You don’t need a map to know when you’re in the South, just listen for the double names. When you hear mamas calling for little Sarah Jean or Bobbi Sue, or the waitress’s nametag reads Eliza Jane, you’ll know you’re in the South.

Southerners love a good double name, especially when it comes to naming little girls. But where did it all begin? In Europe, many countries that had strong ties to the Roman Catholic Church and wanted children to be named after a saint, but since things could confusing in a classroom filled with nothing but Annes, Barbaras, and Catherines learning their ABCs, clever parents started to double up on names. Soon there were Anne Catherines, Catherine Annes, and as the Beach Boys reminded us, Barbara Anns.

Double names became popular in England during the 17th century when Charles James Stuart became King Charles I. Soon after, the upper-class citizens began giving their kids long names, occasionally going so far as to saddle some poor child with ten names, in order to prove their high-class status. While ten names never caught on, double names became popular around the world at the end of the eighteenth century. It seems likely that the South’s double-naming tradition started thanks to a European influence, with Scottish, Irish, and French families making their way to the South in the 19th century and bringing the double-naming tradition with them.

Since then Southerners have carried on the tradition, making it very much their own. These days in the U.S., double names are as sure a sign of a Southerner as a love of sweet tea and strong opinions about barbecue.

Giving a child two first names is also popular in the South because of our strong love of family. New parents looking for ways to honor beloved family members, living or passed on, can incorporate their names into those of the next generation. Naming a child Frankie Sue or Norma Jean, means passing on a name and the memories that go with it. Giving a child two first names is also in the great Southern way of taking something traditional and giving it your own distinctive spin. For instance, Mary and Charles are very traditional names, but tacking on a unique second first name means the child will undoubtedly stand-out in their kindergarten class. While little Mary or Charles might blend into the class roster, who could forget a Mary Shannon or a Wyatt James?

Another reason that double names could continue to be so popular here, is because they work well with the accents. Most double names have three syllables (think of all those Mary Catherines, Bobbie Sues, Carol Anns, and Betty Lous you know). Those three syllable combinations are the perfect cadence to roll off a Southerner’s tongue. Of course, Southerners can make double-syllable double names (Erin Rose), quadruple syllable double names (Emma Louise), and even quintuple syllable double names (Elizabeth Jane) sound downright perfect, too. Basically, any name, double or not, sounds better with a Southern lilt.

Whatever the reason that double names have remained so popular in the South for all these years, we will happily keep them—even if it makes monogramming just a tad harder.

Advertisement