I woke up this morning with this song running through my head but with slightly different lyrics. Not the sad blues version first recorded in 1933 by Louisiana bluesman Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter
and popularized by the Weavers in the late 1940s –
but a happy birthday version for cousin Irene Rose George Veri. Happy Birthday Irene!
When I met her I asked Irene if she knew where her name came from. I think she said she didn’t (I always hesitate to recount what Irene told me about things because her memory is better than mine, but I’m pretty sure she said she didn’t know who she was named for other than her middle name Rose.) Her middle name might be from her father’s Italian family – specifically Custode’s sister Rosallia. Rosaria is another form of that name and was the name of Nick George’s aunt, Rosaria who was married to Ciro Giorgio, Adriano Giorgio’s older brother. Ciro died in 1926, but Rosaria Giorgio and her children, including Josephine Bucci, lived in New Castle, PA near Irene’s family. Several girls in the George family have Rose in their name, usually as a middle name, so I think there is a family connection for Irene’s middle name.
What Irene did tell me is that her father often wrote songs and she was his secretary. They preserved the copyright for the songs Nick wrote by mailing them back to themselves so they’d have an “official” date (the postmark) of when they first created the lyrics.
My hunch about Irene’s name is that it came from the song Leadbelly Ledbetter sang at every show he performed. It became his “signature” song and you can read more about it here . His music was discovered in the early 1930s when John Lomax from the Library of Congress was sent to record American folk/blues music, specifically “Negro” songs of the South. He visited Southern prisons because he reasoned that the folk music he was after was going to be in songs by people who’d had a hard life. He recorded Huddie Ledbetter’s music in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in 1933.
Nick and Mary George followed the Italian naming convention for their children – first son after the paternal grandfather, first daughter after the paternal grandmother, but by the time Irene, their last child came along, I think they chose a name just because they liked it. I realize it’s probably more likely they knew someone with that name but I like to make up fun theories to explain family history, and given Nick’s love of music (and my love of this song, which I can remember my grandmother singing to me) I’m sticking with my theory that Nick’s love of music influenced Irene’s name.
Be sure to check out this version by Ry Cooder, which has all the gruesome lyrics of love gone wrong. I linked it because of the accordion – when was the last time you heard an accordion in a band?
Whatever the reason for your name, I’m sure glad you were born and wish you many happy returns of the day!