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Family Name(s)

By Sandra Clark

I always envied that it was perfectly acceptable for John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt to go by so many names.

I’m at a reunion this week, and while I have the bloodlines that say I belong, I feel somewhat removed in name. It’s my mothers family reunion. Mugs and shirts and jokes are branded with a family name I’ve never had written as part of my own. And now that I added my husband ‘s family name to my own, I’m even further from this family name.

Sandra Clark Jergensen, but Sandra Clark Thackeray or Sandra Clark Ruppe Thackeray Gale by family tree. And Slade, Burrnet and Christensen and on and on; longer and more inclusive of my history with each generation I dial back. It would be a bit long, but I love the idea of it. It always felt sad to me that I couldn’t keep the names of all the families I belong to, even if it makes my name simpler and easier to remember.

My kids don’t feel attached to the “T” on the rock on the mountainside of this tiny town, whereas my cousins that carry that same family blood line as well as the name, do. But I want them to. I’m trying. I have them here at the reunion this week, I took them to the cemetery and tell them the stories of their Thackeray family. And stories of their Clark family. And my husband tells them the tales of the Jergensens and Burtons from his side.  I just worry about all those stories, all those people that made my little family possible fading from our consciousness and remembrance as they have been shortened from our daily naming.

So I guess I’m asking today today- how do you keep name close and meaningful even if you don’t keep all your names?

About Sandra Clark

Sandra Clark Jergensen's writing (most often about food) has been published in Gastronomica, Apartment Therapy, The Exponent, and at Segullah, where she was once the Editor-in-Chief, and now as Features Editor. Sandra geeked out on food and writing as a master's student food studies at University of Texas, Arlington. She makes her home in California where she runs without shoes, foster parents, teaches cooking, develops recipes, and struggles to take pictures with her eyes open, and sometimes all at the same time. She is the owner and creator of thekitchennatural.com.

13 thoughts on “Family Name(s)”

  1. I wish I could post a picture of an embroidery I did — almost a yard square, with hundreds of surnames from my heritage embroidered up-and-down, left-and-right, in all imaginable colors and fonts and sizes, with the little spaces between filled up with tiny pictures that represent family stories. It's kind of a recipe for "me."

  2. I have friends who gave each of their children their maiden name for a middle name. I couldn't do that because I thought it would restrict my creativity. When child number seven came along though, it felt right to give him that family surname as his middle name. I'm glad he carries that part of me and represents for that branch of the family tree.

  3. Ardis, I love that.

    I'm a lot more than just my maiden name or my married name. I'm also a Nisson and a Harman and a Sorensen and a Widdowson as much as anything, even if those names haven't been attached to mine for generations. It makes me sad that I can't use all those names all the time. Some days I wish I could be [firstname] Hatch and other days it would be interesting to be a Davies.

    I do try to keep with me all the people whose names I can't have, even if no one else around me knows they're there. Knowing about them, not just the big stories, but learning about their everyday lives, keeps them with me.

  4. The family names I feel connected to are those of which I was taught about as a child in reference to myself. "you have the so and so hands," "we so and sos have a stubborn streak," "when your gg grandmother was a girl…"

  5. My maternal grandmother, my mother and myself were given no middle name. It was expected we would marry and our maiden name would become our middle name. My Grandmother and I did just that but my mother did not use her maiden name after her marriage. As a child and a teen I hated having no middle name and did not pass the tradition on to my daughters. I now love that my full legal name includes all the names I've had in my life.

  6. Both of my sons have the names of ancestors as a middle name. Surnames are crazy in my family due to my insane family tree. I've often thought of changing my surname to my original surname (the one initially on my birth certificate, of my Mum's maiden name – which is not the one I grew up with) since I'm divorced – but my surname is a visible, easy connection to my sons.

  7. Ardis- I love that idea- that's beautiful.

    I agree about using family names again- both of my children's middle names are from the family tree. And my own middle name was my maiden name, but as a child I hated not having a middle name waiting with the assumption I would marry and take someone else's name as my own and then slide my own name to the middle position. While I like using both names now, I wish I too had had a family name in the middle. Consequently, my parents knew my frustrations and gave my younger sisters middle names from family history- but I was an adult by that point and didn't go to the hassle of changing my name.

  8. This is a small point of clarity, but as one of the younger sisters Sandra mentions, I thought I'd add my two cents. There are four girls in our family. None of us were given a middle name at birth, but the three younger girls each got to pick their middle names at some point in our adolescence (for me, it was when I was 11). Although the three of us each selected our middle name, they all had family ties.

    I don't think we would have gotten middle names, though, if we had not been as vocal as we were about wanting one. The sister just younger than Sandra really pushed for it, and I reaped the benefits. While I've loved the unique experience of picking my own middle name, I use my maiden name as my middle name now that I'm married. I feel more connection to my maiden name than I do to the middle name I picked more than halfway through my childhood. I do, however, wish there was a way to use all four without it being cumbersome.

    I think when/if I have a daughter, I'll still give her a middle name. Not having one for 11 years was the bane of my existence at the time. And I agree that a family name is a great way to keep a connection to family that might not be reflected in the surname.

  9. I use my maiden name on Facebook partly so that people who knew me before I was married will know who I am. However, I've found that I've started using it in professional settings and publications as well. More than that, it reminds me of my heritage and where I came from.

  10. I wouldn't like to go back to my maiden name. To me, it is full of sadness and generations of crazy that I'd like to distance myself from. 🙂 However, I appreciate that history to learn from. And it helps me further realize the blessings of knowing my large and full family that I have come from.


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