flow gently, sweet afton // part 1

I get asked daily about my given name. Seems “Afton” is not as common on the West coast. I knew about 4 different Afton’s back home in Oklahoma, one of which I went to middle school through high school with. 

There are many Afton streets, roads, and places that I’ve come across around these parts, most notably an exit off the westbound I-15 en route from Vegas. I’ve had many friends send me pictures from the road of it. (Thanks to Gaston for this one!)

There is an Afton, Oklahoma in the Northeast corner of the state - a small town on Route 66 near the popular Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees with a population of 1,118.

There is a ski resort in the Afton Alps in Minnesota.

There are Sweet Afton cigarettes infamously smoked by Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, Margot in The Royal Tenenbaums. 

But, Afton’s (the name, not me) most noted claim to fame comes from a small river in Northern Scotland of which the Scottish poet, Robert Burns wrote a famous poem in 1791, “Sweet Afton”.

Flow gently, sweet Afton! amang thy green braes, 

Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise; 

My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream, 

Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream. 

Thou stockdove whose echo resounds thro’ the glen, 

Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny den, 

Thou green-crested lapwing thy screaming forbear, 

I charge you, disturb not my slumbering Fair. 

How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring hills, 

Far mark’d with the courses of clear, winding rills; 

There daily I wander as noon rises high, 

My flocks and my Mary’s sweet cot in my eye. 

How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below, 

Where, wild in the woodlands, the primroses blow; 

There oft, as mild Ev’ning weeps over the lea, 

The sweet-scented birk shades my Mary and me. 

Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides, 

And winds by the cot where my Mary resides; 

How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave, 

As, gathering sweet flowerets, she stems thy clear wave. 

Flow gently, sweet Afton, amang thy green braes, 

Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays; 

My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream, 

Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

This was set to music by Jonathan E. Spilman in 1837, under the title “Flow gently, sweet Afton” hence the spike in people named Afton around that time. I had met many a 90-something-year-olds when I was a kid named Afton. 

I’m always impressed when people actually know this song.

The progressive bluegrass band, Nickel Creek recently recorded a great version of “Sweet Afton”.

The other rise in popularity came around in the 1980’s because of a character on the hit TV show, Dallas. There was a beautiful blonde character named Afton Cooper, a love interest of Cliff Barnes. There are many women my age (especially in OK and TX) named Afton probably because of this character.

(click the pic for a fight scene between Cliff and Afton from Dallas) 

Afton is apparently Celtic/Gaelic for “to flow like a river”. It comes in part from a geological term “Aftonian” which means coming from the ice; relating to glaciers. There is a 5-pointed valley in Wyoming called Star Valley that was formed by a glacier’s melting. One of the little towns there is called Afton.

Many people started naming their girls “Afton” after mis-hearing “I laughed and she’d smile” as “Afton she’d smile” in the song “Mandolin Rain” by Bruce Hornsby.

There’s also a mountain and a town named Afton in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. There are several vineyards and a bed and breakfast there.

But, I was not named Afton from any of these…..I’ll explain in part 2.