I happily took my husband’s name when we married. Well, before even. I set up my login at grad school to include the “o” as my last name well before he got down on one knee. I dreamily wrote my full name out in loopy letters in my journal, just like every happy bride is supposed to do. I had absolutely no qualms about taking his name.
That lasted for about 4 days.
About 4 days into our marriage, we were at the St. George temple. Our honeymoon plans had included a trip to the Grand Canyon and bumming around Southern Utah before we returned to urban Washington D.C., so on a whim, we decided to take in a session at the temple. The temple matron asked me my name, and I immediately responded, grinning ear to ear, “I’m Heather O!” She smiled back and said, “Oh, I know some O’s in such and such an area. Are you related to them?”
My smile faded as I realized that she was not talking about my family, but about my husband’s family. It was all I could do not to say, “Of COURSE I’m not related to them, silly. They aren’t my family. Let me tell you about MY family, and then we can chat if you know about some of them.”
I suddenly felt disoriented, detached from my family, separated from who I was because of this new name. And how could I raise my children with this name? They won’t know who they are. It was a family joke that my grandmother had forced my mother to give her sons her maiden name as a middle name, using that exact same argument: “Otherwise, they won’t know who they are.” I suddenly realized that for a moment, I was on my grandmother’s side.
Names are powerful things. They connect us, identify us, tell us where we belong. So I love Justine Dorton’s essay Names, which captures the essence of all of these complications. I also had the privilege of watching the creative process as this essay emerged, so I’m especially happy to highlight it because I know how hard Justine worked on it, and how difficult it was for her to get it just right. But I’m sure you agree that she did get it just right, a beautiful essay about how names connect us to previous generations, and what it means to take upon us another name, the name of the Savior. Plus, there’s the riveting tale of refugee camps and escaping from Nazis. We don’t read essays about that every day.
So take some time to read Justine’s excellent piece, and then come back and tell us how your name has shaped your life. As for me, I’m still happily Heather O. I quickly realized that taking on the O from my husband did not mean that I was losing who I was, but rather building something new that I definitely wanted to be a part of. And trust me–my kids know who they are. Just ask them.