Up the hill from my house in Athens, Georgia, looking out on the highway winds west to Atlanta, there’s a brick, Colonial 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 out-sized 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 are big on signifying lineage — honoring a father or respected uncle, or keeping a mother’s family name alive. So are 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:
Roscoe Riley Redd.
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 my father’s favorite uncle, 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 animated 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 as though I am racking up billable hours.