Just some of Randsley's Billy-Bobs and Billie-Bobs
RANDSLEY, Arkansas - Forgetting someone's name has never been a problem in the small Arkansas town of Randsley, where every single inhabitant is named Billy-Bob - even the women. The women's names, however, are spelled "Billie-Bob." For example, Randsley's mayor is Billy-Bob Chesterton, 54. The barber is Billy-Bob Duncan, 49. The school's third grade teacher is Billie-Bob Howell, 28. And so on, and on, and on...
According to the town historian, Billy-Bob Carmichael, 66, the unusual practice started out as a tribute to the town's founder, Billy-Bob Randsley. "He was so popular and dynamic," Carmichael explains, "that parents started naming their babies after him and the thing just kind of caught on. Now it's a tradition." And what a tradition! Every one of the town's 2,307 inhabitants is named Billy-Bob, or Billie Bob.
"Oh, years ago, there was one stubborn son of a gun named Tommy," Carmichael recalls. "Just refused to change his name to Billy-Bob. So we finally went to see him and explained pretty firmly our feelings that he would be happier in another town. We Billy-Bobs can be pretty persuasive. He was gone that weekend. Some folks just can't be happy as a Billy-Bob. And that's okay. There are plenty of other places for them to live."
Of course, a town filled with nothing but Billy-Bobs is not without its problems, Carmichael explains. "Whenever someone calls out, 'Hey, Billy-Bob!" pretty much everyone turns around. We get each other's mail all the time. You're always hearing a boyfriend and girlfriend saying: 'I love you, Billie-Bob.' 'I love you, too, Billy-Bob.' And when you meet someone for the first time, you can only say, 'And you must be Billy-Bob.'"
While the townspeople seem to be proud of their unique distinction, not everyone in Arkansas shares their pride. "Frankly, it's an embarrassment," says Cooper Darnell, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Arkansas. "Don't these people realize they've become a laughingstock? They're playing right into every stereotype of the dumb Southerner. Frankly, I think something's been off genetically for several generations there," Darnell adds.
Embarrassment or not, Randsley is by no means the only town where everyone has the same name. In the German town of Garvensdorf, every citizen is named "Otto." The Paraguayan city of Caazapa features the name "Camilo" for every inhabitant. And members of the African Songye tribe, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, are all named "Mwanajuma."
Carmichael has come up with a creative solution for having named each of his four children Billy-Bob. "Numbering them helps. So when we call Billy-Bob Three in to dinner, he knows exactly which one we mean." The bottom line is that people in Randsley have grown used to the common name. "Frankly," adds Carmichael, "most of us just aren't comfortable being anyplace where the people have names other than Billy-Bob. It's just too darn confusing!"