The South, as we all know, is different than the rest of the country. For Southerners, that is a matter of pride. Other parts of the country may see some of the South’s curiosities in a different light, but so be it. We drink sweet tea and move at a more leisurely pace. We speak to folks on the streets that we don’t even know. If you do that in New York City, they might haul you off to the insane asylum.

But one of my favorite Southern traits is the fact we call everybody older than us Mr. or Mrs. We also do the same, sometimes, for those we feel that are in a higher standing than us, regardless of age, such as the owner of a big company or the school superintendent. I grew up knowing that all of my Mother and Father’s friends would be addressed as Mr. or Mrs. Now if you did not know them particularly well, this meant they were Mr. Jones or Mrs. Jones to you. On the other hand, if they were someone you interacted with regularly and you really knew them, it would be Mr. John or Mrs. Kate. Well, actually, we usually pronounced the Mrs. “Miss,” regardless of whether the woman was married or not. And I suspect you would have been pistol whipped if you pronounced it “Ms.”

Now this created a very unique dynamic because Southern folks also love to go by nicknames. I have known some people for more than 30 years and still do not know their given names. On the farm, “Pistol” worked for us from the time he was about 10 until his 40s. I did not know his real name was J.C. until I finally got old enough to write the checks and figured out I couldn’t put “Pistol” as the name. I still don’t know what J.C. stood for.

I grew up known only as “T.” My Grandfather was nicknamed “Mr. T,” as his middle name was Thomas. Why it became T, I do not know. I tell people he was the original Mr. T. When I was younger and someone called me Mr. T, I’d reply, “Shut up, fool.” I don’t do that now as many do not remember Mr. T and the “A Team,” and I might get into a fistfight.

There are all kinds of common Southern nicknames. One of my Father’s best friends was named “Rooster.” He died before I was old enough to know him, but I now know at least three people who go by the moniker “Rooster.” I know a “Pork-chop,” a “Keg” and a “Mole.” I’d have to think long and hard to figure out any of their real names. Growing up, my family was friends with JoAnne and “Chicken” Harris. Therein lies the problem.

You see, I knew them very well. They were both wonderful people. Knowing them well, I called them Miss JoAnne and Mr. Chicken. Now if you are at a party and yell across the room, “Hey Mr. Chicken,” folks tend to think you’ve lost your mind. I have no idea how “Mr. Chicken” became “Chicken.” Maybe he loved fried chicken. Maybe as a little boy he chickened out of jumping off the high dive. I just don’t know. He was just “Mr. Chicken” to me. Folks up North come down here for family weddings and similar events and then hear little kids saying, “Hey, Mr. Chicken.”

No wonder they think we are a few slices short of a full loaf of bread.

I know a wonderful lady named “Catfish.” I’m not close friends with her, but I like her. She is near my age, but I always enjoy hearing younger kids address her as “Miss Catfish.” Folks from other places might assume she won the “Miss Catfish” beauty contest years ago or that the kids had lost their minds. One or the other. I don’t have a clue where the name came from but I’m glad it exists. Colorful characters and colorful nicknames give flavor to the South I like.

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Email T Gamble at wtg@colliergamble.com.

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