boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe
Today's Globe  |   Latest News:   Local   Nation   World   |  NECN   Education   Obituaries   Special sections  

Name-change idea for country has few backers in Georgia

JACKSON, Ga. -- Folks who grew up in Butts County have heard all the jokes. Like how they're not backward, just a little behind. Or how people always crack a smile in Butts County.

But when a local disc jockey started a campaign to change the name of Butts County to something with a little more dignity, he practically got knocked on his you-know-what. The people of Butts County told Don Earnhart what he could do with his idea.

"If you don't like Butts County, take your butt and move out," said Anne Smith.

This county of about 20,000 people 40 miles south of Atlanta is home to Georgia's death row, its first state park, and not much else. One of its high points came a few years back, when the skin-care company Nivea came here to launch a new firming cream. What better place than Butts County?

Earnhart, owner of WJGA-FM, started the push for a new name on his radio show over the summer, arguing his case in between church announcements and his on-air swap meet.

The silver-haired DJ insists he is not embarrassed about the name; he has lived here all his life and jogs through town most days.

But Earnhart thinks the name is keeping Butts from enjoying the economic growth of its neighboring metro Atlanta counties. The textile mills have mostly left. An outlet mall looking for an Interstate 75 location scouted Butts County but eventually chose a site a few miles north.

"We catch so much flak, and it's holding us back," Earnhart said. "You hear the name Butts County, Ga., and it conjures up an image of a doublewide with a car up on blocks in the front yard.

"Let's say I'm a manufacturer trying to get my shareholders to invest in a plant. And the plant's in someplace called Podunk, Mississippi. You see what I'm saying?"

In fact, not a single business in the county uses the Butts name. The name does not even appear on the county courthouse. The only high school in the county uses the name of the county seat, Jackson.

"What are we going to have, `Butts Cleaners'? `We Get The Stains Out'? " Earnhart said. "If people say they're not embarrassed of it, why aren't they using it?" Earnhart is not the only person who thinks this way.

"It's so embarrassing to tell people you're from Butts County," said mechanic Melinda Sealey. "You don't even know."

Some have suggested changing the name to Indian Springs, after the state park, or Creek, after the Indians who lived here first.

"Name it anything besides Butts!" cried Edward Maddox, who gets the license plate on his Chevy Blazer renewed at his sister's house in nearby Spalding County because "I'm too embarrassed to ride around with `BUTTS' on my truck."

But he and others seem to be outnumbered by those who want to stick with the name out of tradition. Folks gave Earnhart an earful during an hourlong call-in show devoted to the issue, and the name change failed a caller poll by 20 to 6. Afterward, Carolyn Nicholson, a 71-year-old retiree, was fuming, hurling unprintable rear-end-related insults about Earnhart in very un-Southern fashion. "I'm proud to be from Butts County," she said. "Why should anyone be ashamed of that name?"

Georgia has 159 counties, including the "breakfast counties" of Coffee, Crisp, Bacon and Early. But no other county in America is called Butts, and a search of atlases failed to turn up any incorporated cities with that name.

The county was named for Captain Samuel Butts, who raised a militia for the War of 1812 and was killed by Creek Indians in Alabama two years later. Historians are not sure he ever stepped foot in what became Butts County in 1825.

Earnhart went to the Butts County Commission late last month but did not get much support for the name-change idea, and ultimately apologized to the politicians for taking up their time. He said there is a silent majority in Butts that feels the way he does, but they are being outshouted in the local paper, at county commission meetings, and among his listeners.

"I suppose this will be something for the next generation to debate," he said with a sigh after signing off the air last month. "That dream has been dashed."

SEARCH GLOBE ARCHIVES
 
Globe Archives Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months