Sometimes Names are Hard

I was listening to John Heim aka Big Mo on the Big Mo Blues Show (radio KCCK 88.3) last night and he was talking about this time of year, calling it “Indian summer.” He second-guessed himself about calling it that and even wondered aloud whether it might be “politically incorrect.” Sometimes names are hard.

All of my life I’ve know that this time of year, which can be pretty warm and dry for autumn, has been called Indian summer.

Honestly, I have never given any thought to the term “Indian summer.” I looked into it and it turns out that the term can be offensive to Native Americans (indigenous peoples). One article pointed out that the American Meteorological Society removed the phrase from its official glossary in October 2020.

That was an eye opener for me. It also jogged my memory. I remember hearing about the name for the opposite time of year in North America when I was working as a land surveyor’s assistant and drafter for consulting engineers when I was a young man. It’s called Blackberry winter. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, it’s the time of year when there is a brief period of cold weather in the late spring about the time blackberries are in bloom.

It turns out there are a few other names for the season in which certain flowers bloom during the cold snap, like Locust winter and Dogwood winter.

Alternative names for Indian summer have been proposed; one of them is simply late summer or “Second summer.”

I guess Second summer is okay, although I wonder if we could come up with something snazzier and analogous to Blackberry winter. There are some flowers that bloom during that time of year. How about?

Marigold summer

Zinnia summer

Sunflower summer

I got these ideas from a web article entitled “Indian Summer Flowers; Summer Season Flowers in India.” I realize the meaning of the word “Indian” in this article refers to the country of India, which highlights another complexity of names. On the other hand, marigolds are the flowers a lot of people plant in their gardens in North America.

I also found a web site which calls the Black-Eyed Susan, “Indian Summer Black Eyed Susan.” This one didn’t connect the flower to India. I guess you couldn’t apply the same rule above to rename it to something like Marigold Summer Black-Eyed Susan—too confusing.

So, just call it a Black-Eyed Susan and leave it at that. Sometimes names are hard—which makes us think a little harder about the names we choose.

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