As they say back home, you can’t hardly throw a rock in the southern Piedmont North Carolina counties of Stanly, Cabarrus and Rowan without hitting someone named Dry. Or Drye.There are two camps as to how that last name is spelled. I have first cousins who spell it with the “e.” And I have other first cousins who don’t use that “e” and wouldn’t do it at gunpoint.
For the record, both spellings of the last name are a corruption of the German surname, Dörr. The Dörrs came over from Germany to Philadelphia around 1745. According to research done by one of my late aunts, the Dörrs moved from Philly to North Carolina in 1799.Somewhere along the way, they changed the family surname to Dry. Or maybe it was Drye. Maybe they changed the family name because that umlaut over the “ö” made their name look too foreign, too Teutonic.
Or maybe somewhere along the way, some anonymous official filling out a legal document misunderstood the name and spelled it the way he—or she—heard it pronounced. More about that possibility in a moment.As far as I know, no one knows why some of the rechristened Dörrs chose to add the “e” as sort of a decorative flourish at the end of their new name. But I guess my family in Misenheimer–which is in Stanly County–considered the “e” superfluous and maybe even a bit too showy, because we spelled the name Dry.
Sometime in the 1930s, my Uncle Joe Dry left the family farm in Misenheimer and moved west to California, presumably seeking all the opportunities for a better life that the Golden State famously offered. He married a California girl, worked hard and prospered and raised a family out there with Aunt Jean.And he started spelling his name with the “e,” as in Joe Drye. There’s no record that I’m aware of that explains why he made that switch to the other side. Perhaps it was because the “e” gave the name a little more heft and made it look like an actual surname instead of a synonym for dehydrated.
When I was born in late 1949, Aunt Jean and Uncle Joe Drye came back east for the event. They were in the hospital room in Albemarle with my parents, so I've been told, when a nurse came in to fill out a birth certificate.The nurse asked – apparently of no one in particular – how to spell my last name. According to what I’ve been told, Aunt Jean said to the nurse, D-R-Y-E. My parents either didn’t hear what Aunt Jean said to the nurse, or they didn’t think the nurse would take her seriously. But, apparently, they made no attempt to correct the spelling, and that’s what the nurse wrote on the birth certificate.
I have no idea what actually happened. Although I was, of course, present at the event, I wasn’t taking notes and I have no recollection of who said what to whom, and I’m relying on what I’ve been told by older cousins.Still, it didn’t matter too much what the nurse wrote on my birth certificate because for the first 23 years of my life, I spelled my last name D-R-Y.
In November 1972, I went into the Army. I had to provide a copy of my birth certificate when I started basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Again, I didn’t give much thought to how my name was spelled on that document.A day or two after arriving at Fort Jackson, I was in line with the other trainees being issued clothing by the quartermaster. As I moved through the line, I was handed my fatigue shirts, fatigue pants, fatigue caps, field jackets, combat boots – and name tags to be sewn onto my fatigue shirts and field jackets.
The name tags had my last name in all capital letters. It was based on the spelling on my birth certificate – DRYE.
I thought the supply sergeant surely would want to know of this mistake. “I don’t spell my name with an “e,” I said.“You do now,” the sergeant snapped. “Move on.”
To use another back-home phrase, I soon discovered that the Army had me by the short-hairs as far as the spelling was concerned. In order to get paid every month, I had to sign the payroll register. My name on that document was spelled Drye. If I signed my name Dry, I wouldn’t get paid.
It took me a while to get used to it, but by the time I got out of the Army, I was accustomed to seeing my name with the previously extravagant “e” at the end. Legally changing it would’ve been too much of a pain. So I’ve just learned to live with it, although sometimes I’ve wondered if my relatives think I’m putting on airs because of that “e.”Honest, cousins, I had no choice in the matter.
Note: The photo at the top of this post shows the last surviving name tag that I was issued at the start of Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.