71. Two First Names (A Story about Billy Joe and Bobby Sue)

17 Feb

Or Betty Jane...or Bobby Earl...or Linda Sue

Practically all the new parents I know in Seattle have saddled their newborns with two middle names. And not short, easy-to-remember names either. More along the lines of Rasputin Marlowe Fabian Jones (or more likely Jones-Smith) for a boy. Or Josephine Emily Prudence Smith for a girl. I’m not sure how they come up with these, but I suspect the formula goes something like this:

(Literary reference) + (Ancient ancestor) + (Favorite flower)

Or perhaps:
(Seldom-used old-timey name) +
(A virtue) +
(Open a book and point)

Sure, these lofty monikers may look great on the birth announcement, but perhaps parents should consider how many times their child will have to spell these names for call center operators in far off lands.

Southern parents traditionally prefer to keep things simple: two first names, no bonus middle one. Some popular choices include, Billy Ray (for a boy), Peggy Sue (for a girl), or Willie Jean (undetermined).

Yes, this is a stereotypical Southern trait, but it’s one that happens to be true. In case you are wondering, the South also features the largest concentration of folks named “Bubba” in the known word. Many a “Bubba” has passed as “Richard” or “William” for career advancement purposes or when living above the Mason-Dixon. But when he comes home, everybody still calls him “Bubba.” (Sorry, Bubba, we just can’t help it!)

I’m not sure how the two-first-names tradition got started. Maybe way back when there was a Southern couple who had a name they just LOVED and wanted to give it to all their children (as in “This is my brother Darryl. This is my other brother Darryl.”) But they figured it was best to give each kid an extra first name so everybody would know which one was currently being hollered at: Bobby Joe, Billy Joe, or Bubba Joe. Just kidding. Bubbas hardly ever have two first names.

My sister’s best friend is named Mary Bess (though my father – who’s known her for 20 years – always calls her “Mary Beth.” Which is actually pretty good, seeing as he’s liable to address folks named “Frank” as “Johnny” or “David.”)

Anyhoo, Mary Bess fell in love with and married an amazing guy whose last name for the sake of anonymity we’ll call “Tammy.” Before she had kids, she held on to her maiden name and when asked “Why?” (because Southern folks think everything is their business) she’d say, “Who wants to be a girl with three first names?”

One of my other Mississippi friends had the good fortune to meet and marry a girl with the best two-first-name name I’ve ever heard: “Mary Love.”

If y’all take a notion to start calling me that, I won’t mind a bit.

P.S. Please don’t make the mistake of addressing a doubly named person by a single name. A “Lee Ann” will not answer to “Lee” or “Ann.” Or if she does, you might not like what she says.

Does your family tree feature doubly named folks? Feel free to name names…

29 Responses to “71. Two First Names (A Story about Billy Joe and Bobby Sue)”

  1. dan February 17, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    Just wanted to say that I love the blog and have sent the link to several friends and family. Keep them coming!

    • girloutofdixie February 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

      thank you for spreading the word!

  2. Joe February 17, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    I knew a Mary Love from Belzoni. Same one? Probably not. When are you going to discuss beauty pageants? And debutants? Are is that just a Delta thing?

    • girloutofdixie February 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

      My sister got me started on “toddlers and tiaras,” so i’ll be getting around pageants pretty soon.

      Debutants are much farther down the list, mainly because I’ve never actually known any…

  3. 2blu2btru February 17, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    OMG! This is almost my whole family on one side! It is truly a wide spread phenomenon, and we have some real head scratchers mixed in with the traditional ones. Some examples: Charles Henry, Adda Mae, Rosa Mae, Floydie Mae, Fannie Mae (anything Mae, obviously), Minnie Lois (which I alway thought was Min-Lois until her funeral), Ora Lee (and Mae!), Versa Lee, and my favorite Mae Lee. I, thankfully, escaped this trend. I should have two first names, though, because when my mom is mad, I tend to lose a first name!

    When I was in high school (“up North, in the metro Detroit area), I was horrified to be in the midst of several Mary Kates–they stole OUR naming thing!

    • girloutofdixie February 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

      I LOVE your family’s names!! The list reads like a novel that writes itself!!

      How is “Lois” pronounced?

      How dare those yankees use two first names!!

      • lisa February 17, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

        It’s okay. They’ve got a different excuse. It’s also a Catholic thing (think Mary Katherine Gallagher). I figure Detroit’s close enough to French Canadia to get away with it.

    • Anonymous December 7, 2020 at 7:26 pm #

      Ora Lee?

      • Anonymous December 7, 2020 at 7:29 pm #

        Didn’t Ora Lee marry that nice O’Reilly boy?

  4. thenakedlistener February 17, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Hmm … should I now be known as Bobby Charles rather than just “Oi, you!”?

    • girloutofdixie February 17, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

      Why not go all out and start answering to “Bubba”? Or possibly “Junior.”

  5. Kathy Jean February 17, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    Hello from Kathy Jean 🙂 All my Texas relatives use both names, anyone else uses just Kathy. People in California actually look at you funny when someone calls out both names. Maybe they’re jealous because no one calls them by a double name? Ok, just thought I’d throw that out there. Thanks for the great post. Thanks for ALL of them – I love your blog!

    • girloutofdixie February 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

      Thank you, Kathy Jean! So glad you like my posts. I have to say that I, myself, am sometimes jealous of folks with two first names…

  6. reneemason February 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Does an archangel come down at night and inbed this stuff in your dreams? Please submit this to Southern Living magazine as a monthly column. Before I started my blog in October, I never even knew what they were. There is an entire world of potential fans being short-changed because they don’t know “stuff southern people like” exists. This must be rectified!!

    • Kathy Jean February 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

      I second that comment!

      • girloutofdixie February 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

        Thanks, y’all.

        I haven’t thought of Southern Living in forever. My mom used to get it, but that’s back when I was moving West trying to distance myself from my roots, so I never read it. I’ll have to pick one up and put together a submission.

        Thanks for the encouragement. It really means a lot to me!!

  7. Marla February 18, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    Still loving and identifying with your blog! The other part of your post is that those of us Southerners with a first and middle name still get called by both as if they are both first names. My brothers and I get called by our full names ever time we are with our grandparents, aunts and uncles!

    • girloutofdixie February 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

      Oh, yes, my dad always introduces me to folks using my first and middle names.

  8. reelingintheyears.wordpress.com February 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

    Hysterical…Also love the whole Fannie Mae/ Freddie Mac comments above, now called Frannie for short. I kinda like Fannie Mac, myself.

    Some of my friends have 2 daughters with double names, and I can’t ever keep them all straight. I usually just throw them out in an incoherent jumble, mix n’ match.

    • girloutofdixie February 23, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

      Love your mix ‘n match approach!

  9. Mary Love Tagert February 22, 2011 at 7:42 pm #


    Awwwww, thanks for the compliment on my name…..it’s both a blessing and a curse sometimes! In college, I had a professor who said he felt weird saying both names because he felt like he was flirting with me. Turned out, I heard it rumored that he was, er, flirting, with another student. Jenna told me about your blog, and it’s great! Keep it up!

  10. girloutofdixie February 23, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    Glad you’re enjoying my blog, Mary Love!

    I’ll always call you by both names, whether it feels like flirting or not!

  11. Valerie February 24, 2011 at 7:20 pm #

    Once I was in Walmart in Ennis, Texas because the kids’ battery operated something to keep them quiet went dead. I swear that someone came on the intercom to announce “Will Bubba and Sissy please come to the front. Your folks are waiting.” More than one of each slowly made their way forward!

    • girloutofdixie February 24, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

      LOL! I love that you saw more than one “Bubba and Sissy” matched set in the Walmart.

      Also love “kids’ battery operated something to keep them quiet”!!

  12. marypayne2@cox.net February 25, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    Hello! I have just found your blog – I love it! As a double-namer from Mississipp, I have to tell you – if you EVER move out of the south, no one understands your name. I have had to explain it to hundreds of people. Now I just think “am I going to know this person for awhile?” If the answer is yes, I explain my name. Otherwise, I let them call me Mary.

    When I was post-college I lived with another good friend from Mississppi, Mary Preston,here in Northern Virginia / Washington, DC. It was hard when people would call our answering machine and leave a message for MARY. Half the time we would not know who the message was actually for.

    My husband gets very annoyed when I don’t explain my name or if someone calls me Mary…he doesn’t understand my test of “how long will I know this person?” His mom is named Mary Carol – and that is just not the same, in my opinion. Mary Carol is easy to explain, it is essentially 2 first names. Like Mary Ann. People get it. (maybe they remember Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island) When you have a first name and your middle name is really a last name – well, it gets complicated.

    When naming our children, we went for straightforward impossible to mess up names – Anna and John. I have told all my friends who named their children those beautiful double names – get ready, your kids are going to resent you for it once they leave the deep south. The only way to solve that problem is, never leave the deep south. I might be on to something – it’s a conspiracy to keep us close! (and believe me, I would do anything to live closer to my family these days)

    -Mary Payne Gilbert (yes, that’s Mary Payne. It’s a double name. Yes. It’s a southern thing. No, Payne is not my maiden name. It’s my first name and my middle. name. I go by both. Yep, Mary Payne, like Mary Ann. From Gilligans Island, right! Got it?)

  13. Anonymous October 19, 2012 at 7:09 am #

    what would be a good middke name for ‘Dixie’?

    • Kim Holloway October 19, 2012 at 1:25 pm #



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