Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Speaking of Names

Ah! The wonders googling can uncover. I've found a website with valuable (and seemingly trustworthy) information on the origin of unusual names. This says that the name Paralee (see my posting of earlier today is no doubt derived from the plant Perilla.

That makes sense to me for a number of reasons. First, I know that perilla made its way to North American gardens in the colonial period and has naturalized itself in the states of the Southeast, where it was evidently grown as an ornamental (and also a potherb) in its purple ruffled form. I often saw it in the North Carolina Piedmont, growing as a weed when I lived there. I also find it frequently as a weed in Arkansas, mostly in the bronze-green form. I have known it all my life, because of the distinct herbaceous smell of its leaves, though I didn't know it was edible or originated in the mountains of China until Vietnamese friends told me this in the 1970s.

In addition, the old Southern way of pronouncing "perilla" would definitely have accented the first syllable. All names were accented on the first syllable, in traditional Southern pronunciation. And names ending in -a were always pronounced as if the -a sounded like a long e.

Where have all those euphonious names Southern families used to give daughters gone? In my family history, I run into plenty of them: Camilla. Tranquilla. Lucretia. Aletha. Augusta. Lela. Lula. Arabella. Clarissa. Samantha. Carolina. Narcissa. Letitia. Alicia. Philadelphia. Louvenia. Musa. Minerva. Elika.

Or, for that matter, the old Puritan names I also frequently find: Mourning. Unity. Temperance. Patience. Prudence. All gone, it seems, along with the Paralees and their ilk, or the women with men's names feminized, the Georginas, Harriets/Henriettas/Hatties, Robertas, Wilheminas, and the like.

+ + + + +

And, speaking of names, I'd be remiss if I let this day pass without remembering to wish a happy birthday to one of the people I love best in the world. Her middle name is Hutchinson, after a grandmama. But when her artist-mother had invitations engraved for her graduation from college, she rendered the middle name as Helen.

When queried about her failure to remember her daughter's middle name, Artist-Mama said, "Oh, I've had so many children. How can I be expected to remember all their middle names?"

To Mary Hutchinson/Helen R., a very happy birthday with many happy returns.