Southern Baby Names
There are two ways you can look at Southern baby names: classic Southern names, whether in reality, or in popular culture, such as Ashley, Lisa Marie, Shelby, Jackson, and so on; and baby names that Southerners are choosing today. The names chosen by Southern parents today are generally more mainstream, but there are significant regional preferences. For example, in 2006, the girl's name Madison was the most popular baby girl name in 11 out of 13 southern states. But in the rest of the United States, Madison was rarely in the top three. Likewise, the name William was hugely popular in the south, while less so (but still significant) in the rest of the country.
But for the most part, Southern baby names today live on more in our imagination than in reality. Emma and Emily were as popular in Georgia in 2006 as they were in Alaska. There are marked regional differences, certainly, but nothing like the differences of years gone by. And this is to be expected, given the increased mobility of modern society.
What then are the classic Southern baby names, for parents looking for that special name that conjures up images of mimosas and Gone with the Wind? While it's tempting to single out cultural icons such as Scarlett and Ashley, place names such as Savannah, or floral names like Magnolia, the true picture of Southern baby names during the last hundred years is more complex, as well as more susceptible to stereotype.
It's easy to think of the South as full of Billy Bobs, Lorettas, and Peggy-Sues, but in fact, the data does not support such a simplistic view. Looking back at statistics from 1960 (the earliest available state-by-state public data from the Social Security Administration) and comparing Alabama to New York State, 13 of the top 20 boy's names, and 14 of the top 20 girl's names, were the same in both states, although not necessarily in the same order. And of the names that appeared in Alabama, but did not appear in New York, the differences may not fit the stereotypes. The boys' names exclusive to Alabama were fairly common names, but often abbreviated, and included Willie, Terry, Gregory, Larry, Donald, Gary, and Johnny. On the girl's side, the names exclusive to Alabama don't instantly register as Southern baby names: Brenda, Teresa, Pamela, Kathy, Angela and Wanda.
In 1960 Alabama, for boys and girls, there was not one hyphenated baby name in the top 100. (The girl's name Jo came in at # 97, but that hardly constitutes a trend). So while there were no doubt plenty of Peggy Sues and Billy Bobs running around the American South in the middle of the twentieth century, it hardly seems like the prevailing pattern. And yet, the fondness for what we like to call Southern baby names persists. In that spirit, we have gathered together twenty baby names, ten for each gender, that, while they may not have been the most popular of Southern names, certainly evoke that image. And when it comes to baby names, image may not be everything, but it's close.