture and to Anglo-American culture. My family calls me by a nick name that I really don’t like at all– in fact I told my husband when we got married to never use that nick name because I always hated it. It’s what you call a diminuative of my proper name, Rebecca. It’s Becky. It recalls in my mind my first grade teacher who decided I would be called by that name because we had 4 girls named Rebecca in the class. However, I always found the use of nick names in my father’s family to be very interesting and gothic. My grandparents were always Mammy and Pappy. Their oldest son, Will Carey, was always called ‘Son’ by everyone. His sister Elizabeth was ‘Sis’, we called her Aunt Sis. One of my father’s sisters was named Eleanor after my grandmother’s sister. Eleanor was always called ‘Jack’. I have no idea where that came from.  Was this early gender confusion? My father’s first cousin was named John King Carter, but he was called Jack and sometimes Buddy which was confusing to me since one of Uncle Son’s sons was also called ‘Buddy’ on occasion. The strangest nick name of all was the one my father gave his brother Edwin. My father teased him about his weight and called him ‘Lard’.  However in southern pronunciation it came out as ‘Lod’, so most of my childhood I called my Uncle Edwin ‘Uncle Lod’. Only later did I realize that his name was really Edwin. Why are names so important and why do certain families use nick names instead? Oh, I forgot to mention my cousin Sara Jane. She is still to this day called ‘Poochie’  by just about everyone in the family and her brother was ‘Buck’ even though his name was really Charles, but no one that I know about ever called him by that name.

Well on to literary references. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings talks about the fascination of the hobbits with family and family history and mentions many interesting names. J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter books talks about the power of names as in whether or not to say Voldemort or ‘you know who’. Tom Riddle changes his name to help make him more powerful. A book that I read a few years ago that discusses Anglo-American traditions is Albion’s Seed: four folkways in America Library North 5 E169.1 .F539 1989 v.1. I believe names are part of those traditions. What do you think? Are nick names important in your family?