Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

My Doney-Gal


“Doney-gal means sweetheart, an expression British sailors picked up in Spanish or Italian ports and preserved by backwoodsmen whose ancestors for two centuries never saw the tides.” 

-John Parris Roaming The Mountains


Doney-gal isn’t a phrase I’m familiar with-never heard it-never even read it. Yet when I read the quote from Parris I immediately thought of the photo above. I snapped it 2 years ago when the whole Blind Pig family was out for a winter hike. I love the image of the sunshine shinning its warmth on Chatter’s sweet ear-the pieces of hair halo-ing her head.

Chatter was born with the sweetest disposition of any one I have ever met. I’m not putting Chitter down in any way shape or form-Chatter just has a special sweetness about her that I’ve rarely seen. When she was just a toddler I started telling her I thought she had a special gift of sweetness.

One day I found Chatter crying in her bed. Alarmed that she would be crying all alone at such a young age I asked her what in the world was wrong. She looked up at me with her tear streaked chubby little cheeks and said “Momma I’m afraid I’m losing my special sweet gift because I’ve been mean.” I grabbed her up, hugging her tightly, while I laughed and cried and did my best to explain that just because she had done something she shouldn’t have didn’t mean she had lost her sweet gift. I told her I was positive she’d never ever lose it and so far my prediction has been right.

Parris used the doney-gal quote in an article titled Mountain Idom Fading. In the years since he wrote the article I suppose the term has completely fallen away from the rich language of Appalachia-hence the reason I’ve never heard it.

I did a little googling around to see if I could find out any other details about the usage. I didn’t find much, but I did find a traditional song credited as being from Appalachia that uses the term-the song is titled Wedding Dress. I couldn’t find any historical information on it either.

The ultimate day for doney-gals is coming up quickly: Valentine’s Day. Maybe we can make a come back of the usage by calling our own sweethearts-whether they be true sweethearts or simply sweet girls in our lives-doney gals as part of our Valentine’s wish to them.

If you’d like to hear the song I found-I like it a lot-go here: Allan Block and Martha Burns, “Wedding Dress Song.” (you may need to stop the music player on this page before you watch the video-the music controls are along the top of this page on the far left side-just under the Blind Pig logo. Click the center round button to stop the player)

So are you with me on trying to bring back the phrase doney gal? As for me-I’ll be wishing 2 doney gals who live in my house a happy Valentine’s Day.


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  • Reply
    January 23, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    Neat story about Chatter, I’m with you there is just somethings that’s in a person that makes them who they are,, nothing I can do or you can do to change that..only if God’s willing can it be changed ..reminds me of a show we use to watch,”Art Linkletter, Kids say the Darndest things”…. loved that show…

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 23, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    As just one of the many readers of this blog, I’ll have to admit Chatter is the “soft” one. I guess they both know they’re gorgeous, but not stuck-up at all. I’m Proud of ’em! And I love the songs they sing of where they come from. You and the Deer Hunter have a couple
    of goodens.
    One of the Irish gals I listen to alot is Mary Duff. She sounds like Patsy Cline and sometimes is accompanied by Daniel O’Donnell.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 23, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    I usually like your photography, and this is a good-un’, but you plumb missed getting the shadow of her halo.
    You’re right – Chatter has a gift of sweetness about her.
    In fact, now that I think about it, the personalities of Chatter and Chitter could well fit the phrase:
    “Sugar and spice, and everything nice.”
    By the way, you gave me a great idea for the nickname of a granddaughter – if I ever get one, that is.

  • Reply
    January 23, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    I misread it as “donkey”! Thought maybe you’d got one!

  • Reply
    Ken Ryan
    January 23, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Never heard the term, Tipper, but I’ll start using it. Good post.

  • Reply
    Marc Kruger
    January 23, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Old Middle English words of donek, dunoke or dunnock meant warbler or other song bird. Maybe a connection??

  • Reply
    January 23, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Another new phrase and song for me. I rather like the phrase and, perhaps, I will find a way to share it with my Valentine greetings. I think of Valentine’s Day a very loving day and a fun day thinking of cupid’s arrow adding more love to someone’s life.

  • Reply
    Ray P. Algee
    January 23, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Don Edwards, a cowboy singer, has a version of Doney Gal on one of his CD’s.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    January 23, 2014 at 8:43 am

    I think this is more likely:
    “Perhaps from Catalan dona or Spanish doña; perhaps introduced to England by sailors who had visited Spanish or Italian ports”
    Donegal is pronounced Dun-E-gall (and it’s a beautiful place).
    Regardless of origin it’s a catchy phrase and your picture truly sums it up. Love the “sweetness” — my son described his niece as being “sweet of spirit”.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    January 23, 2014 at 8:34 am

    Tipper, such a sweet story and your were blessed with two precious doney girls. It is fun to hear more saying handed down from family to family.

  • Reply
    January 23, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Such a lovely story of mother and child and awareness and growing up.

  • Reply
    January 23, 2014 at 8:19 am

    I’ve heard the word many times especially when a young man moved away.
    “That young sprout left here lookin’ for a doney.”
    Enjoy your posts everyday!

  • Reply
    Bubba Lee Potts
    January 23, 2014 at 8:12 am

    Had you called your girls Sweetness and Light, I could distinguish between the two by only the little bits I have seen here on the Blind Pig. Twins complement each other and sometimes develop characteristics that when separated seem alien but when together approaches perfection.
    My theory doesn’t work so well in boy twins!

  • Reply
    Mrs. K
    January 23, 2014 at 8:08 am

    I am very familiar with this song, having first heard it some years ago at a house concert where singer/songwriter Steve Gillette and his wife, singer Cindy Mangsen performed. Cindy recorded it on her album, Songs of Experience. She has a lovely voice and does a really beautiful rendition of this song, very different from Martha and Allan’s version. Although there are YouTube videos of Cindy and Steve, I couldn’t find one of this song.

  • Reply
    January 23, 2014 at 7:51 am

    I wonder if this somehow ties in with Donegal, Ireland??

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 23, 2014 at 7:44 am

    Your two Doney gals certainly possess the sweetest of hearts! Yes, I’ll help you bring it back.
    That’s a lovely picture of a doney-gal and a precious little ear.
    The Deer Hunter was the sweetest child I’d ever seen, everyone noticed it and loved him for it. There is a wonderful calmness in Chatter and the Deer Hunter.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    January 23, 2014 at 7:42 am

    If everyone was predisposed to sweetness what a wonderful world it would be.
    I have a feeling we are all born with it and then life takes some of it away.
    We should all look in the mirror and try to be sweeter each day.
    I think I will make a late New Years resolution and try to be just a bit sweeter each day.
    Thanks Tipper for reminding us that we can do better.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 23, 2014 at 7:41 am

    Interesting term, I’ve never heard it before either. I like the meaning behind it though, a lot.

  • Reply
    January 23, 2014 at 5:06 am

    I love how words will bring a flash of familiarity even if I don’t know where it comes from. Doney-gal brings that flash. That Irish flash- a small town of Donegal, in County Donegal, in Ireland. (pondering….Why would I recognize that name? I truly don’t know. I do know that my father’s ancestors left Wales for Scotland, then Ireland, then immigration to America. We don’t know the towns of our heritage, but Donegal flows from my mouth so smoothly. (and I don’t know why.) …Daddy often used “old” words and it seems that doney-gal (or doney-girl) is a word he may have used. pondering and wondering on a Thursday morning.

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