I’ve always taken for granted the Garter and Ribbon snake species (Thamnophis sp.) were so named for the piece of clothing known as a Garter. Today the garter is something most often seen on the thighs of brides everywhere in European culture. The garter itself was designed to hold up the woven socks worn in early history before elastic was invented (1960s). While there’s no documented evidence this was the intention of Linnaeus when he named (Thamnophis sirtalis) in 1758, I think it fairly certain that most would agree the pattern found on the species does in fact, resemble the woven pattern of the ribbons once used to hold up the people’s socks.
Wedding Traditions | Garters
Weddings are where most people are familiar with the ‘Tossing of the garter’ at weddings, this tradition began it’s believed to get the wedding guests out of the newlyweds home. In the Dark Ages it’s said some wedding guests would ‘attend’ the consummation of the marriage and the guests would ‘help’ the bride get undressed. I’ve seen some medieval costumes and enough historical accounts of the clothing worn in that period. To say I can see why it would take someone else to help you undress would be an understatement. Somewhere during this time period someone decided that a piece of the bridal clothing was a lucky charm if you will. Therefore, people began to steal the bridal clothing.
In their practicality and probably to get folks out of the room a groom or bride presumably threw the garter outside.
As the hemlines rose over time in fashion, so did the garter. It began on the calf and then creeped it’s way up. In modern times to be around the waist for women who wanted to keep their stockings up in a discrete fashion and have now become a belt with clasps which hang down to be attached to the stockings. Reptiles are still associated with Garters as I discovered in my research for this piece. Kranchungel Lingerie is a burlesque and lingerie provider which of course includes garters.
Garters are not just for women either. Many men who wear ‘dress’ socks also wear garters around their calf to prevent the silk socks from falling down.
Sleeve garters worn by men were another practicality it would seem. These were worn as Tailors made shirts which were for lack of better terminology ‘one size fits all’. It’s accepted working men caught the sleeves of their garb in their work and so began wearing sleeve garters to keep their sleeves out-of-the-way. These are now sometimes worn to pay homage to someone who’s died. The ‘working mans’ garter was to my knowledge a plain band of cloth wider than those woven into the socks.
Order of the Garter
The Order of the Garter is the most senior and oldest British Order of Chivalry. It’s origins date back to Edward III in 1348. Ironic as it might be when speaking of reptiles and garters the Order of the Garter took St. George as their patron saint. For anyone unfamiliar St. George is the knight who slew a dragon and baptized the city of Selene into Christianity. As the tale goes St. George beat the dragon down to such a state that Cleodolinda (the maiden to be sacrificed to the dragon) was able to remove her ‘girdle’ and place it about the dragon’s neck to lead it to the city where it was ultimately dispatched in front of the townsfolk. I think it clear as to why the Order of the Garter took St. George as their patron saint. For more on the Order of the Garter and even a member list see The British Monarchy.
The above is in no way meant to be a historical record of any kind. Rather I’m offering a plausible reason for the naming of the snakes. In the New World as it’s known the Garter snake (Thamnophis sp.) are often referred to in public parlance erroneous as it may be as ‘Garden Snakes’ this is a misnomer and or language issue. I’ve heard a lot of snakes being referred to as Garden or Gardner snakes. It’s an easy mistake make as the words are very similar. What I find most interesting is I’ve found that no one ever refers to a ‘venomous’ snake as a Garden Snake. Garter snakes believe it or not are in fact a venomous species albeit rare that humans react to an envenomation from this species they are scientifically known as venomous species. What other snakes have common names that the non-reptile keeper often confuses? Let us know over on our Fan Page.