Smith-Vaniz – The Name



My name is William Larry Smith-Vaniz, and I am an attorney and the owner/broker of Larry Smith-Vaniz Realty, LLC in Canton, MS.  Most folks in the Canton area have been familiar with the SMITH-VANIZ name as it has been around Canton and Madison County, MS for several generations.  However, the unique name is not so common or well known in other areas. Therefore, when a Smith-Vaniz family member leaves the home territory and meets someone who is not accustomed to the name, the 1st question is generally, “What did you say?” or SMITH WHAT?  Upon repeating the name Smith-Vaniz, the 2nd question is just about always, WHAT KIND OF NAME IS THAT?  The discussion often gets around to the fact that the family name was originally plain old Smith, but several generations ago there were some issues involving my great grandfather and another person in Canton with the same name and initials.

 At that point the plot thickens, and we members of the Smith-Vaniz family are often asked to continue and tell how the family name changed from Smith to Smith-Vaniz.  The following is a recap of the facts which were related to my siblings, Jo Ann Smith-Vaniz Phillips, Sam Palmer Smith-Vaniz, Thomas Richard Smith-Vaniz and me, years ago by our father, Joseph Watson Smith-Vaniz, now deceased.

 Our great grand-father was Dr. George Washington Smith, a physician in Canton, MS.  There was a minister in Canton who had the same name and initials as our ancestor so it was inevitable that mail would often be mixed up.  We were told that both the Dr. and the preacher became irritated with the confusion, and Dr. Smith determined that things were such that it was time for him to change his name.

 The story we have been told over the years was that Dr. Smith came up with a unique and clever procedure to follow in the effort to come up with a new name.  Dr. Smith had five (5) children: two (2) sons, George M. Smith-Vaniz (our grandfather) and William Reid Smith-Vaniz and three (3) daughters, Elizabeth (Lily or Lillie or Lady) Smith-Vaniz, Sarah Smith-Vaniz Noble and Louise Smith-Vaniz Horne.  He elected to put the letters of the alphabet into a black hat or hats and allow each of his children to draw a letter.  One version of the story is that two (2) hats were used—one (1) for vowels and the other for consonants. Two (2) children drew vowels (“a” and “i”) and three (3) drew consonants (“v”, “n” and “z”).  

No one really knows for certain, but it is very likely there was serious concern as to how to make a five (5) letter word to add to the name Smith with two (2) of the letters being “v” and “z”. However, the combination of letters finally selected was “VANIZ” so a hyphen was added to Smith, with Vaniz to follow, resulting in “SMITH-VANIZ”. We do not have information as to the year the change was made, but we are now getting into the 6th generation of Smith-Vaniz family members so it appears the name might stick.


In the photo above, Dr. George Washington Smith, who became Dr. George Washington Smith-Vaniz, is shown with his five (5) children. Standing left to right: Elizabeth Millington (Lily/Lillie/Lady) Smith-Vaniz, George Malone Smith-Vaniz, Sarah (Sara?) Mason Smith-Vaniz Noble and William Reid Smith-Vaniz. Sitting: Charlotte Louise Smith-Vaniz Horne and Dr. George Washington Smith-Vaniz (1841-1923).