Tennessee naming expert dies at 84

“We are at the mercy of our name givers,” said Kelsie Harder, a native of MIddle Tennessee who became a world authority on naming practices, and who died April 12. He was born in Perry County, got his B.A.and M.A. at Vanderbilt, and spent his professional life in upstate New York. Poor fellow.

My sons and I wrote a baby name book a couple of years ago, and I have long been fascinated with Tennessee names. I came up through rural Tennessee schools with kids who had all manner of unusual given names. Some of the boys’ first and middle names were William Otto, Vivert Aaron, Rush Floyd, and Gale Omar. The girls included Mozella Ann, Cheryl Ruthita, Mary Alyce, Neda Jane, Eufaula Carole, and Rena Rebecca.

After school and in the summers, I worked at my family’s construction company, where I labored alongside guys named Royal, Fate, Shirley and Jehovah. I can remember our dispatcher saying something like, “OK, I’m going to send Jehovah and Fate over there, and they’ll take care of you.”

I later became a reporter, writing about a blind Baptist gospel disk jockey named J. Bazzel Mull and interviewing Judge Sue K. Hicks, the real-life inspiration for Johnny Cash’s hit “A Boy Named Sue.” You can’t come from a background like that and not have an interest in names.

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This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

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