Anne Boushay — The Story Behind Her Name

Anne Boushay and Essential Bakery

In 2006, I quit my full-time job and began writing the first draft of The Chieftains of South Boston. I wrote twice a day, mornings at Essential Bakery on E. Madison St and afternoons at various cafes, including The Victrola on 15th Ave. It was at Essential Bakery where Anne Boushay’s last name came to be.

Essential Bakery, Madison Valley

My morning writing spot— Essential bakery on E. Madison St. in Seattle.

Deciding on the name ‘Boushay’ took longer than I expected. With most characters in the novel, I’d settle on a name right away. Occasionally, I’d go through a couple of options before the the name felt right and true. It’s a strange thing how writers come to land on names for their characters. It’s not really logical. At least not for me.

With Anne, I found the first name easily. For her last name, I struggled to discover one that would match her character and her backstory, one that captured a feeling about who she was (the women who inspired her character is another story.)

The Bailey Boushay House

I finally solved the puzzle one rainy Monday morning in March. I was staring out the window of the bakery. Across the street was the Bailey Boushay House. It’s a facility that provides care to patients with HIV, AIDS and other terminal diseases. The name was spelled out in big letters.

Anne Boushay name inspiration

The Bailey Boushay House — inspiration for Anne Boushay’s name.

I had never heard the name Boushay, so I tried it out. Anne Boushay. The sound seemed to work for me. And it suggested some creative possibilities for family history.

As a last name, Boushay is fairly rare. I found very few references to it online. So I used it as I started writing chapter one. It worked for me. Later in the story, I introduced a history of the name in Anne’s family. Boushay would be the phonetic spelling of the French name ‘Boucher.’ That kind of mutation happened occasionally to immigrants arriving in America. Immigration officials who were too lazy to look at someone’s passport for the correct spelling would ask people to pronounce their name. It would then be spelled out in official documents in a way that seemed logical to the American ear. Which is how many name variations came into being.

Dropping the “O” and Taking the Soup

Usually it was unintentional, but not always. There were Irish immigrants who were encouraged to drop the ‘O’ from their last name so it sounded more American. As the story goes, the Irish immigrants were enticed by the offer of a free bowl of soup. In Irish-American neighborhoods, someone named O’Leary might say to someone named Leary, “So your family took the soup.”

Anne’s grandparents emigrated from France and arrived in America during Prohibition. At that time, a Frenchman by the last name of Boucher was notorious for running illegal liquor from Canada into New York and New England. To avoid association with the rumrunner, Anne’s grandparents didn’t protest the misspelling of their name but adopted ‘Boushay’ as part of their new American identity.

In The Chieftains of South Boston, Anne Boushay isn’t aware that her family name changed. But in the novel’s sequel, which is shaping up to be set mainly in Seattle around 1997–1999, the history of the name will be developed further as Anne digs into her family’s past.

(This post authored by Steve Burke)

Steve Burke