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As I Lay Dying is one of my favorite Faulkner novels, but I always come back to the thought: "Who on earth names their kid Vardaman?"

Don't get me wrong, I love the name, and Vardaman is my favorite character in the novel, just wondering where it comes from, or what may have inspired Faulkner to choose it.

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    There were a couple of US politicians with Vardaman as a surname. – Rand al'Thor Aug 9 '17 at 22:30
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    FWIW, there's a Hindi (and presumably Sanskrit) word वर्धमान (vardhamān), also the name of the 24th Jain Tirthankara and I wouldn't find it unusual to see an Indian male named Vardhaman. But I suppose Faulkner might not even have known what Hindi or Jainism are, so presumably he got the name from somewhere else, making it unusual. – muru Aug 10 '17 at 10:22
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There is a town named Vardaman in Mississippi, about 40 miles southeast of Oxford. Faulkner could have borrowed the name because he liked the sound of it.

What's more likely, however, is that he used the name of James K. Vardaman (1861-1930), who was governor of Mississippi from 1904 to 1908. They called him "Great White Chief," because like other Southern politicians of the time, he validated the racism of the white citizenry. By using that name for a child of questionable intelligence, Faulkner is also questioning the intelligence of the governor.

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  • Great answer. Racism was certainly a theme in Faulkner. (Light in August comes to mind.) – DukeZhou Aug 11 '17 at 16:01
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James K. Vardaman was my great-grandfather (he was also later a US senator for MS). My brother has done a lot of family research, and though "Vardhaman" is I think Hindi/India, it seems my family on my father's side (and further back) is somewhere in the Scandinavian area. I heard many years ago it's possibly a misspelled variation on "Waterman" - which suggests some kind of boater or fisher. My brother scanned a copy (from the MS Dept Of Archives) of a payslip to an ancestor Jeremiah Vardaman for his service in the War Of 1812. So parts of my family have lived in MS before MS was even a state.

It's a pretty uncommon name, but the Vardamans in MS are mostly related to me, some also around Birmingham, AL. There are also Vardamans in Indiana, but not sure if they are related to me.

I'm not sure if it's a Southern thing, but I'm actually related to at least one distant cousin who has the first name of "Vardaman". Seems like back then people would swap first and last names.

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  • Welcome to the site! Typically we ask our answers to be sourced, but given the context of the questions this is quite helpful. The only thing I might critique is the question asks for what may have inspired Faulkner to choose the name, which this answer doesn't address. I hope you plan on sticking around and continue contributing; take a look at our tour and help center for more information. – Skooba Jul 2 at 19:24
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    Good observations - I'll do better. My sources are the book "The Great White Chief" (long out of print), MS Dept of Archives, and family lore (which should be taken as a grain of salt, and could be wholey wrong). As far as I know, there isn't any between Faulkner and my family name. He could have merely picked it out of a phone book. – user18330 Jul 4 at 20:21

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