Sunday, August 2, 2009

Speaking Southern Hoosier: Names

When Edward Eggleston wrote "The Hoosier Schoolmaster," he had one character use the word "juberous". Eggleston footnoted the sentence stating that he wasn't certain, but he though the word meant "dubious." I remember when I was 14 and my father was driving us to church he blurted out "I was might juberous about that" in exactly the sense of dubious. Years later, my mother commented "Of course, I've heard it used that way."

And while much of the country terminology, some of it leftover from the Hoosier accent before the Kentucky accent crept north, is gone or dying, it's useful for genealogists, historians and the just curious as to how things were or are pronounced differently.

Other pronunciations that lingered in my family involved names. It took years before I found out that the "Old Doc Mathis place" near China had belonged to a Dr. Mathews. It's just that the name was pronounced Mathis into the late 1900s and it's a pronunciation that bedeviled census takers and later family historians who might not have realized that Mathis and Mathews were the originally the same name.

Then there is the name Banta, a name from the Frisian area of Holland and one of the families that was part of what was called the Low Dutch, such as the Rykers and Demarees. In my father's hands, it was "Bahn-tee" with the "a" pronounced like the "o" in the word bond and the second "a" converted to a "y" or "i" sound. And that Banty or Bonty spelling pops up in census records in the 1800s.

Likewise, the Stewart family name was rendered Steward by my parents. It took me years to realize the Steward bridge over the East Prong of the Indian Kentuck (where U.S. 62 crosses the creek) was spelled Stewart. In fact, that "d" ending harkens back to the original family occupation, when they were Sty-wards (pigkeepers) for Scottish royalty. And locally, Buchanan is not Byoo-kanan, but Buh kanan, a pronunciation that caused the name to be spelled Buckhanan or the like in many records.

Demaree got a different treatment. Instead of Dem-a-ree, my father pronounced it Dumb-a-ree. (No offense please) And that was probably a longstanding pronunciation as the 1840 census spells the name as Dumaree. While the Buchanan pronunciation is still common, the Dumb-a-ree is not. Also disappearing is Sibben-tal for Siebenthal, which is closer to the original German, but more often now, the last syllable has "thal" like the sound in think.

Among other names whose spelling reflected spoken spounds included Bondurant, rendered Bundren or Bundrent, Vernon, often written as Varnon (or worse) and Lewellyn, which often turned out as Lewallen. I can't say that I heard my family use these, but clearly they were not rare versions.


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Cerelle said...

Bob, I have written to you before, as my G Grandfather Lorenzo Dow Bright settled in the Milton area, and the family still holds the farm.
I especially enjoyed this article on pronunciation of words in the area.
Now I understand that not only was the spelling less established in the early days, but that what the census taker heard was sometimes quite far from the actual spelling.
Very interesting! Thank you!