Fort Worth Zoo’s new elephant born into name controversy

Posted Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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kennedy Barely born, baby elephant Bowie is already at the center of controversy.

Turns out almost nobody but a Texan knows the right way to say his name.

After 40 years of David Bowie ( Boh-ey) songs, we now have to explain that the Texas city, county, brick boulevard and baby elephant are all Boo-ey. As in that Alamo guy.


Well, we do.

When the Fort Worth Zoo announced the surprise birth of a second baby elephant in the same summer, commenters on social media started asking right away how to pronounce the name.

Even some Texans don’t agree.

North and West Texas are the only U.S. regions where Alamo hero Col. Jim Bowie and his namesake Bowie knife are pronounceed Boo-ey, according to a nationwide 2003 study by Harvard University linguists.

Even Houston residents say Boh-ey , by 2-to-1. In Fort Worth and Dallas, we’re 2-to-1 Boo-ey.

Texas A&M-Commerce professor emeritus Fred Tarpley, at 80 the state’s all-time expert on words and names, laughed at the question.

“That’s been argued for decades,” he said.

Some family members say Boh-ey, and even the colonel may have introduced himself that way for a few years, Tarpley said.

Tarpley is in position to know.

“I graduated from high school in Bowie County,” he said.

(That was 1948.)

“There’s no question it’s Boo-ey,” he said.

As far back as the 1930s, Bowie descendants and residents of the county, or of the Montague County town of Bowie, were quoted about it in American newspapers.

In 1957, during the two-year run of the ABC Western series The Adventures of Jim Bowie, New York columnist Walter Winchell and other entertainment writers noted the unusual — to them — pronunciation.

“There are Bowies in Maryland and Texas, and they all call it Boo-ey,” a Mrs. Rusty Bowie of Omaha told the Omaha World-Herald.

When they went to Texas, Rusty was quoted as saying, “it was so nice to hear it pronounced correctly.”

The TV show held the Boh-eys in check until the British singer came along, choosing his name from Bowie and the knife but also the mispronunciation.

At the Fort Worth Zoo, Bowie is quite insistent about his name.

Or about something.

“He is so loud, it sounds like a growl,” zoo spokeswoman Alexis Wilson said. (The zoo’s announcement carefully spelled Boo-ey.)

The zoo’s sister elephants, newborn Belle and Bowie’s mother, Bluebonnet, are named for wildflowers, she said.

The zoo chose Bowie as a familiar name to Texans and residents who know the local history of old World War I-era U.S. Army Camp Bowie and the adjacent boulevard.

He’ll make sure we remember.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @budkennedy

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