So What’s in a Name? (Charleston Idiosyncrasies – Part 1)

Everything if you are a Charlestonian.

Pinckney, Tradd, Calhoun, Gibbes, Anson, Ravenel, Legare (pronounced Luh-gree), Manigault, Aiken, Huger (pronounced Hugh-gee), Middleton….

These are names you hear over and over in your Charleston goings and comings.  Perhaps you drove down a street of that name, or wandered past a soaring mansion with a plaque bearing that name, or met someone at a cocktail party who upon introduction, gave you a name of impossible-to-remember length, that sported a hyphen or two.  Almost every street, bridge, home, building and garden in the city was named after someone, and quite possibly, someone of the utmost historical importance.

We live in The Richard Peyton house.  Who is that you may ask?  Is it a Civil War General?  A famous writer?  Perhaps a political figure who altered the course of history with the introduction of some revolutionary legislation?  No.  After several hours investigating the past at the venerable Charleston Library Society on King St (which by the way is the third oldest library in the country) we discovered that THE Richard Peyton was just a merchant.  Alas, our visions of grandeur were dashed to a million pieces on our bluestone walkway and we had to content ourselves with ordinariness.  We did find some solace in the fact that our home was featured as a setting in Josephine Pinckney’s (there’s that name again!) 1948 book, The Great Mischief and again in Loutrel Brigg’s work Charleston Gardens, but I guess we’ll just have to suffer name envy for those with more illustrious pasts….

·  The Aiken-Rhett House was named after William Aiken Jr, a former governor of South Carolina (though he did inherit it from his father who died in a sudden carriage accident).

·  Tradd Street was named for Robert Tradd, the first white child to be born in Charles Town

·  Beaufain Street was named for Hector Berenger de Beaufain, a French Huguenot who came to South Carolina about 1735.  He was a prominent and “well-beloved” citizen, and one of the founders of the Charleston Library Society.

·  Calhoun Street is named for John C. Calhoun, the “Great Nullifier” and a leading US politician from South Carolina in the 19th century.

And speaking of Calhoun…

Descendants who acquire the name either by birth or marriage, hang on to it by their perfectly manicured fingernails.  I actually have a good friend whose name I will protect, but whose initials are T.C.T.  The T’s are of unremarkable American origin, but that C, THAT C!!  refers to Calhoun, and in times of need, he will definitely let you know it.  Here’s a somewhat-altered-for-dramatic-effect quote…

 “Yes, I may have lived in other places besides SC, but I was born and bred here, and do you know what that C stands for?  It stands for Calhoun – THE Calhoun.  I am a 6th generation Charlestonian so don’t tell me I don’t know how this town works.”

Ok, slight exaggeration, but you get my point.  A name in this town is important, but it is not necessarily about snobbery or loftiness.  It’s about being tied to a past, having roots, and feeling connected to a city and a life.  About being able to look up your relatives in an old tattered book and be proud of what THEY created and the part they played in molding and shaping Charleston today.

So all you people from “off” (what old Charlestonians refer to as anywhere else), before you start fretting about ‘fitting in’ or ‘making a name for yourself’, there are plenty of us from NY, Ohio, DC and Canada, and your name does NOT matter in the whole grand scheme of life, work and love in Charleston.  But if you meet someone out and about who introduces herself as Ashley Tradd Rutledge-Pinckney, know that you just shook hands with a little bit of history.

P.S.  If you want to take this a bit further and educate yourself on the origin of Charleston’s street names, here’s a great link I found that was my source for this blog (as was the Charleston Library Society)

Note: This blog is the first in a series I will be doing about Charleston Idiosyncrasies – an outsider’s point of view on the inside of Charleston, from someone who has made it her beloved home.  Stay tuned for more!

4 Responses to “So What’s in a Name? (Charleston Idiosyncrasies – Part 1)

  • my dear the first and last names are just as important as the CALHOUN.

    that said calhoun street and related people and things from the hometown are very important.

    – TCT

  • Fairly good article, genuinely informative stuff. Never ever considered I would find the information I want in this article. I’ve been scouring all over the net for some time now and had been starting to get frustrated. Thankfully, I came across your internet site and acquired precisely what I had been struggling to find.

  • Katherine
    9 years ago

    What is the history on the Lynch and Cummings families in Charleston? My Grandmother was Mildred A. Lynch born in Charleston S.C. In 1927. Her parents were Julius O. Lynch Sr. And Helen (Cummings) Lynch. Both born in Charleston S. C.

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