The Baby Name “Burjoice”

I found the following story in a 106-year-old newspaper article about Southern names. No doubt many of the names/stories in the piece were made-up (urban legends, perhaps) but this one had such weirdly specific details that I’m hoping it was true.

Around in the next cove was the boy, Burjoice Robbins, whose mother derived even greater satisfaction from his curiously un-Christian Christian name. The Cumberland Presbyterian preacher who christened the child insisted on calling him “Rejoice,” and that is the way it is written in the church record. The explanation is simple in the extreme. That summer a learned man ran away from the city to the seclusion of the mountains while he was reading proof on a profound work that was being printed in Chattanooga. Every few days a youth would come out from the printing office with a bunch of galley proofs and there was always a discussion of the type. The learned man wanted some paragraphs set up in small pica, for emphasis, and certain foot notes set up in nonpareil, but the body of the text was to be in bourgeois, which the printer’s helper invariably pronounced “burjoice.” Whenever the writer said anything about “bourzhwa” the youth repeated it after him, making the correction in pronunciation, “burjoice.” The mother of the little boy was convinced that this wonderful thing, which was to play such an important part in a learned book, would make the grandest name her son could possibly have. Even when the preacher said it was heathen she did not yield, writing it in the family bible, in defiance of the church record.

The words “pica,” “nonpareil,” and “bourgeois” refer to letter sizes that predate the point system we use today (e.g., 12-point Times New Roman, 10-point Arial).

And here’s a twist: In the world of printing, the word “bourgeois” was indeed pronounced burjoice. So the printer’s helper was correct in making his correction. :)

Source: “Peculiar Names Found in the Southern States.” San Francisco Call 28 Sep. 1912: 2.


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