Yes, if ‘Downton Abbey’ were set in the US, it would be in SC


Soon after I moved back to S.C., I was struck by how much my home state was like the England of a couple of generations back — or at least, how its ruling class was like that of the older England. I’d read in books how when one member of the public school set met another, they could usually find a personal connection in one of three ways — family, school or military unit.

On one of my first visits to the State House, I either participated in or overheard conversations in which connections were made in each of those three ways. The Citadel or Wofford may not be Oxford, but the interpersonal dynamics were the same.

(Before I came home to SC, I had never in my work life — in Tennessee and Kansas — met strangers who could make personal connections to me, which gave me a comforting sense of professional distance from sources that I took for granted. Then, one of the first people I met at the State House — Joe Wilson, as it happened — heard my name and said, “Yes, I’ve met your father; he’s doing a great job.” It was bit of a shock. My father at the time was running the junior ROTC program at Brookland-Cayce High School after retiring from the Navy.)

All that was brought back to mind when I was reading a feature in The Washington Post this morning about the origins of the surnames of presidential candidates, and I got to this:


Possible national origins: Scottish or English
Meaning: Have you ever seen the show “Downton Abbey”? It’s a good show (or, at least, has had its good moments). It centers on an expansive British estate at which there are strict social norms and a reliance on maintaining the boundaries of proper manners. If it were in America, it would be set in South Carolina.

“Graham,” as it turns out, is a name identifying residents of Grantham in Lincolnshire. And Lord Grantham is the main character in “Downton Abbey.”

As for “Grantham,” it’s apparently a combination of “homestead” — -ham — and either the Old English word for gravel — grand — or a reference to the name “Granta,” which means “snarler.” Making Lindsey Graham actually Lindsey Guy-who-lives-near-a-gravelly-home-or-near-where-the-snarler-lives….

Yes. An American Downton would likely be in South Carolina. In the Lowcountry, I would expect. Think Hobcaw Barony or something like that…

5 thoughts on “Yes, if ‘Downton Abbey’ were set in the US, it would be in SC

  1. Lynn Teague

    That was the idea, of course, to mimic the English aristocracy, including titles bestowed by the Crown in the era of the Proprietors – landgraves and caciques. These were not the same titles that “real” Englishmen had, but they were titles nonetheless. Nevertheless, efforts to emulate the English aristocracy were never entirely successful. Col. William Byrd II of Virginia was well educated in England, a member of the Royal Society, a member of the Virginia Council of State, and the owner of vast estates including the area now occupied by Richmond. Still, to his consternation, he was not regarded as quite equal socially to aristocrats in England, certainly not to titled nobility. An early 18th century English visitor to Charleston observed that the Charlestonians were “not quite our kind of people.” Some English visitors were understandably horrified that the whole edifice was built on the brutal institution of slavery. The English shouldn’t have been too sanctimonious about how the wealth was acquired, but they were more likely to keep the ugliest aspects of their wealth acquisition at a safe distance in some place like India. In any case, it is no accident that there are parallels.

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