Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Welcome to Bayou Teche Dispatches. . . .

Cypress logging raft on the Teche, ca. 1910 (postcard).

Bayou Teche Dispatches is a collection of my writings about south Louisiana history and culture. Often it consists of material I could not use in my books for one reason or another, but which I nonetheless found fascinating. I hope you enjoy reading these articles as much as I enjoyed researching and writing them.

If you publish information from these articles, however, please remember to cite this blog as your source and, if applicable, to supply a return link. Please do not repost articles in their entireties, but short block quotations that fall within range of "fair use" are acceptable.
~ Shane K. Bernard

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Table of Contents

When did racialization first occur in Louisiana?

Cajun country vestiges of ancient Greek and Roman culture

Fact or a misreading of source material?

 State of the Genre: Swamp Pop Music in the 21st Century
How is this south Louisiana/southeast Texas sound faring 50+ years after its heyday?

 Born of "Elite" White Reactionism?: Assessing Claims about the Rise of Cajun Ethnicity 

Disputing statements that Cajuns appeared only about 50 years ago

 Of Cajuns and Creoles: A Brief Historical Analysis
A look at the relationship between these ethnic groups

Notes on the Birth of Cajun Ethnic Identity 
An effort to clarify this important topic

❧ Thoughts on Cajuns and "Whiteness"
Were Cajuns always, or did they become, "white"?

 "Prairie de Jacko": Source of the Name?
Notes on an 18th-century place name along the Teche

 Notes on the Founding of Opelousas
Did it happen in 1720 or not?

 When Jimi Hendrix Appeared on My Father's Live TV Show 
in Lafayette, Louisiana, January 1965
The rock-guitar pioneer visited Lafayette

 Electronic Cajuns and Creoles: Early Television
as an Americanizing Agent
TV's impact on these two ethnic groups

 A Tool for Fighting Fake News & Conspiracy Theories: Teach Critical Thinking in American Classrooms
"Not what to think, but how to think"

 Portrait of a Cajun Woman: Andonia Thibodeaux 
of Bayou Tigre
An old tin-type photograph leads to a literary find

 Another Civil War Gunboat on the Teche: The U.S.S. Glide, aka Federal Gunboat No. 43

A legal document reveals the presence of one more gunboat on the bayou

 Now Available: My New Book about Bayou Teche

A narrative history of Bayou Teche and journal of canoeing the present-day bayou

 A Railroad History of Avery Island

An article I wrote for someone else's blog in 2010

 Sur le Teche: Exploring the Bayou by Canoe, Stage 1

Port Barre to Arnaudville

❧ Rough Rider Redux: A Photo of Theodore Roosevelt in Downtown New Iberia?

A forgotten photo of Theodore Roosevelt in Cajun Country

❧ A Fiction Interlude: My Short Story "The Phrenologist"

A short story about racism set in antebellum New Orleans

❧ A Floating Dancehall on the Teche: The Club Sho Boat

A riverboat that became a nightclub and restaurant

❧ A Meteor over Cajun Louisiana: Window on Atomic-Age Anxieties

Confusing a meteor for an atomic bomb

❧ A Film Documents South Louisiana's Logging Industry, ca. 1925: Responsible Stewardship or Environmental Disaster?

Digitized film about cypress logging along the Teche

❧ A Glimpse from 1968: Historic Films Looked at Cajuns and Creoles in Epic Year

Digitized French films capture an important year in south Louisiana history

❧ Now Available: My Children's History of the Cajuns in English and French Editions

Buy my Cajun book for kids so I can pay off my credit card

❧ "Cajuns of the Teche": Bad History, Wartime Propaganda, or Both?

A 1942 film with excellent images, horrible script

❧ A Snake, a Worm, and a Dead End: In Search of the Meaning of "Teche"

Searching for the meaning of the word "Teche"

❧ Galaxies, Bowling and Swamp Pop: Johnny Preston and The Cajuns in Escondido

Examining a Cajun reference in a chain e-mail about old gas stations

❧ Serendipity and Fort Tombecbe: Cooperation between Historians and Archaeologists

Accidentally finding a map of a fort coincidentally excavated by my friend

❧ Notes on Two Nineteenth-Century Engravings of South Louisiana Scenes

Vintage magazine images of Cajun and Creole women

❧ Finding History Right around the Corner: Heroism on the Cajun Home Front

A nearly forgotten World War II landmark a block from my residence

❧ My Father's Childhood Autograph Book on the History Channel?

When Dad met Hank Williams, Sr.

❧ My Oddball Collection of Cajun Warplane Photos

Cajun-themed combat aircraft

❧ Elodie's Gift: A Family Photographic Mystery

An old tin type image given to me by a great-aunt

❧ The Nike-Cajun Rocket: How It Got Its Name

A rocket named "the Cajun"?

❧ Middle Name or Clerical Error?: Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil and "Gaurhept"

Perpetuation of a historical error

❧ Debunking the Alleged Origin of the Word "Coonass"

Finding a word by accident that wasn't yet supposed to exist

❧ More on That Word "Coonass": A Labor Dispute Trial Documents Its Use in 1940

The earliest known use of this controversial word

❧ "To Err Is Human": Errata from My Books

Everyone makes mistakes

❧ An Old Bull Durham Tobacco Ad in New Iberia, or Palimpsests on the Teche

This vintage advertisement has since been destroyed

❧ Remembering Polycarp: A Cajun TV Show Host for Children

Everyone loved Polycarp!

❧ From Jet Fighters to Football: Origin of the Phrase "Ragin' Cajun"

Where this catchy term originated (as far as anyone knows)

❧ The Elusive André Massé, Pioneer of the Attakapas

An almost mythical explorer of the Teche region

❧ More on the Elusive Andre Massé, Early Settler of the Attakapas District

Revelations about him in a historical document

❧ La Chute: A Waterfall on Bayou Teche?

A waterfall in largely flat south Louisiana

❧ Gumbo in 1764?

The earliest known reference to gumbo in Louisiana

❧ On That Word "Gumbo": Okra, Sassafras, and Baudry's Reports from 1802-1803

More on the history of gumbo in Louisiana

❧ La Pointe de Repos — Early Acadian Settlement Site along the Teche

Colonial-era settlement near present-day Parks, Louisiana

❧ A 1795 Journey up the Teche: Fact, Fiction, or Literary Hoax?

It almost fooled me . . . almost

❧ All the Same Place: Isla Cuarin, Côte de Coiron, Île Petite Anse, Petite Anse Island & Avery Island

Evolution of a place name in the south Louisiana coastal marsh

❧ The Grevembergs, Early Cattle Ranchers of the Attakapas

When someone accidentally transposes two numerals

❧ Tracking the Decline of Cajun French

Research behind the language stats in my book The Cajuns

❧ The Secret CODOFIL Papers

I waited how long for the FBI to release these documents?

❧ Agnus Dei Artifact Found on Banks of Bayou Teche

A religious symbol turns up in the mud at Breaux Bridge

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Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Race, Language, and Culture: A Note on Identity in Louisiana

I thank historians Dr. Carl A. Brasseaux (Ret.) and Dr. Michael S. Martin of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for evaluating this essay:

I have seen it stated in a few journalistic and social media outlets that, to quote my fellow researcher Joseph Dunn (for whom I have great respect), “From the late 19th century through today, the baseline for identity in Louisiana shifted from language and culture to race and skin color.” This change occurred, he states, because “of heritage language loss, forced assimilation into English, and Americanization.”(1)

I think it is important, however, to note that the idea of ascribing identity to race, or racialization, did not appear from nothingness after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
(2) Indeed, there is strong evidence that race — not merely language and culture — served as a vital element in fixing identity decades before Napoleon sold Louisiana to the fledgling United States.

The Code Noir (1724)
Source: Bibliothèque Nationale de France

In 1724, for example, French administrators in Louisiana adopted a set of regulations aimed at governing race relations in the colony. The very name of that decree invoked race: the Code Noir — the Black Code. France created the Code Noir, to quote Louisiana’s highly accessible state encyclopedia, “to regulate the interaction of European-descended (blancs) and African-descended people (noirs) in colonial Louisiana.”(3) Though it contained some measures pertaining to Jews in the colony, the Code Noir (again, as its name implies) primarily concerned persons of African heritage: it regulated “nègres,” both “libres” and “esclaves,” as well as their treatment by enslavers and by the colonial apparatus in general.

Furthermore, it identified those it regulated based not on their language or culture, but on their race and, beyond that, their status as free or enslaved. For example, the code outlawed (on paper if not in practice) marriage between Whites and persons of African descent, even if the latter were not enslaved but “gens de couleur libre” (free persons of color). It precluded enslaved Blacks from selling anything without the written permission of their enslavers. It forbade Blacks enslaved by different masters from gathering in large groups, even for weddings, on pain of being flogged or even branded. And so on.(4)

After Louisiana became Spanish territory in 1762 its new rulers adopted (eventually) their own race-based regulations, the Sistema de Castas, or Caste System. Tulane historian Lawrence N. Powell describes this intricate system as “a taxonomic arrangement that often verged on the absurd” because of its tortuous attempt to categorize race. As Powell observes about New Spain in general in The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans:
A mixed-race population was forever spilling into the interstitial spaces, and obliging the Spanish bureaucrats charged with keeping track of it all — the census takers and notaries on the one hand, and thousands of parish priests on the other, all keeping racially distinct baptismal and marriage records — to devise, on the fly, cognitive labels for new people. . . . One Mexican scholar counted forty-six different mixed-blood types in the sources he consulted. Only ten categories were fundamental, however, and these were all spinoffs of three main divisions: Spaniards, Indians, and Negroes. . . . One scholar has dubbed the system a ‘pigmentocracy’ [my italics]. 

Those racial categories and sub-categories used by the Spanish included Mestizos, Castizos, Mulatos, Moriscos, Lobos, and Coyotes, as well as the overtly quantitative Cuarterones and Quinterones, among other gradations based on racial descent and admixture.

Las castas (The Castes).
Anonymous, 18th century,
Museo Nacional del Virreinato,
Tepotzotlán, Mexico.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Although the Spanish did not import the full Sistema in all its complexity to Louisiana, Powell nonetheless remarks the essence of the classificatory regime did get transferred to Louisiana, implanted by the priests and notaries tasked with verifying individual genealogies and entering their verdicts in registry books segregated by race” [my italics]. Racial gradations in Louisiana during the Spanish colonial period included Negro, Mulato, Cuarterón (Quadroon), Grifo (or Grifa), Pardo (“Colored”), and Moreno (“Black”).(5)

What evolved over time from this byzantine race-based system of identity was a simpler, more fundamental three-tiered racial order placing enslaved Blacks on the bottom; free, often multiracial (part-White) persons in the middle; and free Whites on top. This framework would in time be replaced by an even more fundamental binary system that viewed persons as either “Black” or “White,” with no “in-between” multiracial gradations. The binary system arose, strangely enough, even as some continued to refer to a trichotomy made up of “Blancs,” “Noirs” and “Mulâtres.” (Indeed, as late as 1920 the U.S. Census Bureau classified respondents as Black, White, or Mulatto, among other racial/ethnic classes.)(6)

As illustrated by the Code Noir under French rule and the Sistema de Castas under the Spanish, racialization existed in Louisiana long before the coming of American rule. This is important because, as noted, it has been argued that “heritage language loss, forced assimilation into English, and Americanization” shifted “the baseline for identity in Louisiana . . . from language and culture to race and skin color. . . .” Clearly, the issue is not so clear-cut. If a shift occurred, it may have been one of degree, with Americans continuing to use race as the major criterion for identity, albeit perhaps on a larger or more stringent scale than the colonial French and Spanish (though the Spanish, as shown, were fairly stringent when it came to racial identity).(7)

Powell's The Accidental City (2012)

Still, something must account for the presence of race-based identity in early colonial Louisiana. That something, I suggest, was an influence that existed on a vastly larger scale than Louisiana (even as colonial Louisiana covered about a third of the North American continent). I refer to novel if benighted theories of race — part quasi-religious, part pseudo-scientific — that permeated western thought at the time. These theories stemmed from interactions between Europeans and persons of African descent, both in the New World and on the African continent. In short, by the 18th century race as identity was a notion known across the western world, and not at all unique to Louisiana. This explains how Paris and Madrid were able to impose ideas about racial identity not merely on Louisiana, but on colonies throughout their far-flung empires.

This, however, does not mean language and culture exerted no impact on identity. As they do today, language and culture, like race, ethnicity, religion, and other attributes, served as boundaries, markers, or shibboleths used to inform inclusion as well as exclusion (which, for good or bad, is how group identity works). Yet the rise to dominance of racial identity in colonial Louisiana occurred well before the coming of the American period and its pervasive Americanizing agent, the English language.


(1) Joseph Dunn, “A Primer on the Evolution of Creole Identity in Louisiana,” Louisiana Perspectives [blog], 13 February 2018,, accessed 1 May 2024. See also Howard Blount (with Joseph Dunn), “The Acadian Exile, Louisiana Creoles, and the Rise of Cajun Branding,” Backroad Planet, 6 December 2018,, accessed 4 May 2024; Jules Bentley, “Blanc like Me: Cajuns vs. Whiteness,” Antigravity, July 2019,, accessed 4 May 2024.

(2) Merriam-Webster defines racialization as "the act of giving a racial character to someone or something: the process of categorizing, marginalizing, or regarding according to race. . . . : an act or instance of racializing." "Racialization,", n.d.,, accessed 8 May 2024.

(3) Michael T. Pasquier, “Code Noir of Louisiana,” 64 Parishes [Louisiana state encyclopedia], 6 January 2011,, accessed 2 May 2024.

(4) “Louisiana’s Code Noir (1724),” English translation, 64 Parishes, n.d. [October 2013],, accessed 2 May 2024, see Secs. I, VI, XIII, XV. For the Code in the original French see:

(5) Lawrence N. Powell, The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012), 293, 294, 295; Benjamin Groth, “‘Sacred Legalities’: The Indelible and Interconnected Relationship between Baptism and Race in Spanish New Orleans,” Louisiana History 64 (Winter 2023): 48, 56.

(6) Powell, Accidental City, 293; Paul Schor, “The Disappearance of the ‘Mulatto’ as the End of Inquiry into the Composition of the Black Population of the United States,” Counting Americans: How the US Census Classified the Nation (Oxford University Press, 2017), abstract, July 2017,, accessed 2 May 2024.

(7) For more on Americanization, see my book The Cajuns: Americanization of a People (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003).


Recent works touching on racialization in colonial Louisiana, as recommended by historian Michael S. Martin:

Dewulf, Jeroen. From the Kingdom of Kongo to Congo Square: Kongo Dances and the Origins of the Mardi Gras Indians (Lafayette: UL Press, 2017).

Groth, Benjamin. “‘Sacred Legalities’: The Indelible and Interconnected Relationship between Baptism and Race in Spanish New Orleans,” Louisiana History 64 (Winter 2023): 45–82.

Johnson, Jessica Marie. Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020).

Johnson, Rashauna. Slavery’s Metropolis: Unfree Labor in New Orleans during the Age of Revolutions (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Milne, George. Natchez Country: Indians, Colonists, and the Landscapes of Race in French Louisiana (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015).

Wegmann, Andrew N. An American Color: Race and Identity in New Orleans and the Atlantic World (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2022).

White, Sophie. Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).

Friday, March 22, 2024

Cajun, Creole, Acadian, Arcadian: Classical World Connections to South Louisiana

If I am known as a historian, I am known as one of Cajun and Creole history, and of south Louisiana history in general. My published work, after all, has always focused on these topics. When consulted by students, other scholars, or the media, it has always been as a historian versed in these regional topics.

I have, however, a strong interest in ancient history and literature. I find not only Rome and Greece of interest, but all ancient history touching on the Mediterranean world: Byzantium, Assyria, Persia, Parthia, Babylonia, Egypt, Kush, Carthage, and Etruria, among others. I am hardly an expert in these fields; I merely enjoy learning about them in my spare time, avowed “nerd” that I am.

The author at Mycenae, 2023.

Because of this interest I sometimes notice connections, however indirect and tentative, between south Louisiana history and the realm of ancient history. Odd as it may seem, there are indeed connections.

For example, New Orleans and Orleans Parish (we have parishes, not counties in Louisiana) take their names from Orléans, France. The name of that Old World city in turn evolved from its Roman-era form, Aurelianum, after the Roman emperor Aurelian. An effective leader who ruled from 270 to 275 A.D., he was murdered by his own bodyguards under tragic circumstances.(1)

Another example: my town, New Iberia, takes its name from the Iberian Peninsula of Spain (known in Roman times as the province of Hispania). Roman colonists and, before them, Greek colonists had settled that peninsula, and both exerted an influence on its toponymy (that is, its place naming). Thus, according to, the word Iberia, though Latinate in form, comes “from Ancient Greek Ἰβηρία (Ibēría), after the river Ἴβηρος (Íbēros), which itself came from a native Celtiberian name for the river *Ibēr (modern Spanish Ebro).”(2)

New Iberia was founded in 1779 by Spanish settlers from Malaga, Spain (established as Málaka by Phoenicians, ruled later by Carthage and, ultimately, by its enemy Rome). Naturally, the newly arrived Malagueños in south Louisiana gave their village a Spanish name, calling it Nueva Iberia in reference to their peninsular homeland. By the very late 18th century, however, the Spanish name had morphed into its English equivalent, New Iberia. This reflected a growing Anglo-American presence in the Spanish colony, which, beginning in 1803, became part of the U.S.(3)

Louisiana law book referring
to New Iberia as Nova Iberia, 1814.

The region’s large francophone population, however, continued to refer to the place as Nouvelle-Iberie. Others called it New Town for short (much as some today call it “da Berry” — why they do so is another story). But by the 1810s the town’s name sometimes appeared as Nova Iberia, an entirely Latinized version of New Iberia.

For this reason it seemed fitting that for decades New Iberia boasted its very own ancient marble statue of the emperor Hadrian — even more fitting because Hadrian, according to many sources, was born in 76 A.D. on the Iberian Peninsula, in Hispania, near what is today Seville, Spain. (Even if he were born in Rome, as other sources state, his family had nonetheless lived in Hispania for generations.) Alas, the Hadrian statue’s owner, a local bank, carted off the artwork from the “Hadrian Building” — an edifice still bearing that name today — and sold it at auction.(4)

Ancient statue of Hadrian,
the Hadrian Building, New Iberia, La.
Photo by Matt Howry, taken 13 November 2006, 
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

(It is worth mentioning that the famous “New Iberia haircut” — subject of YouTube videos, Internet memes, and even its own song — is actually no more than the style known elsewhere as “the Caesar.” In fact, one south Louisiana media site refers to the hairstyle as “the New Iberia Caesar.” I am not making this up!)(5)

The emperor Tiberius
sporting a New Iberia haircut.
(Source: CC BY-SA 2.0)

Another ancient-world connection can be found in the ethnic label that I and over 100,000 others in south Louisiana and beyond apply to ourselves: Cajun.(6)

(Source: Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

I define “Cajun” as a descendant of the Acadians, a French-speaking, Roman Catholic people from Acadia, a historical region comprised of modern-day New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia (itself a Latin term meaning “New Scotland”). But there’s more to it than this: starting in 1764 about 3,000 Acadians, brutally exiled from Acadia by British redcoats, began to arrive in south Louisiana. There they intermarried on the semitropical frontier with other ethnic groups, and it was this intermarriage that created a new ethnic group, the Cajuns — very much a one-from-many people.(7)

How does this relate to the classical world? The word Cajun derived from Acadian (Acadien in French), the demonym for someone from Acadia (Acadie). While some researchers have suggested a Native American origin, others assert Acadia hails from Arcadia, a word of Greek origin (Arkadia) frequently used in poetry and other literature to evoke a rustic ideal.(7) It is, or was, a real place — a region in the central Peloponnese of Ancient Greece that reached its political apex around 370 B.C.(8) 

Arcadia (in red),
Central Peloponnese, Greece.
(Source: Wikimedia, CC0 1.0 Deed)

“The name Arcadia,” notes the Dictionary of Classical Mythology, “derives from [the demigod king] Arcas, the son of Callisto who was loved by Zeus and turned into a bear. . . . Later, under the initial influence of Theocritus and Virgil, [Arcadia] became idealized as the setting for pastoral poetry and song, a place of nymphs and shepherds, satyrs and demigods, all living an idyllic life of rustic simplicity.” (Interestingly, the word Creole — of whom the Cajuns, as I and others believe, form a subset — stems from the Latin creāre, meaning “to create” or “to beget.”)(9)

The Acadiana region (in light gray).
Map by the author.

The south Louisiana region that gave rise to the Cajuns is called Acadiana, thus (like the word Louisiana, or for that matter Indiana) draws on the convention of Latinizing a pre-existing word to form a place name — in this case by adding the Latinate suffix -ana or -iana. Consider, for example, the ancient Roman settlements of Hadriana, Civita Giuliana, Tricciana, Biriciana, and Petriana, among others.

Incidentally, we should lend absolutely no credence to one particular claim linking Cajuns and their Acadian ancestors to the ancient Mediterranean world. I refer to an assertation by mid-20th-century south Louisiana author and self-styled Cajun “expert,” the pseudonymous André Cajun, that the Cajun people trace their ethnic roots to Christian disciples in first-century Armenia — a West-Asian, some say Middle-Eastern, client kingdom contested by Rome and its eastern foe Parthia (centered on what is now Iran). 

Book by André Cajun, 1947.

“The story of the class, or group of people in Louisiana known as ‘Cajuns,’” declared that author in 1947, referring to a circa 70 A.D. event, “began the hour St. Bartholomew, a disciple [of Jesus], gave up the ghost. The location of this sad event was the ancient land of Armenia. . . .” The author goes on to relate how, over roughly 1,700 years, a group of persecuted Christians migrated from Armenia to France to Nova Scotia and, finally, to south Louisiana, where they became the Cajuns. It seems likely, however, that “Mr. Cajun” either made up this story out of whole cloth or confused the Cajuns’ history with that of some other, unrelated, incredibly older people.(10)

While on this topic, a similar caveat: neither the Acadians of Nova Scotia nor the Arcadians of ancient Greece should be confused with the even more ancient people called the Akkadians, whose empire, some 4,300 years ago, covered much of what we call Mesopotamia. (Annoyingly, when I dictate “Acadian” to my cellphone, which I do fairly often, it inevitably transcribes the word as “Akkadian.”)

The Akkadian Empire, 2280 B.C.
(Source: Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Perhaps the strangest connection between south Louisiana and the ancient world concerns Cold War-era rocketry: the U.S. military and, in its earlier days, NASA tended to name American rockets and missiles, and even space programs, after Greek and Roman deities. Thus, Saturn V rockets sent Apollo moon missions into space; before that, the Mercury missions put American astronauts into orbit. Besides the Saturn, the U.S. built other rockets dubbed Atlas, Jupiter, Juno, Titan, Athena, Minotaur, and even one named Arcas, the aforementioned mythical king who gave his name to Arcadia.

Statue of Nike,
Greek goddess of victory.
(Source: Wikimedia, CC0 1.0 Deed)

There was, however, another rocket — a sounding rocket used to test the upper atmosphere — named the Nike, after the Greek goddess of victory. In the 1950s and ‘60s, NASA and the military often paired the Nike with another rocket called (in a notable deviation from the usual Greco-Roman nomenclature) the Cajun! How did this come about? As I write in my book The Cajuns: Americanization of a People:

Cajuns have further demonstrated their ability to adapt to the modern world by pursuing high-tech careers. A few Cajuns, for example, became veritable rocket scientists, among them J. G. Thibodaux [sic]. . . . Born in a lumber camp in the Atchafalaya swamp, he helped to develop the Nike-Cajun rocket in the 1950s, whose second stage, a sounding missile used for testing the upper atmosphere, was named in honor of his ancestry. He went on to serve as chief of the Propulsion and Power Division at Johnson Space Center, assisting NASA with the Apollo moon missions and later with the space shuttle.

As I note elsewhere in this blog, the Nike-Cajun name “evoked a strange combination of ancient Greek mythology and rural south Louisiana folklife.”(11)

A Nike-Cajun rocket.
(Source:, public domain)

Another vestige of classical-world influence on south Louisiana — not so much in the present as in the recent past — can be found in the custom of giving classical prénoms to Cajun and Creole newborns. These classical first names, always rendered in French, came directly from classical history, literature, and mythology. As anthropologist C. Paige Gutierrez has explained, “Typical Cajun given names include French names and also Gallicized Greek and Roman names, such as Aristide and Telesphore — the legacy of classically educated French priests” [italics added]. Presumably these classically educated priests suggested the Greek and Roman names to congregants, either at a child's birth or at its baptism.(12) 

This may have been the case, but it occurs to me there is another possible explanation for the abundance of classical names among 19th- and early-20th-century Cajuns and Creoles (including those with little or no knowledge of classical sources): that is, well-educated, upper-class French-speaking Creoles in Louisiana — aware of European trends and imbibing some of the ideals of the Enlightenment, neoclassicism, and romanticism — gave their children names from classical sources, in turn spurring the mass of local, less formally educated French-speakers to emulate them in their name choices. But I am merely theorizing.

In any event, glancing through historian Glenn R. Conrad’s Land Records of the Attakapas District (1804-1818) — a book indexing hundreds of south-central Louisiana landowners, big and small — reveals many 19th-century locals named Achille (Achilles), Adrien (Hadrian), Agricole (Agricola), Alexandre (Alexander), Antoine (Antonius), Auguste (Augustus), Aurelien (Aurelian), Césaire (Caesar), Delphine (Delphi), Fabien (Fabius), Irene (Eirene), Julien (Julianus), Lucien (Lucianus), Maximilien (Maximilianus), Narcisse (Narcissus), Octave (Octavius), Philippe (Philippos), Térance (Terentius), Théodore (Theodorus), Vallerin (Valerian), and Zenon (Zeno, derived from Zeus).(13)

And those are merely some of the more obvious classical throwbacks.

Marriage record mentioning
my great-great-grandfather,
Homer Bernard.

My great-great-grandfather’s first name might be included in the above list: it was Homer — pronounced the French way, with a silent H, as OH-MARE. It derives from the legendary composer of those ancient Greek epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. (A reader reminds me that “Minos is a classical Greek name known among Cajuns and Creoles. Indeed, I often drive past the J. Minos Simon [pron. SEE-MOH(N) in the French manner] law offices in nearby Lafayette. Simon's namesake was Minos, son of Zeus and Europa, who ruled as king of Crete. It was he who kept the half-man, half-bull Minotaur — literally Bull of Minos — in the heart of a labyrinth.)

Similarly, in Teche: A History of Louisiana’s Most Famous Bayou, I wrote of my canoe trip down that waterway:

Passing along downtown New Iberia, which sat on the west bank of the Teche, we glided under the Duperier Street bridge. It was here in the early twentieth century that bridgekeeper Everard Viator and his wife — urged by the town’s esteemed family physician, Dr. George Sabatier — christened each of their children with a name borrowed from Shakespeare [and ultimately from Roman history]. And so this spot on the Teche became home to Brutus, Cassius, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, and Cleopatra Viator.(14)

The Viator family in the 1930 U.S. Census.
Brutus is not listed.

Entirely by chance I met Marc Antony Viator at Victor’s Cafeteria in New Iberia two or three years before his death at age 97. His 2019 obituary spells his name Mark Anthony, which, no matter, recorded he had been preceded in death by “brothers, Julius P. [not C!] Viator . . . John Brutus Viator . . . Cassius Q. Viator . . . and a sister, Cleo Viator Trappey. . . .”(15)

A Telesphore Boudreaux book
by humorist Walter Coquille, 1938.

Consider also the fictional Cajun mayor of Bayou Pom-Pom, Telesphore Boudreaux, depicted in the early to mid-20th century by south Louisiana humorist Walter Coquille. The name Telesphore (cited above by Gutierrez as a quintessential old-time Cajun name) derives from the Greek Telesphoros, a minor god associated with Asclepius, god of medicine.(16)

Although less common today, such classically inspired names do survive in south Louisiana, even about a quarter into the 21st century. Within the past year I spotted a man driving around New Iberia in an older-model sedan, his name plastered on the driver’s-side door in metallic stick-on letters, the sort normally used on mail boxes. His name: Ulysse — the French form of Ulysses, in itself an alternate spelling of Odysseus. And so this modern-day Ulysse goes about his daily quests like the hero of Homer’s tale. “Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost,” reads the Odyssey, “and where he went, and who he met. . . .”(17) Ulysse's stops, however, might not include the Underworld or the island of the Cyclops, but rather Lowes, Walmart, and the post office.

Although I provide some of the above examples in a facetious, tongue-in-cheek manner, they are all rooted in fact. And so they help to reveal how the classical world impacted south Louisiana history and culture in ways that, though often right before our eyes, are not always evident.

For those wanting to learn more about such connections, but in a broader national and international context, I can recommend Why We're All Romans: The Roman Contribution to the Western World. Its author, University of Louisiana at Lafayette professor Carl J. Richard, could himself be considered another link between south Louisiana and the ancient world: like me, he is a Cajun (his surname is pronounced REE-SHARD in the French manner) and a historian, yet one whose specialized fields include — as might be expected, given his book's title — ancient Greek and Roman history.

The Hadrian Building
sans its statue of Hadrian.
(Source: Google Maps)


(1) Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. Orleans (n.d.,, accessed 19 March 2024).

    Other, similar early names of Orléans have been used (Civitas Aurelianorum, Urbs Aurelianensis, Aureliana Civitas), but they all seem to allude to the Emperor Aurelian.

(2) Wiktionary, s.v. Iberia (9 March 2024,, accessed 19 March 2024).

(3) New Iberia is mentioned early on by its English name, for example, in “A Short Account of Some Excursions of Mr. Spillard, the Celebrated Pedestrian,” The Sporting Magazine [London], Vol. 5 (October 1794), p. 29. It has been suggested Spillard was a fraud; even so, it remains true the article mentioned “New Iberia” in 1794.

(4) For an early reference to New Iberia as Nova Iberia, see, for instance, John Brice, comp., A Selection of All the Laws of the United States Now in Force, Relative to Commercial Subjects (Baltimore: Neal, Wills, & Cole, 1814), p. 262; Mary Tutwiler, Hadrians Waltz out of New Iberia, The Independent (Lafayette, La.), 6 May 2008,, accessed 19 March 2024.

(5) CJ [pen name], New Iberia Haircut and Song Explained,, 21 October 2021,, accessed 24 March 2024.

(6) The 2020 national count for persons identifying in whole or part as “Cajun” was 107,553. “Cajun, People Reporting Ancestry, 2020: American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates Detailed Tables (B04006), Total U.S. Population,, accessed 2 May 2021.

(7) The evolution of Acadians into Cajuns through intermarriage with other ethnic groups is examined in Carl A. Brasseaux, Acadian to Cajun: Transformation of a People, 1803-1877 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992).

(8) Some sources aver that the place name Acadia derives not from Greek origins, but from the Mikmaq akadie meaning fertile land or quoddy meaning place (among other proposed Native American origins). Thus we find assertions ranging from the authoritative It is certainly not from the Greek Arcadia to the equally authoritative The Micmac termination . . . appears to have no bearing on the origin of the choronym [the proper name of a . . . geographical . . . unit of land]. It is possible, however, that both etymologies could be true, the Native American word, by its very similarity, suggesting the Greek one to European explorers.

S. M. Sener, The Acadians in Lancaster County, Papers Read before the Lancaster County Historical Society on Sept. 4, 1896 (Lancaster, Pa.: [Lancaster County Historical Society], 1896), [p. 37]; Alan Rayburn, Acadia: The Origin of the Name and Its Geographical and Historical Utilization, Cartographica: The International Journal for Geographic Information and Geovisualization, Vol. 10 (June 1973): pp. 26-43, quote is from the abstract on UTP Journals [University of Toronto Press], n.d. [12 October 2006?],, accessed 20 March 2024; Terminology/Keywords, Names: A Journal of Onomastics, n.d., American Name Society/University of Pittsburgh,, accessed 20 March 2024 s.v. choronym.

(9) Jenny March, Dictionary of Classical Mythology, 2nd ed. (2014), s.v. “Arcadia,” “Arcas”; Wiktionary, s.v. Creole, 5 January 2024,, accessed 19 March 2024); also s.v. creo, 21 February 2024,, accessed 19 March 2024.

(10) André Cajun [pseudonym], Why Louisiana Has. . . (New Orleans: Harmanson, 1947), pp. 16-21.

(11) Shane K. Bernard, The Cajuns: Americanization of a People (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003): 147; Shane K. Bernard, The Nike-Cajun Rocket: How It Got Its Name, Bayou Teche Dispatches (blog), 11 April 2012,, accessed 19 March 2024; Shane K. Bernard, Debunking the Alleged Origin of the Word Coonass, Bayou Teche Dispatches (blog), 5 August 2010,, accessed 19 March 2024.

12) C. Paige Gutierrez, Cajun Foodways (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012), p. 18.

13) Glenn R. Conrad, comp., Land Records of the Attakapas District, Vol. II, Pt. I: Conveyance Records of Attakapas County, 1804-1818 (Lafayette, La.: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1992), see index (pp. 416-80).

    Other names I found in Conrad’s book that derive, or appear to derive, from classical sources are Anasthasie, Aspasie, Athanase, Clémance, Constant, Cosme, Cyprien, Donat, Eugène, Eugénie, Eulalie, Euphrosine, Félicité, Hiacinthe/Hyacinthe, Hortense, Hypolite, Marcel, Marcélite, Marcellin, Maxile, Modeste, Onézime, Pélagie, Perpetua, Phibe [Phoebe], Philémond, Phrosine, Placide, Scholastie, Scholastique, Silvain, Sylvestre, Théodule, Théophile, Théotice, Urbain, Vallere, Victoire, and Vital. No doubt many others exist in various sources listing south Louisiana names.

(14) Shane K. Bernard, Teche: A History of Louisiana’s Most Famous Bayou (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016), p. 168.

(15) Mark Anthony Viator, Sr., obituary, Pellerin Funeral Home website, ca. 26 February 2019,, accessed 17 March 2024.

(16) For more on Walter Coquille, see Mayor of Bayou Pom Pom — Walter Coquille, Early Cajun Music (blog), 19 October 2016,, accessed 20 March 2024.

(17) Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2017), cited in Charlotte Higgens, The Odyssey Translated by Emily Wilson Review – A New Cultural Landmark, The Guardian, 8 December 2017,, accessed 19 March 2024.

For a similar article, see Jaclyn Tripp, Louisiana’s Connections to Ancient Greece Might Surprise You, KTAL News, 13 March 2024,, accessed 19 March 2024.