Why Every Southern Family Has Someone Named "Sister" and "Brother"
The name on your birth certificate has nothing to do with what your Aunt Peep and Uncle T-Baby call you.
We love family nicknames, don’t we, Punkin’? From cousin Suggie to Aunt Pete and Mama Cle, we can’t resist hanging an affectionate moniker on the ones we love.
We especially like replacing your name with a Southern nickname that reflects our familial relationship. Hence, many of us will go through life as Sister, Brother, Sis, Sissy, Bro, Bubba, etc. And that wouldn’t be so odd except that it’s not just your siblings who will call you that FOREVER. So will everybody else in the family. So will everybody else in town. Before you can say Puddin', you'll be known as Uncle Brother, Aunt Sis, Miss Sissy—for the rest of your natural life. Once the church family gets involved, you might even hear something like “Brother Bubba, could you lead us in prayer?” (That's dangerously close to “Brother Brother, could you lead us in prayer?” Can we get an Amen?)
“My siblings and I called our great aunt ‘Sister’ because that’s what our dad and his mother called her,” writes Mississippi native Nancy. Reader Frank says his father was known as "Son" to all the family.
“My sister and I were born 18 months apart, and she got the nickname ‘Sister,’” writes Virginia in Birmingham. “She is now 87 and EVERYONE in the family has only called her Sister. When my daughter was a toddler, she told the daycare teacher that her Sister was coming to pick her up. You can imagine their surprise when my Sister showed up."
It doesn’t end with Brother, Sister, and Son, of course. (Don’t even get us started down the Big Daddy/Little Mama bunny trail.) We polled our Facebook Brain Trust and found all kinds of creative liberties that a Southerner will take with a loved one's name. Tell us what we missed.
We will shorten it.
“In my family, we have a Fafa (short for Martha), Bibi (short for Billie), Budhop (I have no idea what that’s short for), Bitsy, Tiny, and of course Bubba!” says a Louisiana transplant who now lives in the Mississippi Delta.
“My middle name was McWilliams, and I was nicknamed Mac,” writes Ann in Alabama. “Everyone called me that until I started using Ann in the 5thor 6thgrade. Took a few years to catch on, and I still have Georgia aunts, uncles, and cousins who call me Mac. But that’s okay.”
Dude, what’s your real name?
“I had an Aunt Dude,” writes Regina. “Her actual name was Willie Mae.” Reader Carla had a Great Aunt Dude . . . who was born Bobbie Lou. Nobody seems to know when, where, or why Miss Willie Mae and Miss Bobbie Lou were deemed Dude-like.
Nicknames can get personal. Really personal.
We heard from readers who had family nicknamed Big, Small, Slim, Shorty (reserved for really tall kin), Ol’ Missy, and Mean Mama.
“My dad’s name was James Henry Foster,” writes Dana in Alabama. “He was a big baby and got the nickname ‘Bigon.’ Everyone thought Bigon was his first name. All his nieces and nephews called him Uncle Bigon.”
Sometimes your family renames you altogether.
There’s nicknaming, and then there’s renaming. “My Aunt Rosie didn’t think her niece Jane looked like a Jane, so she started calling her Sally, and everybody else in the family followed suit,” writes one Birmingham reader.
“My sister Jane named me Jimmy, even though my actual name is Clyde Bowman Wyatt,” writes . . . Jimmy Wyatt (his name to this day).
“My great aunt, Elizabeth Chancellor Graham, got the nickname ‘Pats’ because as a child she loved to play patty-cake,” writes reader Warren. “All my life, her family called her Pats. But she was known in the community around Harpersville, Alabama, as ‘Miss Patsy.’”
“Emma”—a beautiful name—has taken it on the chin more than once. Readers Mary Beth and Carolanne both remembered Aunt Emma’s who were called Bunch and Buckie, respectively. (You would think Aunt Emma’s loss of her lovely name would’ve been a deterrent for Carolanne, but no—she confessed to calling her sister Beth everything but her actual name: Beep, Beepsie, Bethie Boo . . . )
Sometimes we rename ourselves.
“When my sister and I were probably 8 or 9 years old, we started calling each other by our initials, J.D. and P.D.,” says Patti in Alabama. “Mine wound up being ‘Petie.’”
And sometimes, when you least expect it, your family will gift you with one of these.
Let's give a shout-out to Boo, Bootie, Bimbo, Jimbo, Lady, Red, Tump, Hoss, Skunk, Mouse, Bee, Ling, Duckie, Buckie, Murf, Bojack, Shug-Babe, Speck, Pug, Bobo, Dodo, BB Jo, Birdie, Heck, La La, and Bitty!
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Bless your heart, it is just like you to wear a dress like that! You march to your own drummer, don't you, sugar? Good for you. I glory in your spunk.