I’on Swamp.

In Anna Wiener’s New Yorker piece “How Perfectly Can Reality Be Simulated?” (archived), there is a mention of “the I’on Swamp, a former rice paddy on the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina”; thanks to the magazine’s serif font, I could tell that it was “eye-on” and not “lon” (with an el), but the spelling threw me — I’ve never seen an apostrophe used that way. A little googling turned up Kyle Brooks’ 2017 post The I’On Swamp, in which he proffers the following explanation:

The early owner of the Clayfield Plantation was Jacob Bond I’On, which is where the current name for the swamp stems from. From what I could gather, most people called this swamp the Wappetaw Swamp during the 1700’s and 1800’s, and the name didn’t transition to the I’On Swamp until the 1900’s. As an interesting aside, this part of the Lowcountry spoke non-rhotic English in the 1700’s and early 1800’s, meaning that people born and raised in this region did not pronounce the “R” sound in words. Jacob Bond I’On’s last name is actually a modification of the name “Iron.” This name was modified to reflect how people were pronouncing the name, and the spelling stuck, both with the I’On family, but also the I’On Swamp.

Obviously that “Iron” story could be fake news, but it’s plausible and, for the moment, good enough for me. I wonder why they chose to use the apostrophe? It seems like “Ion” would be a natural and unremarkable rendering of the name. As it is, it looks as weird as de la O.

Comments

  1. Truly a mystery. The name goes back to Jacob’s grandpa, Captain Richard I’On. This genealogical site sums it up, and has a photo of his tombstone (which reads “ION”, without an apostrophe). Much of that note is based on this work (pp. 5–6), which is based on early documents. “Capt. Richard I’On appears in South Carolina in October 1743 when he commanded the Eagle, a Privateer Sloop, which sailed to cruise against the Spaniards,” according to the South Carolina Gazette of Oct. 3, 1743.

  2. On the tombstone, btw, the name appears as ION, capitalized and without apostrophes.

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    The apostrophe is clearly of a similar nature to that mentioned in Lesson Ten of

    http://jbr.me.uk/lingo.html#2

  4. From clearest to stupidest spelling: ION, Ion, I’on, I’On.

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    The odd thing about this story is that Anglophones in non-rhotic areas do not generally change spellings to reflect that aspect of pronunciation – it’s typically rhotic authors producing “eye dialect” for rhotic readers who would do something like that. I can think of some exceptions, but they maybe tend to involve a bit of euphemizing, e.g. “ho[e]” for “whore.” And non-rhotic locals might do some eye dialect for jocular effect, but it would be a bit odd to do that to a personal name.

  6. Another odd thing is that the rhotic in iron metathesized to iorn before it was dropped; so the apostrophe spelling should really be Io’n.

  7. “I wonder why they chose to use the apostrophe?”
    “The apostrophe is clearly of a similar nature…”
    “From clearest to stupidest …”

    Sigh. People, I just got used to the thought that in English apostrophes don’t represent a glottal stop but rather omission of a letter.
    And now you’re telling me that this omission should not always be indicated with an apostrophe.
    Complicated:(((((

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    I have occasionally come across shan’t spelt as sha’n’t, but it seems like the thin end of the wedge to me. Make one concession to consistency, and where would it end? We’d end up writing “labor” for “labour” before you know it. That way madness lies. Possibly even revolution.

    I’ve never seen wo’n’t, as far as I can recall. No doubt it exists on the Intertubes.

    I believe that the apostrophe in the English possessive ‘s is based historically on the wholly erroneous notion that it comes from his.

    And there is, of course, the much-treasured sociolinguistic Greengrocer’s Apostrophe, actually required in labelling fruit for sale in England (along with weights marked in furlongs) following our glorious Brexit liberation.

    (Bernard Shaw actually showed us the way on apostrophes. Sadly, nobody followed him.)

  9. “Sha’n’t” is Victorian to Edwardian, I think, like “is n’t”.

    I didn’t find any Old Country I’On people in the databases. There are a few 18th century Ions, as well as an Iyon and an Iwon. Maybe I’On got apostrophed to guard against mispronunciation? Eye-un vs. Ee-un or something?

  10. Moonfriend says

    I’m non-rhotic (Aus), and ion and iron are not pronounced the same. Maybe that’s what happened here.

  11. PlasticPaddy says

    @Moonfriend, Y
    The name Ian would also have been eye-uhn. Maybe he put the apostrophe there to ensure no one reading it would think the name was Jon. I suppose the Southern gentleman (if he had occasion to use the word), would also pronounce ion differently to iron (this is the non-rhotic schwa-colouring before a silent r).

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    The name Ian would also have been eye-uhn

    Really? Do Americans pronounce Ian wrong too? Is there no end to it?

  13. J.W. Brewer says

    In my experience, “Ian” is conventionally pronounced in AmEng with FLEECE rather than PRICE as the opening vowel, although I can’t exclude the possibility of individual exceptions.

  14. Do Americans pronounce Ian wrong too?

    I’ve never heard an American say anything but EE-an.

  15. PlasticPaddy says

    @hat
    Interesting. Does this predate the 1960s and the Ians Smith and Paisley? Maybe Stu knew an Ian…

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    FWIW, “Ian” has been in the top 100 boys’ names in the U.S. for babies since year-of-birth 1982. It was not in the top 1000 until 1935, not in the top 500 until 1962, and not in the top 250 until 1970. But there are enough of the older & smaller cohort out there (e.g. the born-circa-1940 father of someone I went to high school with) that I *think* I would have noticed if the older ones came with a different pronunciation than the younger ones.

    I don’t know the reason(s) for the name’s increasing popularity and the timing of that increase. It does coincide with a time of increased U.S. newspaper coverage of the doings of Ian Smith and Ian Paisley in various troubled foreign lands, but I don’t think most U.S. parents were thinking of either of those gentlemen as role models for their newborn sons.

  17. PlasticPaddy says

    Apart from hearing one example (Southern U.S child’s name) with Eye-an 50+ years ago, I thought the rule was Eye-ran, Eye-rack, Eye-talian and therefore Eye-an for some Southern accents.

  18. Apart from hearing one example (Southern U.S child’s name) with Eye-an 50+ years ago

    I would guess that was an outlier — people use all kinds of weird personal pronunciations and spellings for proper names.

  19. earthtopus says

    If you watch basketball games that he is commentating, you can hear this man announce himself as EYE-an at the start of each broadcast.

    (One of the links in the Wikipedia page goes to a Sports Illustrated article where he explains he chose the pronunciation to resemble his grandmother Ida’s name, so he does remain an explicit outlier, but he gets the pronunciation out to millions, in any event.)

  20. Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. I withdraw my objection and retreat in confusion!

  21. J.W. Brewer says

    I would be surprised if either of the exceptions pointed to say “EYE-rack” for Iraq, given their apparent regional/ethnic/etc. backgrounds. So whatever this is probably not part of a pattern that also explains that.

  22. Charles Perry says

    In “Them Thar Hills” (1934), (Georgia-born) Oliver Hardy tells Stan Laurel that the water in a country well is so delicious because of “the i’on in it.” (The real reason is that a barrel of moonshine has been dumped there.)

  23. In the early 1700s, how would the name Ian be pronounced by Carolinians? Were there many people named Ian/Iain outside of Scotland? And was the use of the letter J still so new that people might misread Ion as Jon?

  24. PlasticPaddy says

    @Y
    Compare the I in independence with the J in James Wilson…
    https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Us_declaration_independence_signatures.jpg

  25. Jen in Edinburgh says

    18th century Carolinians could also have been Highland Scots – North Carolina is where Flora MacDonald of Bonnie Prince Charlie fame ended up, for example.

  26. IIRC omission of intervocalic /r/ is a feature of South Carolina (Cayliny) Lowcountry speech and of some AAVE.

  27. Did the de Ath family do the same thing

  28. J.W. Brewer says

    @JenInEd: the 18th-century Highlanders who went to the Carolinas tended to cluster in fairly specific places – the Cape Fear Valley in North Carolina and the (mostly upper reaches?) of the adjoining Pee Dee Valley running into South Carolina. Both of which were in pre-railroad days quite a long ways away from Charleston and rice paddies and very culturally different from the Low Country centered on Charleston. (It is the Cape Fear Valley that is the usual situs of travelers tales reporting the existence of black slaves speaking Gaelic.)

    @Rodger C.: As noted upthread, due to metathesis “iron” does not have intervocalic /r/ in AmEng although, e.g., “ironic” does. Although perhaps the metathesis had not happened or become dominant by the 18th century?

  29. Sixties pop singer Ian Whitcomb (“You Turn Me On”) recounts in his memoirs how he was consistently called (to his ear) “Iron” during his US tours.

    When Ian Smith of Rhodesia was in the news during the 1970s, I remember the leading American newscaster Walter Cronkite consistently calling him Eye-an, except when he did a one-on-one interview with him. During the interview, he referred to him as Ee-an. But in the next day’s newscast, it was back to Eye-an again.

    When I was a child, newly arrived in North Carolina, I remember my non-rhotic father trying to spell out his name to people. “R”, he would start. “I”, they would reply, pronouncing it exactly the same way as he did. I think he eventually had to resort to writing it out for them.

  30. Sixties pop singer Ian Whitcomb (“You Turn Me On”) recounts in his memoirs how he was consistently called (to his ear) “Iron” during his US tours.

    When Ian Smith of Rhodesia was in the news during the 1970s, I remember the leading American newscaster Walter Cronkite consistently calling him Eye-an, except when he did a one-on-one interview with him. During the interview, he referred to him as Ee-an. But in the next day’s newscast, it was back to Eye-an again.

    Boy, it just goes to show what a leaky vessel memory is. I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s and listened to Cronkite a lot; I must have been aware of this pronunciation at the time. But although I clearly remember sportscasters calling Pedro Ramos “PEE-droh RAY-mohs,” I have no memory whatever of the EYE-an pronunciation. This is why I need LH!

  31. Cronkite also always called Guernica “GWAIRnica,” as if it represented “Güérnica.”

  32. That’s a common US pronunciation — in fact, I’m slightly surprised when I hear it said correctly.

  33. The earliest famous Ian I can think of is Fleming.

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    Ian the Baptist (as any pious Gael can testify) is obviously earlier, and even famouser. Even earlier than Ian the Evangelist and Ian the Divine.

    (My late father-in-law was an Ian. However, he disliked the name, and always went by his middle name.)

  35. Jen in Edinburgh says

    John the Baptist is Eòin, I think, although I don’t know why.

  36. @Rodger C: Fritz Hollings had an accent that tended to do that.

  37. J.W. Brewer says

    @Brett. The incomprehensible tag-team of the late Sen. Hollings and the late Sen. Thurmond were pretty good evidence that the predominant local language in South Carolina back then was not actually the same language that was predominant in other States of the Union. The linguistics scholars of the era were too distracted by stupid Chomskyite controversies to focus on this more empirically interesting question, however.

  38. An old one: “How are South Carolinians like Chinese? They eat rice, worship their ancestors, and don’t speak English.”

  39. Many years ago I had a summer job working for someone named Eoin. He was a good sort, despite his obvious Welshness. He pronounced his name like Ian, although the department boss delighted in referring to him as Ee-oh-win.

  40. There’s a 1991 speech by Hollings on his WP page. I hear plenty of intervocalic r’s: “computerized”, “interest”, “surgery”; though not in the usual non-rhotic syllable-final context: “senator”, “army”, “enormous”, “morning”.

    The syllable-final r’s, though unpronounced, color the previous vowel. To my ignorant ear, so does New York, but not New England.

    Maybe “Carolina” is syllabified as /kæ(r).o.lai.na/?

  41. David Marjanović says

    I would guess there are two non-rhotic accents in SC: a “normal” one that preserves intervocalic /r/, as Hollings did, and a “Danish” one that only preserves it if the preceding vowel is stressed, which it isn’t in Carolina.

    But then, that latter accent is supposed to exist in Charleston, which is precisely where Hollings was from…

    Ee-oh-win

    Éowyn?

  42. @Y: That’s why I said his accent “tended” that way. He certainly didn’t drop intervocalic r all the time. I think he also dropped it less as time went on, and his accent was more affected by the people he interacted with in Washington. I have a memory of a recording of him saying, “We are running out of courts,” in which running had only a tiny whisper of a r. However, I cannot seem to find a Web-accessible recording of that famous speech, so I am not sure where I would have heard it; it could well have been from a later interview in which Fritz was talking about what he had done during desegregation.

  43. if the preceding vowel is stressed, which it isn’t in Carolina.

    I pronounce Carolina with only one stress, on the -li-. In some Deep South accents, I would expect also a strong secondary stress on the Ca- (as in “Coke-Cola”). Is South Carolina like that too?

  44. This video has some earlier bits: “Carolina” (3:37), “tolerate” (7:47), “Carolina” (7:59). No strong secondary accent on “Carolina”, btw. The first one does indeed have a weak /r/.

  45. ktschwarz says

    “Caliny” and “Ca’lina” are much more successful than “Cayliny” as search terms for getting relevant hits. Wikipedia on Older Southern American English cites a chapter on “Rural White Southern Accents” in Varieties of English, which says “Some older Southerners are also variably non-rhotic in intra-word intervocalic contexts, as in carry [kʰæi]” — the same syllable as Carolina. Similarly, Wells in Accents of English sec. 6.5.7 “Is southern speech non-rhotic?” has:

    … lower-class or non-standard accents of the deep south delete /r/ variably in two environments where other non-rhotic accents do not, namely after /θ/ and intervocalically. Thus [r] is typically absent not only from four apples and saw it but also on occasion from throw, throb, through, and hurry, very, Carolina [kæˈlanə]; Paris may be homophonous with pass [pæɪs].

    Bolding mine. That is, “Ca’lina” doesn’t imply or require loss of intervocalic r in all words.

  46. Flannery O’Connor has “th’ow” in A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

  47. David Marjanović says

    …It just dawned on me that once “care Lina” has only three syllables, its r is no longer intervocalic and drops out regularly like in German fahren, führen, hören, Jahren, Herren and tons more.

  48. Stu Clayton says

    its r is no longer intervocalic and drops out regularly like in German fahren, führen, hören, Jahren, Herren and tons more.

    Are you claiming that those words are pronounced as monosyllables because “the r has dropped out”? Not in Germany German, because it hasn’t.

  49. David Marjanović says

    Are you claiming that those words are pronounced as monosyllables

    No. The n stays syllabic whenever stress timing allows it; in words like hinfahren or hinzufahren the syllable boundary does almost always disappear, in fahren almost never.

    Also, poetic license can come in and remove the syllable boundary so that fahren rhymes with Autobahn.

  50. Flannery O’Connor has “th’ow” in A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

    This is common all over the South, including the Upper South, and is a different phenomenon. Also “thoo” for “through.”

  51. Well, aight.

  52. The r-less pronunciation DM mentions for German in words ending in -V(:)ren is typical for some, common, varieties of colloquial German, but avoided in more formal varieties. In my dialect, I do pronounce e.g., fahren without [r], even contracting it to a monosyllable (pace Stu), when speaking in a colloquial register, but I don’t have this for words in -arren, and nouns in -aren; so when speaking in a colloquial register, I have [va:n] for waren “were”, but not for Waren goods ([va:r@n] or [va:r.n]).

  53. David Marjanović says

    but avoided in more formal varieties

    That, too, is regional (this side of stage pronunciation).

  54. Ian McShane on his name:

    It’s only the Americans that have problems with it. When we got married on the Queen Mary, I said to my wife: “You realise I’ve got grounds for divorce because this minister keeps calling me ‘I-arn’. ‘Do you, I-arn …’ I said: ‘No, it’s Ian.’ ‘I-arn?’ ‘No, Ian!’

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