Billie Dean Wolfe

I was born in Kentucky, close to J. D. Vance’s roots of Hillbilly Elegy fame. Everyone I knew went by two names, first and middle. If someone was referred to only by their first name– aunts and uncles excluded– they were viewed as an outsider or highfalutin. My sister went by Rena Lou, my brother Charles Dewey, and I was Billy Dean.

Except to my aunts! To my Aunts Cynthia and Irene I was Billie Dean. The only other Billies that I knew were all of the opposite gender: Billie Johnson in my high school class, Billie Holiday, Billie Jean King. I never got an explanation as to why my aunts thought I needed an extra vowel to spell my first name, but it appeared on every birthday card they sent me or Christmas present they blessed me with. It may have even been on our wedding present: Mr. and Mrs. Billie Dean Wolfe. I was such a deer-in-headlights during that event that I didn’t notice.

My grandmother, MaMaw Helton, pronounced my first name in such a way that it seemed to warrant more than one letter at the end of it. And then she would roll right into the middle bridge that held the first and last together.

Names were important to us. It connected us to the past and rooted us in the present. I bore the nameplates of a great uncle and an uncle. I was almost a Silas Dean, but, for some reason, my parents yielded to what they stamped on me. Perhaps because Billie Dean flowed better than Silas Dean. Too many “s’es” can cause a lot of spitting. My Uncle Millard (Vance, mind you) chewed Mail Pouch. “S’es” were risky. He even steered away from saying his last name very much!

Still, Billie Dean! It didn’t infuse much manliness into me. I was relieved when I arrived in Ironton, Ohio my sophomore year of high school that some of my classmates connected the closeness of Beowulf, that we happened to be reading, with “Bill Wolfe.” Quickly the new kid was christened with the name of the Scandinavian hero of literature. I became Beowolfe, which was soon shortened to “Beo”!

In a way I had finally shed my aunt-bestowed name, Billie Dean, for a simple three letter replacement. It wasn’t me, but it sounded slightly more heroic. Since I was 5’2″ in 10th grade, I needed all the help I could get.

Explore posts in the same categories: children, Humor, Parenting, Uncategorized, Youth

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