Who Is Bubba?
Published 4:53 pm Wednesday, November 6, 2002
By By Lloyd Albritton
Don Johnson, the dashing and handsome movie star who has been leading the way in fashionable young men's clothing and cool things to say since his Miami Vice days, did the same thing for older men in his recent Nash Bridges television series with casual plaid vests and sports jackets. Don also resurrected the world's fascination with the classic southern redneck nickname "Bubba." Bubba was Nash Bridges' favorite nickname for just about everybody. "Go ahead, Bubba, make my day!"
Many people who have never lived in the south have a conjured-up image of anyone named Bubba. Here's who Yankees think Bubba is: Bubba is fat and wears his britches cinched tightly beneath his ample belly. His actual waist size is about 48 inches, but his britches are a size 34. His hair and whiskers are greasy and unkempt and he always wears the same flannel shirt and a long-billed baseball cap pulled down to the top of his ears. Bubba drives a pickup truck covered with mud that has been through several wrecks and he keeps his shotgun on a rack in the rear window. Bubba is also stupid and hates black people, yellow people, brown people and even most white people.
This description could also cover a lot of New York City cops, except for the shotguns, which they carry in the trunks of their cars. I've seen a few cowboys out in Colorado who fit that description too. But, in New York and Colorado rednecks aren't called rednecks and they aren't named Bubba. Rednecks and Bubbas are strictly a southern thing.
Many years ago, when I first left home to go off and see the world in the military service, I encountered many of the misconceptions that people outside the south have about southerners. At first, I felt embarrassed and ignorant when my buddies laughed at the way I talked and made fun of my love for grits and good sopping syrup. It did not take me long, however, to decide that "ya'll" might not be in the dictionary, but neither was "youses," so I told'em, "ya'll can just kiss my grits!" And furthermore, anybody who would put milk and sugar in their grits had to be misguided or just plain ignorant as far as I was concerned. When this Bubba thing came up, I was completely perplexed, for I knew a few Bubbas when I was growing up and none of them fit the unflattering profile that everyone seemed to have.
So, where did the name Bubba come from anyway? Why, it is only baby talk for "brother!" When little children are learning to talk they often have trouble with certain words and names. Hence, brother is more easily said by a small child as Bubba. I have a cousin who called her older brother Bubba when she was a little girl. Her brother's real name was Charles and he was a pretty cool dude when he was a young man. Charles was handsome and lean, drove a hotrod and never wore caps or flannel shirts. Today, her brother is over 60 years old and she still calls him Bubba.
Bubba is also used in the south as an expression of love and fondness between friends, in the same way that the word brother is used in Christian congregations. For example, one friend may say something like, "That's the darndest thing I ever heard," whereupon the other might exclaim, "I heard 'at, Bubba!" Or, one friend might greet another by saying, "What's up, Bubba?"
Southern people are fond of nicknames. My father used to call me Slick. Sometimes he still does. I also sometimes teasingly call my adult daughter, Laura, by her baby name, WaWa, the name she labeled herself with when she could not pronounce her own name. Southerners like double names too, like Billy Bob, or Joe Mack, or Bobby Jo. The word "girl" or "boy" is often used in the south as the suffix to form a double name, such as John-Boy, Billy-Boy, or Suzi-girl. My brother Gregory is 50 years old and is a lawyer, a politician and a family court judge, but to me he will always be just my little bubba, "Gegy-boy."
When I was growing up in the south, I had many friends whose real names were unknown to anyone but their parents. They went by nicknames given to them early in life as they developed unique personalities. For example, my cousin, Travis, was a precocious character even as a little boy, and his father, an avid hunter, called him Buckshot, in reference to that powerful shotgun shell load. It was with some difficulty that Travis was finally able to shed that name when he grew into adulthood. My cousin, Pooty, however, always wore his childhood nickname without shame and I have never talked to anyone in family circles who even knew Pooty's real Christian name.
I'm confident that this quirky phenomenon of human nature is not unique to the south, for surely parents the world over assign fond nicknames to their children which they use in family inner circles. It is perhaps unique that southerners tend to carry their beloved childhood nicknames with them on into their adult lives and out into the hinterlands, leaving an impression upon folks in other regions that these nicknames, assigned during the sweet innocence of childhood, somehow represent the character or persona of the adult that the child turns out to be. In other words, Bubba the Redneck was just plain Bubba long before he ever had that big belly, pickup truck and shotgun, and there are still a lot of Bubbas in the south who don't even own a gun, but love art and classical music and love their fellowmen of all colors and stripes.
The word ya'll (contraction for you all) has been vindicated in recent years and nobody makes fun of it anymore. I hear major news commentators and popular television talk show hosts use it all the time. Opra Winfrey uses it liberally too. I believe it's only a matter of time before John Travolta makes a movie in which he plays a real cool dude named Bubba, then young people all over the world will suddenly want to be called Bubba too.
Lloyd Albritton, a native southerner, publishes an Internet version of The Albritton Letters at www.Lloyd-Albritton.com. He can be contacted at LloydAlbritton@aol.com.