What Makes Someone Southern, Y’all?

I was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and I have lived there, or in North Carolina, Georgia, or Louisiana for my entire life. I love grits, the movie Steel Magnolias, and SEC football just like anyone else, and I can guarantee you that you’ll never find sugar in my cornbread.

I wonder, though … what is it that makes a person Southern? Is it purely based on geographic location? Is it the accent — the slow, sweet drawl? Is it the vocabulary and diction? Is it what we drink or eat at supper (or that we even say supper)? Is it the double names and “yes ma’ams?”

“How do you call yourself a Southerner?”

My husband likes to tell me that I’m really not Southern at all. I lost my Alabama accent after a childhood move, and I have never liked sweet tea. Yes, you read that correctly. I think that sweet tea is gross. Also, while true Southern women “glisten” in hot weather, I can admit that it’s just regular old sweat rolling down my forehead. I should say, though, that his standards for being Southern are irrationally tough. He thinks anyone born north of I-10 is a Yankee. Crazy, right?

Even by less stringent standards, I am questionably Southern. I don’t have any seersucker in my closet, I can’t say that I’ve ever enjoyed a mint julep, and while I do own pearls, they don’t make it out of my jewelry box very often.

Pride, Traditions, and Family

So what is it that makes us Southern? It’s our pride, the traditions we share, and our emphasis on family. And, darlin’, the word “family” is a loose term. My family is more than just my blood relatives. Southerners are welcoming, plain and simple, and we’re quick to offer a warm smile and assign folks a pet name.

I’ve heard before that you can’t really be from the South or call a certain city home unless your family has been there for multiple generations. Well, this might be an unpopular opinion, but I think that’s just stupid. Remember: anyone is welcome in our big family, right? As long as they’re open to doing the same for others and having a good time (and ditching any mention of “pop”), they’re strong candidates for conversion in my book. Welcome, y’all.

As for pride, I’ve never met a group of people faster to mention that they’re from a specific state or region as Southerners. Our hometowns are such key parts of who we are, and it’s hard to separate that regional pride from our identities.

Experiences and Roots

Ultimately, “Southern” is a collection of new, lively experiences with our roots still held close to our hearts. It’s a college football tailgate, a spirited backyard party with dancing and drinks, and a festival or fair under big, round sunshine. It’s your grandmother’s recipe, a collection of creased photographs and cherished heirlooms, and the manners you try to impart on your own children.

Still confused? Bless your heart.

Katie M
Katie is a towboater’s wife and devoted mother to son, Olie (2015). She's lived across the Southeast and has been a proud, Mardi Gras-loving resident of New Orleans since 2008. Though she recently transitioned to the Communications Director role at her school, she is and will always be an educator at heart and a fierce advocate for gifted learners. Football season is her favorite time of year; she bleeds red and black for the Georgia Bulldogs and can be found cheering loudly with her fellow Who Dats in the Superdome. She enjoys making to-do lists, drinking too much iced coffee, and beating the guys in fantasy football.


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