Can a Southerner be a Yankee?

Author: Seppo K J Tamminen <>

Date: Wed, 12 Jun 1996 10:23:52 -0400

From: Seppo K J Tamminen <>

Can a Southerner be a Yankee?

I am making this question from Finland. The reason I do this is that during the 1990's most Finns have started to call Americans as Yankees - Jenkki in Finnish. I know that in many other European countries people have done it, too. I'd like to hear how people in the H-SOUTH understand who is a Yankee, and how Southerners feel when they are called (insulted) that way. I know this quite well myself, but I need some good quotations from you all, when I argue with people here why the Olympics this summer are not in the Yankeeland (Jenkkila or Jenkeissa in Finnish), or should I use W. J. Cash's term, Yankeedom.

Telling people about the Civil War and how the Yankees under Sherman destroyed Atlanta does not seem to matter to Finns, nor does the Rebel Flag in Georgia state flag. By-the-way, the Rebel Flag has also been called a Jenkki-flag, and local ice hockey club in Helsinki, HIFK, made their own flag imitating the Rebel Flag two years ago. What do you think about this? When Finnish TV commentators come to Atlanta within a month or so, I am sure that they use the term Jenkki more often that United States, or America.

So, let me know how you Southerners and also Non-Southerners think about this. And do Southerners really care how they are called outside United States. My counter argument to many Finns is, how they would think if Americans would call us Russians.

Seppo Tamminen

Assistant for North American Studies

Renvall Institute

University of Helsinki

Date: Thu, 13 Jun 1996 09:50:58 -0400

From: "John Bell" <>

* Seppo K J Tamminen wrote:


* <<I'd like to hear how people in the H-SOUTH understand who is a Yankee>>


As a Bostonian, I think "Yankee" is a relative term; few people whom others call Yankees apply the term to themselves. To Southerners people from the northeastern USA are Yankees. To Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers, people from New England are Yankees. To citizens of Connecticut and Massachusetts, folks from New Hampshire and Maine are Yankees. And to people from those corner states, only folks who don't pronounce their R's and do their own canning are true Yankees.

Therefore, it makes sense that foreigners see all Americans, even Atlantans, as Yanks, and that Atlantans reject that label. The only thing about Yankees on which nearly all Americans can agree is disliking the kind from the Bronx.

John Bell

Editor, General Books Division

Addison-Wesley Publishing Company

Date: Thu, 13 Jun 1996 09:45:36 -0400

It is important to keep in mind that all terms of identity are defined by context. Yankee can mean one thing in one context and another thing in another context.

In Latin America, for example, Yankee applies to all those from the United States. The term Yankee gained broad currency in Latin America through its use in anti-imperialist rhetoric (as in "Yankee Go Home!"). I would suggest that in a Latin American context, a white southerner is, in fact, a "Yankee."

When used in Alabama or North Carolina, "Yankee" means either a non-southerner or a northeasterner. I have heard both usages.

So if Finlanders want to use the term Yankee to describe all Americans (and in this context, "American" means someone from the United States-a usage that many Latin Americans find quite offensive), there is little anyone can do to stop them. Given that no derogatory intent is intended or suggested, I would hope that Southerners would not take offense.

(Written, by the way, by "Yankee" who lived for seven years in North Carolina and very much enjoyed it.)

Joel Sipress

University of Wisconsin-Superior

Date: Fri, 14 Jun 1996 08:41:17 -0400

From: Gregg Kimball <>

Because this is a history list, I thought I might insert a perspective on the notion of "Yankees" from an earlier era. I refer to Daniel R. Hundley's book Social Relations in our Southern States (1860). LSU reprinted this work in 1979 with an introduction by William J. Cooper, Jr. I don't have the work in front of me, but as I remember, Hundley was from Alabama, attended UVA and then Harvard. I think he also practiced law in Chicago before the War (you know which one). Hundley broke southern society into numerous classes, no doubt reacting, as historians would years later, against the simplistic view of the southern social order current in the antebellum north. Hundley maintained that there were "southern yankees," defined not by birth in a region, but by their avaricious behavior. Not surprisingly, slave traders often fell into this category. Likewise, he recognized that there were some northerners (perhaps Boston Brahmins?) who were just as aristocratic, traditional, and refined as the most venerable of southern gentlemen. Hundley recognized that "Yankee" and "southern gentleman" were more than just regional identifications. These terms involved sets of behaviors and beliefs. I guess Hundley might recognize "honorary Southerners"-if they acted right.

Gregg Kimball


Gregg D. Kimball Phone: 804-786-2312

Assistant Director of Publications Fax: 804-786-7250

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Library of Virginia

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Richmond, VA 23219-3491

Date: Fri, 14 Jun 1996 08:43:54 -0400

From: H-Pol Editor Rob Forbes <>

Joel Sipress correctly points out:

* >In Latin America, for example, Yankee applies to all those from the

* >United States. The term Yankee gained broad currency in Latin

* >America through its use in anti-imperialist rhetoric (as in "Yankee

* >Go Home!"). I would suggest that in a Latin American context, a

* >white southerner is, in fact, a "Yankee."

This reminds me of an old Dave Berg's "Lighter Side of..." bit in Mad Magazine from the early '60s in which a Latin American tour guide is apologizing with chagrin to his American tour gruop for a wall scrawled with the message, "Yanqui Go Home"-to which they jovially reply, "We don't take no offense at all; ya see, we-all are from the South!"

In my own research, I work a good bit with antebellum Southerners traveling abroad. When the young Southrons William Campbell Preston and Hugh S. Legare went to visit the Irish novelist Lady Morgan whlie on their grand tour, they sought to correct her when she addressed them as Yankees, explaining that the expression did not apply to them. Lady Morgan derisively explained to the chastened cavaliers that in the eyes of the rest of the world, all Americans are Yankees, all tarred with the same brush of national characteristics and reputation. It was an educational experience which Legare, at least, never forgot.

Of course, dyed-in-the-wool New Englanders learned a parallel lesson when traveling abroad, discovering that however refined and delicate their humanitarians sensibilities, and however unstained they felt themselves to be with the taint of slavery, Europeans held them to a common standard with their Southern countrymen, and demanded to know why they permitted the institution to thrive unchecked with the protection, if not the outright sponsorship, of the federal government.

What all this shows is that regional and national identity is in large degree a function of perspective. Those of the students in my seminar, "Travelers in the Early United States," who have traveled abroad, almost universally report that it was only then that they became truly conscious of being "American." Similarly, my Southern students say they never thought of themselves as "Southern" until they came up North. Then they figured it out fast.

Robert P. Forbes (

Department of History

Yale University

New Haven, CT 06520 Tel.: (203)432-0714 Fax: (203)773-9777

Date: Sun, 16 Jun 1996 10:43:46 -0400

From: Chris Morris <>

The relationship between travel and national identity is an interesting one. One might ask Can a Southerner really be a Southerner until he or she has travelled to the North? Do Southerners, Northerners, Westerners become Americans only when they travel abroad? Of course, regional and national identity can be established without venturing far beyond one's backyard, especially in this age of electronic telecommunication. But nothing shapes self identity like first hand encounters with imagined others.

I'm working on a project about antebellum Americans who traversed the border of slavery and in so doing "discovered" they were Northerners or Southerners. Travel journals and hotel records indicate most Southernes who went to the North went to Philadelphia and especially New York. Thus their idea of a "Northerner" was a New Yorker, a very different person from a Michigander. Northerners who went South went to Charleston, New Orleans, but most often the border region, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia-not exactly Mississippi or Georgia-and their image of the South and of Southerners was shaped accordingly. And of course where they went and what they saw made them think about where they were from and who and what they themselves were.

This is a new project, and in light of the current thread I thought I would ask you all for thoughts and suggestions.

I should add, my own experiences as a Canadian who lives in the U.S. has shaped my thinking here.

One final anecdote: When I first went on a research trip to Mississippi I noticed people in county archives and courthouses were a little cold until I happened to mention I was Canadian. A Canadian! they would say, well come on in. Why, we thought you were a Yankee! I quickly learned to mention I was Canadian almost before I said my name.

Chris Morris

University of Texas at Arlington

Date: Sun, 16 Jun 1996 10:46:11 -0400

From: "Michael J. Gagnon" <>

I've heard my father retell a story he heard when my family first moved South from the mid-West in the 1960s about the difference between Yankees and Damnyankees. Yankees, he was told in 1966, were the snowbirds who came south during the winter, spent their money and returned home. Damnyankees (one word), came South and stayed. My dad usually tells the story with a grin since we came South, stayed, and universally consider ourselves Southerners.

When I once retold the story to a now retired historian acquaintance, he told me that my family members were "Galvinized Yankees". Apparently a man named Galvin recruited Northern prisoners-of-war (many of whom were Irish immigrants who simply preferred being out of prison and didn't really care to join the fray on either side) to fight for the South ("you know which war") and the term applied to them. Thus in his upbringing, he learned that anyone who came South from elsewhere and adopted the South as their home was "galvinized".

So, yes, Southerners, under certain conditions, can be considered "Yankees" of sorts without necessarily implying any sort of insult. A "Galvinized Yankee" is a Southerner as much as one born and bred in the South. If anything, the term seems to me to be used to identify unSouthern sounding (and/or acting) people as included and accepted as Southerners.


Michael Gagnon

Date: Sun, 16 Jun 1996 17:02:26 -0400


Chris, be sure to keep H_South posted on your research. Vis a vis your Canadian entre into Mississippi archives, you might be amused to know that in Atlanta in 1960-62, racial integration of fancy restaurants was accomplished by having black persons dress in international costume. They could be served in racially segregated Atlanta if they were from Africa, etc., but not if they were from Atlanta.

Go figure.

Joan C. Browning

Ronceverte WV