What’s in a name? Wordplay about ‘Ione,’ ‘Iona,’ and ‘Eliot’

If most my Cartwright relatives are like Cousin Michael, I suspect that you haven’t ever given the name “Ione” a lot of thought. I understand that it is a Greek name meaning “violet flower.” Presumably at some point in the 19th century, someone dubbed the area around Ione with that name whether or not there were violet flowers there.

Unless there some reason to do so, no one would give it a second thought any more than one might suppose the name “Mansfield” should be given further thought. (It turns out that the name of the small town where Millie lived for the last two decades of her life was named for. . . well, “a man’s field.” I am not joking. Look it up!)

Several years ago, I read Redemption Song, a novel by Bertice Berry that is about two African-Americans during the slave era.  Joe “buys” Iona out of slavery. At the point at which he shows up to ask her to marry him, he holds up the papers and says, “I own her.” Recalling this incident, his lover/wife says, “Those where my free papers. I’m nobody’s but his.” (Redemption Song, 143)  Although I like to think that I am a perceptive reader, I have to say that I did not see that one coming! So in at least this one instance, the sound of the name conveys the sense of possession without the prospect of dispossession.

Wordplay is found in some of the most erudite novels I have read, as well as in some of the most popular. One of my favorite nineteenth century Victorian novelists is George Eliot. As you may know, the name “George Eliot” is actually the pen name that a woman named Mary Ann Evans took. Although the name “Eliot” has long existed in English-speaking contexts on both sides of the Atlantic, in this particular instance, there is good reason to believe that Evans was using that particular last name as a form of dedication to her mentor George Lewes. As Rebecca Mead explains in her wonderful memoir My Life in Middlemarch (2014), “The name under which she became famous was a tribute to him: she was George because he was George. An early biographer, Blanche Collton Williams. . . wrote that ‘Eliot’ is a further concealed honoring, ‘To L — I owe it.'” (Mead, 178).

I mention these examples of names involving ownership and debts owed simply to convey that what the word “Ione” sounds like might be significant in some contexts.  While there is no historical reason that know of to suggest that the name of this community located in Southeastern Logan County and/or northeastern Scott County has any particular meaning beyond its mythological association (“Ione” was one of the Greek Nereids)  and geographical place name (“Ionia” is a region on the West Coast of Asia Minor), there remains the vocalization of the word in the  pronunciation that I have always heard used.

The fact that the name “Ione” rings with a sense of “ownership” is poignant given the fact that Jess and Millie did not own their own home when they lived in that commmunity.  Billy and his siblings grew up in a location that suggests the prospect of attaining the American dream. On several occasions, Daddy and Mama tried to buy a home. The closest that they came during their marriage (as far as I know) is the time in 1969 that they entered into a rent-to-own agreement with the developer of Jackson Terrace subdivision just outside of Jacksonville, Arkansas (near the Little Rock Air Force Base). Alas, despite the fact that we lived there almost a year, in the end we had to move out of the house because Daddy and Mama were not able to qualify for a loan. A couple of years later, Daddy and Mama had to file for bankruptcy. Poor Daddy would be bankrupt at least two more times before he died.

Once upon a time (in the late 1940s), however, before he joined the Army, Billy Cartwright lived in the community of Ione along with his sister Betty, brother Bobby, and parent, Jess and Millie. And as we know, he would often return, perhaps with a sense of nostalgia about “the old home place,” a dwelling the Cartwrights never actually owned.

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About mcartwright1957

I am a member of the senior administrative team at the University of Indianapolis where I have served since 1996. I am married to Mary Wilder Cartwright. We are the parents of four children: Hannah, Erin, James, and Bethany. I currently live in Nashville, IN.
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2 Responses to What’s in a name? Wordplay about ‘Ione,’ ‘Iona,’ and ‘Eliot’

  1. shirleyhs says:

    Michael, when I saw this title, the first thing that came to my mind was Iona, Scotland, the birthplace of Christianity (Celtic version) in that region. I’m hoping to visit Iona and the thriving spiritual community there next year. In a project like yours, names and places are very important. I wish you the best as you and your family set out to learn from the people and places of the past!


    • Thanks, Shirley, for taking the time to reply to this post. I can’t believe that I neglected to mention Iona. One of those odd compartmentalized patterns of thought that I discover from time to time. Of course! Now I wonder what, if any, associations this little community may have with Scotch-Irish heritage?


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