The origin of "Cletus" as the stereotypical redneck name

Didn’t know if there was a factual answer to the question so I put it here. How did “Cletus” become the stereotypical name for a backwoods redneck hillbilly type? Was it a thing before the “Simpsons” character?

Cletus Hogg was a dimwitted deputy sheriff (and cousin of Boss Hogg) on The Dukes of Hazzard from 1979-82; there may well be even earlier examples of the name being used for such a character.

Wasn’t Cletus one of Eddie Murphy’s Klump family?

Yes; Cletus was the name of Professor Sherman Klump’s father (and was one of the numerous characters played by Murphy in that movie).

Have you been to NW Arkansas? Out around Alread and a little west of Shirley? This is one of those questions that doesn’t need to be asked.

Clete Boyer and his brother Cloyd would like a word with the OP. Or would, if they weren’t dead.

This one’s even deader:

We were 4-wheeling around White Rock mountain and came across a hustler centerfold duck taped to a metal chair in the middle of the forest.

So, was it some sort of Arkansas historical marker?

I would have put it at the Dukes of Hazzard character myself.

As a joke, a pregnant friend, her husband and I referred to her incipient baby as “Cletus the Fetus” because they couldn’t figure out a name for her. at 14 years old, we will still call her Cletus in private, she finds it amusing but would be horrified if we did it in public.

“Jethro” is also used.

OK, full disclosure here - one of my grandfathers was named Cletus, and he was born and raised in rural southeast Missouri (around the Cape Girardeau area). Although he never really acted like a redneck, other than the typical racism that you would expect of people from rural MO. Which is one of the reasons I’ve always been curious how “Cletus” became synonymous with “redneck hillbilly”. It’s not a common name like “Karen”, which has been similarly misappropriated, but must be common enough among a certain group of people in a certain region to have acquired it’s reputation.

There’s a whole slew of redneck/hillbilly names - Cletus is one, so are the various hyphenated ones like “Billy Ray”, “Ed Earl”, etc…

And in general, antiquated and/or obscurely Biblical names seem to be associated with rustic people. If you heard of someone named “Buford”, “Mordecai” or “Delbert”, would you think rural small town person, or upper class enclave?

My grandmother had a brother named Cletus. He was a potato farmer in rural northeastern PA. Some of my relatives in the area still have … don’t know if you’d call it an accent … dialect? … stuff like “Gilly was down’t the crik at the fordin’ place warshin’ the Chivy and this ol’ bear come a’runni’ out the woods …”.

So, hillbilly, hick, redneck, take your pick. Uncle Cletus got over a million dollars when the government took a small part of his farm to put in an Interstate interchange. He never spent the money except for buying three pairs of white cotton socks and a new rowboat for his pond; left it all to his son.

On a related note - having grown up in the St Louis area and having family with rural Missouri roots, I often heard the word “hoosier” as a synonym for hillbilly, hick, yokel, etc. Of course Indiana is famous for capital H Hoosiers which I don’t believe has exactly the same connotations. Anyone else ever heard the word “hoosier” used in that fashion?

I never have, but could the term have been borrowed from the term for Indianans and some stereotype that they are hillbillies? (I’m assuming this the case, though I perhaps unfairly feel some irony there.) Usually we make fun of our immediate neighbors, but that’s close enough.

I started searching for “Cletus” on Google Books. This was the 4th entry so, you know, holy crap there.

Never heard of this before. Is there a special Arkansas edition?

It may simply be that it was once a common rural name and I would guess that this association was most probably crystallized by the aforementioned Dukes of Hazzard. You would have to ask the writers of that show whence it came. I think it’s probably no different than old timey carney argot which gave us the word ‘rube’ for an ignorant local waiting to have their pockets fleeced, a term which as i understand it was simply based upon the commonality of that name in rural parts at one time where old testament biblical names were in common use. To me growing up in NYC, Reuben was always an old school Jewish signifier, was even my grandfather’s name, but completely unrelated to how we got the term rube

Older than that, Alexander the Great hung out with a pair of slack jawed yokels