Hang down your head, candidate

A piece I read in the WSJ this morning reminded me of a picture I shot with my phone while at a stoplight in Birmingham Friday. The story was about candidates with unusual names, such as Young Boozer, Krystal Ball and Isaac Hayes:

It might come as no surprise in these tumultuous times that a Young Boozer is running for Alabama state treasurer.

Young Boozer introduces himself on the stump as, “Young Boozer and yes, that’s my real name.” He says each audience is made up of three parts. The first wonders, “Is that the guy’s real name?” The second says, “‘What’s his father’s name, Old Boozer?”‘ The rest already know him.

Mr. Boozer, 61 years old, is the third consecutive Young Boozer in his family. He coined the motto, “funny name, serious leadership,” after realizing on the campaign trail the political advantage the elder Young Boozers had passed along. Previously, the Boozers were associated mostly with sports. Mr. Boozer’s father, Young Boozer, Jr., was a football star at the University of Alabama, where he faced off in the Rose Bowl against a Stanford player named Tom Collins.

“I’ve always been a Boozer,” jokes the candidate. The family name is so unusual that “once you hear it, you never forget it,” he says. Still, “I didn’t think it was funny when I was growing up because my dad was so well known.”…

I’m sorry if you can’t make out the blurry image above, but it urges people to vote for Tom Dooley for Alabama state board of education. (So yes, in Alabama, voters have the opportunity to vote for both a famous name from an iconic folk song, and Young Boozer.)

This sparked a conversation between my wife and me — one of those kinds of conversations that are rare in this era of Google. I couldn’t consult the Blackberry while driving, and so we tried to remember… we both knew about the folk song, and to the great regret of the other occupants of the car, I was able to sing four lines of it, repeatedly, before I got stuck:

Hang down your head, Tom Doo-ley.

Hang down your head and cry.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley.

Poor boy, you’re gonna die…

Beyond that, we didn’t know much. I was thinking the song was about a man condemned some notorious, long-forgotten murder. My wife said yes, but the defendant was a doctor. I said I didn’t know about that, but I did know… and launched into my four lines again.

Well, now that Wikipedia is at hand, I can report that:

  • The song was about the 1866 murder in North Carolina of a woman named Laura Foster.
  • Tom Dula was hanged for the murder in 1868, after two trials.
  • Dula was pronounced “Dooley” in Appalachian dialect, as a result of the same linguistic quirk that led to the current pronunciation and spelling of Grand Ole Opry.
  • Several versions of the song, first sung shortly after Dula’s execution, were recorded in the first half of the 20th century. By far the most famous was by The Kingston Trio in 1958, which was a huge crossover hit and is widely credited with launching the folk boom of the early 60s.
  • At the time that hit recording came out, a Dr. Tom Dooley (Thomas Anthony Dooley III) was famous as an international humanitarian. (Since he was an American Catholic, I’m guessing my wife heard a lot about him from the nuns at school.)
  • It’s not “gonna die,” but “bound to die.”

Oh, finally — turns out the Tom Dooley running for school board is also “Dr. Tom Dooley,” according to his Web site.

And that’s all I know about Tom Dooley.

Aren’t you glad you weren’t stuck in a car with me driving for 20 hours over the weekend? I won’t even get into the thoughts I had when I saw in Memphis a sign telling me that Ned Ray McWherter’s boy is running for governor

5 thoughts on “Hang down your head, candidate

  1. Kathryn Jean Braun Fenner

    The French have it right–they forbid people to choose names for their children that will bring derision on them, among other things. I think about the discussion in The Wire about what chance kids have with nicknames like Dooky and Stinker.

    But then again, there wasn’t a Saint Brad, was there?

  2. Brad

    Not yet. (Imagine smiley face.)

    I like my name, but as a convert to Catholicism, I just have to live with the fact that it’s about as WASPish as you can get. Which is weird, because the Bradleys I descend from were Irish. Yet the name is as Anglo-Saxon as you can get — it means “broad clearing.”

    At least my FIRST name is Gaelic — it means, ahem, “ruler of the world” — and there actually IS a little-known St. Donald.

    My last name is Welsh. We think. (I once spoke to a genealogist who believed it was Flemish, originally, as “Wathen.”)

    But put it all together and it sounds very WASPish, I admit.

  3. Kathryn Jean Braun Fenner

    So you could go by Donald and be a good Catholic. The use of a surname, even an Irish one, as a “call” name has such WASP-ish pretensions for a Celt such as you.

    The Donald.

  4. bud

    Johnny Cash showed how a boy named Sue was able to overcome that liability. It helped build character. So what is in a name really. But genealogically speaking it is interesting.

  5. Kathryn Jean Braun Fenner

    Johnny Cash sang a song about one fictional person. It’s been shown repeatedly that the name you bear does have significant economic consequences–particularly if it reflects that you are of an ethnic minority. Shameika does not make as much money or get the jobs offered to Susan. George W. Bush is far more electable than Kanye West.

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