Article Discussion: Names

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.

About Heather O.

(Prose Board) lives in the south with her husband, her two kids, and her wiggly black lab. She is a licensed speech language pathologist, but spends most of her days trying to teach her own kids how to say please and thank you. She is a member of the Segullah Editorial Board, and is the founding member of the blog Mormon Mommy Wars.

28 thoughts on “Article Discussion: Names

  1. I will read Justine’s essay in a little bit (I started it before and got distracted by a waking infant, which is likely to happen again in mere moments).

    Your experience with taking you husband’s name was interesting, Heather! I took on my husband’s last name without reservations, and saved my maiden name for my professional life ONLY because my husband was listed in the phone book and I didn’t want some of my scarier clients to know how to find me.

    Not a positive slant on things, I didn’t want to keep my maiden name as a middle name because I had a LOT of bitterness towards my dad at that time, and wanted to lose that last name altogether. In spite of keeping it professionally, I wanted no part of his name. I don’t know if anybody but my sister (& dh) knew that, and I don’t think my family reads this, but if they do, I hope they know I’m not so bitter anymore.

    I’m looking forward to a few minutes to read Justine’s essay in its entirety, as well as ponder on taking the Savior’s name.

  2. Well how about that, I had time to finish it–baby is still sleeping!

    What a beautiful essay. In my family, there was not that much emphasis on family honor, names or sacrifice of past generations. The boys were named after family members, the girls were not (I think because there were too many uncommon names, like Thelma and Myrtle). Not a lot of stories were told before I left for college.

    I am curious about that, because we actually were quite connected to our grandparents and great aunts and uncles. I have some ideas of why the lack of emphasis on names Justine described, but I’m not positive.

    I’ll be discussing this with my husband. Our baby’s adoption will be finalized tomorrow morning, and he will legally be changed from “baby boy ***” to our name (which is after our two of grandfathers). His names are definitely important, on multiple levels.

    Hm. I have recognized that there are things I don’t think about doing as a parent because they were never modeled for me. This would be one of those things. I think it’s worth making the effort to do something different here.

  3. Oh, I meant our son’s name will be to what we have been calling him and to our last name.

  4. I always thought I had the ugliest last name growing up. Like the name in Justine’s essay, it’s Eastern European and hard to spell and pronounce. When I got married, I totally eradicated it– taking my husband’s name as my last name and keeping my original middle name instead of making my maiden name my middle. Then, (Heather, I can relate to the experience you had)I was surprised by the sense of loss I felt, like I had given up an important part of me. So I gave up the middle name (which I really liked too) and now use my maiden name as my middle. I couldn’t wait to give it up that ugly last name, couldn’t wait for a time when I’d only have to spell my first name for people instead of my first and last, and then it missed it once it was gone.

  5. Heather,
    I just recently did a legal name change back to my maiden name, because I never did like / get used to / identify with my husband’s last name. I had gone by it for 5 years on the belief that since we had kids, it was necessary to match. But i don’t beleive that anymore, and the more I thought about it the more I wanted my “real” name back. I’m glad I did it, and yes, DH is glad too.

    To relate it to your post a bit, one big piece of why I always liked my real name is that it’s unusual, clearly ethnic, and it identifies me with a side of my family that I otherwise don’t look much like. With the name, people ask me what town we’re from, how recently they came over, if I speak the language… but when I went with DH’s name, nobody knew. His is very common been-in-America-forever-German-roots name.

  6. I’m a lurker on Mormon Mommy Wars and that website sent me over here. I hope you don’t mind me getting in on this interesting disucssion.

    My name is Jessamyn. Jess-uh-min if you want to be phoenetical. I was named after the Quaker author, Jessamyn West. My mother’s ancestors were Quaker all the way back to the original founders of the religion. I feel this heritage every time I hear my name. My mother has made sure that we remember our heritage and talks about it constantly. We even use the “plain language” or saying thee/thy to our family members instead of you/your.

    Most people stumble over my name. This was a frequent occurrence that was of great embarrassment to me when I was younger. I got a lot of “Jasmine”s, especially when Disney’s Aladdin came out. Still, the name is a conversation starter when the inevitable question of “Where did that name come from?” gets asked. In my youth I’d give anything to have a name like the other girls. Now I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I say it proudly and loudly whenever I get the opportunity.

    My middle name is Roberts. Most people think this was my maiden name, but it is actually an old family surname that my mom chose to give each of us as middle names. I dropped my maiden name when I got married, mostly due to the ill will I harbored toward my ex-father. If he didn’t want to be part of our family, why should I be a part of his?

    Since I dropped my maiden name I don’t feel a connection to my father’s side of the family at all, which I think is sad. My children don’t even wonder why they have a grandma and grandpa on one side, and just a grandma on the other. They’ve never met my father and they probably never will. When I think of all of the experiences my father and my kids are missing out on by being separated I wish things had turned out differently.

  7. I remember hovering between embarrassment and shame at my strange first and last name growing up. But it was something that was so skillfully taught to us as children, that I think I was able to grow out of it ok.

    I feel kind of detached from my own filial connections sometimes since I’ve taken my husbands name. But I think since I’ve always felt such power in names that I was making a powerful statement of commitment and love by taking my husbands name. (Plus, if I would have hyphenated my two names, it would have kinda sounded like Farfegnugen.)

  8. Love that essay, Justine. Powerful, beautiful, stirring. Wow. You have quite a heritage.

    And thanks for the laugh re: the hypothetical hyphenation of your last names. :)

  9. Another long time lurker here. Sorry to make my presence known with such a long comment.

    My maiden name denotes my Sicilian heritage. My great-great grandparents emigrated in 1898 and 1901. The husband came first then my great-great grandmother followed years later with two children the youngest of which was born and had never known his father. They moved to Pennsylvania and then on to Ohio, following job opportunities and striving faithfully to secure for their children and posterity a portion of the American dream.

    I never met them and have only learned tid bits of their story here and there while doing genealogy (I converted 11 years ago and am still the only member of the LDS faith in my family). My father’s family is filled with mystery and destructive secrets. Finding the strength and desire to begin my family history tried me to the core. I did not and do not identify with them and was ashamed of my name and of my heritage.

    While there is not much I do know about my ancestry on a personal level, having discovered the difficulties they endured and the hardships they successfully overcame I have found a measure of respect for their sacrifice and am proud to have my own version of pioneer heritage.

    Were it not for their faith, work ethic and bull-headed nature (the latter trait having only increased with each successive generation) I would not be here enjoying the life I lead, the one made possible for me by them. Had I known them personally, I cannot say that we’d have been close or friendly though I do sense an interdependence with them. They did their part so I can do mine, completely unaware of one another. I feel it a privilege to be the one to offer for them the ordinances I have treasured and dedicate a small portion of my time to working on their behalf.

    I kind of owe them a favor.

  10. My maiden name is Heiner, very German. Growing up, I thought it sounded kind of strident and angular–I heard only the sound of the word and didn’t really recognize the heritage of it. But I’m getting better at appreciating it, partly because I can be more objective now and partly becuase I miss it too. I think it is funny when people ask me about my husband’s relatives like I’m supposed to know them.

    Great post, Heather, and interesting comments.

  11. I really liked the essay–it was well-written. Like someone else mentioned, I didn’t really grow up with a strong family emphasis on names. I didn’t (and haven’t) feel any sense of loss at giving up my maiden name, but now I wonder if I should. My parents gave me my middle name after my father’s mom who died suddenly when he was only 10. They felt strongly that she was there at my birth, and the funny thing now is that I look exactly like her. We even have similar mannerisms. Very interesting. My first name is also a bit unusual, but it’s not really after anyone except a one-hit wonder country star from the 1970s!

    I really liked the essay and it got me thinking about how I can help my kids have a better sense of their heritage and family unity through their name.

  12. Names are very powerful things. My husband inherited his name from his father and grandfather and wished to pass it on to his first son. His first wife did not like the name (it is an “old fashioned” name) and after their son was 6 mos, she legally changed the infants name to her choice of a name. I can’t help but wonder how much that damaged their relationship (and eventual divorce). Our names are so much of our identity – and when others disparage them, we are devastated.

    For me, I like my name. It is so appropriate to who I am: Lyn. I even like that it is spelled differently – even though it means I say “no, only one N” every time I spell my name.

  13. when i got married i didn’t give up any names- I just have 2 legal middle names and sign my first (2 middle initials) and last. I couldn’t give up any of the names that had been a part of me- for it was symbolic- I was simply adding another piece to my identity. I love names- as much as I love the symbolism of family names I do like creating a sort of blank slate for my children It tkes me days of seeing them, holding them to choose their names.

  14. I’m sorry that I don’t have the time to read the essay right now but I wanted to comment because names are something that I think about often.
    Yes, I am choosing to stay anon for this even though I use a fictitious name on all my blog comments. I just want this one to be read for the comment, not who the commenter may be.
    I have struggled with my real first name because it is probably the most Christian of all the female names (it has the word “Christ” in it). I have struggled with this because I haven’t wanted to be defined by anything not of my own making. So wherever I go in life, I am known by this name that I don’t really relate to. Secondly, I wasn’t blessed with a good mother so even many years after her death, I still don’t want to have anything to do with her. She specifically chose my middle name. I plan to drop it during my next visit to the DMV. I will be replacing it with my maiden name, which I love. Not only because it was my father’s name, but also because it is a direct ode to my lineage which I am proud of, and it is unique. I did decide to take my husband’s name and still wonder if that was the best choice. I did it because I think there is something romantic about doing so, but I also have doubts about it because I wonder what MY identity is now. It also doesn’t help that I am not my husband’s first wife so it is a little bothersome that I am not the first Mrs. with this name of this generation. I think names are incredibly important, actually. Or maybe they’re not. I know that now, years before I will have my own children, I think about their names, as I am sure is true of most women. It seems to me that ultimately, it IS very important what a person is called. It will most likely be with them forever, that’s a big thing.

  15. I love Justine’s essay! As for your question, the first thing that comes to mind is how my father always (I don’t mean sometimes always, I mean always always) said to us, “Remember who you are!” Mostly I thought of that phrase in terms of his family name, which I was proud to bear. (Although I am not a hyphenate–not that there is anything wrong with that–I took it as my middle name when I married.) But recently I’ve come to think of it in eternal terms. I have taken upon me the name of Christ. Do I remember who I am at all times?

    Also, you make me think of my first name. I hated my first name as a child. No one could pronounce it (many still can’t) and I didn’t want to be that different from everyone else. But as I grew older my name started to grow on me. And since my father died, my first name has come to mean even more to me.

    As for my married name? I am always being asked if I am related to so-and-so Rowley. I learned my standard reply from my husband. “Are they nice people?” The answer is usually in the affirmative. “Then we’re related.”

  16. I miss my maiden name. It was cool, my married name is not even cool. It’s not yucky, but my maiden name was better. I mean, how much cooler could you get than Wolf? . I sometimes wish there was some way to pass on my maiden name, I feel that that name will be lost from my family, since there were no boys, just us girls. Although there are many boy cousins in my extended family that get to pass on the Wolf name, there aren’t any in our family. It makes me sad sometimes. My first name has always been the topic of many jokes which kinda get old. quick. I used to hate it as a kid cause everyone made jokes about it. However, now, I like it because no one else has it, at least, no one other than Speed Racers girlfriend anyway. My mom told me once that she got it from an ice skater in the Olympics from Poland (I think). She wanted all of us to have names that no one else had. Which is an idea I love and plan to bless my kids with names that are unique, definitely not on the top ten list.

  17. i happily took my first husbands name because i wanted to feel dissconnected to my family. i didn’t like who they were or how they made me feel, i felt no connection to the name i had been given by them, in fact i dissliked it – quite a bit.

    when my first marriage ended i simply changed my name, my whole name. i choose a new first and last name to detach myself completely from the past. i’ve used the name for five years now. i don’t even remember what it was like to have the old name. i moved to a new state, met my second husband. no one i’m around hardely even knows i have a different name. a legal name

    now it’s time for me to file the paper work and get my name legally changed and i find myself stalled. i thought maybe about keeping my old first name as a middle name but i dont know if i like that but i feel strange now about leaving the whole thing behind for good. and do i take on my husbands last name? no i dont want to do that but maybe a hyphen? i’m not sure, so the paper work sits on my desk lingering…..

  18. I loved Justine’s essay too. It was hard for me to change my last name when I married. It felt strange. But not as strange as the transition from my mission to coming home. As a missionary I seriously thought of myself as Hermana ***, and I felt so empty when she wasn’t there, and I was just Emily again. I still feel like she was a different person, someone I honor, but not who I am right now.

  19. Names have been on my brain for the past 7.5 months with the impending arrival of our first baby who happens to be a son and the only male grandchild who will be “carrying on the family name” up to this point (unless a a brother or two joins him in the future).

    I was never given a middle name and growing up always hated that fact. But when I got married it made taking my new last name that much easier. I got to keep my maiden name (which I love and respect) as my middle name and merge the whole thing together with my husband’s last name. I absolutely love my name now. It’s very Eastern European and strong. To me it denotes a rich heritage on both sides and I relish in the fact that my children will always be unique thanks to their ancestors on both sides. I do plan on sharing my maiden name and possibly my mother’s maiden name with one or two of my children as well.

  20. I’m celebrating my 15th wedding anniversary this year. I never took my husband’s name. It works for us. I am grateful to be able to answer to all the “Oh, are you related to questions?” that come. I have no middle name, however. That makes me sad. Maybe I’ll make one up.

  21. I was completely glad to give up my last name when I got married. it was Davis. How completely boring! My married name is 11 letters, 4 syllables is very unusual. I love that. I was given my grandmother’s name as a middle name–Hildegard. It’s so ugly it’s almost cool. Almost. I chose to keep that I when I got married and dropped the last name entirely. I wasn’t really thrilled with my life up to that point and was happy to get a new last name and start fresh.

  22. My maiden name was boring and my married name is boring. I was happy to take my husband’s name–I just wanted us all to have one last name, my personal preference, and I didn’t have strong feelings about making the one name mine. My maiden name was one syllable and can also be used as a first name–is actually a common middle name, in fact–so when I’d introduce myself as Mad House, they’d say, “Mad House What?” Now I use my maiden name as a middle name, and others no longer find me incomplete.

    I have often wished that my husband had a more exciting last name, but at least it’s inoffensive. If he had some horrible name like “Butts,” I probably would have insisted he take mine. (No offense to anyone here who comes from a long line of proud Butts, but I just couldn’t go there.)

  23. As for your question, the first thing that comes to mind is how my father always (I don’t mean sometimes always, I mean always always) said to us, “Remember who you are!”

    Sister Dalton’s bio in the Conference Ensign brings this up and ties her feelings into what we hear our parents say.

    As the new Young Women general president, Sister Dalton says, “My key message to the young women of the Church is the same thing they hear from their parents every time they walk out the front door: ‘Remember who you are.’ ”

    She hopes to help young women understand that they are daughters of their Heavenly Father, who loves them. “They say that in the Young Women theme every week, but for so many young women, it has not entered their hearts,” Sister Dalton says. “Once a young woman understands that she is a daughter of God, it defines all her other relationships.”

    Just made me think of that.

  24. I love my last name. I’ve always felt a special connection to my ancestors of the same name. It has meant so much to me my whole life and because of it, I have moved to Europe and learned German. I have wondered many times if I will really have the courage to keep it when/if I marry. I can only imagine all the explaining every time we are in a new ward.

    “Hello, Sister So-and-So.”
    “Oh, I’m Sister Glauser, but I’m married to Brother So-and-So.”
    Awkward pause . . .

  25. Michelle, in our ward there are many mixed-name couples. It’s really not a big deal.
    And at least speaking for myself, I don’t mind at all if somebody calls me my husband’s name, so no need to awkwardly correct them. They’ll catch on sometime if they see the ward directory.

  26. That essay was incredibly beautiful and moving. It brought tears to my eyes. As the mother of adopted children I sometimes worry how they will feel about carrying on a last name that they aren’t connected to by bloodlines. They have been sealed to us, they are meant to be ours…however, it worries me whether they will be comfortable “adopting” my heritage and my husband’s heritage as their own.

    A few year’s ago I went to a family reunion in a small town in Utah. A town my forebears had founded with their blood, sweat and tears. They fought Indians and lived in the carved-out sides of hills. There is a small museum there and my heart swelled with pride as I realized that these are the people I come from. Their blood was my blood. Then, I looked down at my bi-racial, adopted children (the ones that were whispered about when we arrived at the reunion.) I wanted them to have the same swelling pride I felt in my heritage.

    I do want them to someday know the heritage of their blood relatives so they know where they fit in the world, who’s blood they carry. But I hope they can adopt the name we have given them and adopt the courage and strength and pride that comes with that name. I was able to do that with my husband’s name and his relatives…his people are my people. In the end we’re all God’s children.

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