Friday, April 27, 2012

Surname Stories

This morning, Jaymz, Daniel, and I spent some time at the courthouse doing legal paperwork for our name changes! Though the process was mostly mundane, I felt nervous and excited with anticipation about finally taking this step together.

Since I first announced our intention to change our surname to a blended name, I've been honored to  hear many stories of other families' last names, including history, meanings, spelling changes due to immigration, decision process surrounding hyphenated names, and last names of children, among others. I was so moved by these stories that I put out calls on Facebook and Twitter, asking if anyone would be interested in publicly sharing their name story here. In return I was gifted many personal stories which display the diversity, thoughtfulness, and intention present in the naming process.

I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have!

Susan B at The Life and Times of Susan B.
I was born a Smith. I always felt I faded into the background with that as a name. I married my high school sweetheart at 19 and became a Betke. His family was the only Betke family in the area. Everyone knew I married one of the "Betke" boys. A few years later I joined the Army briefly and they call you by your last name in basic training so I was known as just "Betke". a few years later I was divorced but I did not change my name back to Smith. I was married two weeks into my 19th year so my adulthood consisted of me being a "Betke". My father was not really in my life so I felt no connection to Smith at all. My mother uses her maiden name. At this time I had a child with Betke for a last name and another on the way. No sense on changing now. My new partner had the last name of Crabtree and we had two children while we were dating. That makes two Betke children and two Crabtree children. We separated and I met my current husband. We had a child and since we were not committed to each other fully I went ahead and gave our child the last name of Betke. My husband's last name is Blevins. I was open to hyphenating the names but he was on the fence. We had a second child and hyphenated her last name as Betke-Blevins. We had a third and are expecting a 4th in two months. They have and will have a hyphenated name. (We were married along the way too, and I did not change my name.) My husband met me as a Betke so he doesn't mind. All of my credit, education, and frankly all of my adulthood is in the name of Betke. I have to spell it and pronounce it for everyone but I like my fairly unique name. My husband will give up sometimes and just use it too in a pinch instead of explaining.

Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes
My great great grandparents were married in a Jewish religious ceremony in what was part of Germany during WW2. When my great grandparents decided to move to France as the Nazis were taking over, the government refused to recognize their marriage, and the kids were registered under their grandmother's maiden name. The whole family switched, and never felt the need to change back when they eventually settled in Chicago. When my husband and I got married, we discussed him taking my last name, but he decided it would be too much work. He did agree that the kids should have my last name. His birth parents divorced days after he was born, and he was adopted by his maternal aunt and her husband. When he was 4 (and she was pregnant with their first biological child), they got divorced, and he was never really a part of their lives. When he was 7, she remarried, and they had two more biological children, and multiple adopted and foster children. Since he only shares his last name with one brother, and not any of the people who raised him, he doesn't feel any attachment to it.

Arpita of Up, Down And Natural
I am very thankful that I really love my name, and the meaning behind it. My first name - Arpita - in Hindi is used in prayer and means "the action of giving flowers to God as an offering". I really like how closely it is related to not only my culture, but also the religion that my parents raised me in. When I got married, I did change my maiden name to my husband's name and I am now happily Arpita Monahan. My husband is of Irish Catholic descent, and his name is considered "very Irish". I really like that both of our names reflect us so strongly. After getting married I did convert to Catholicism, while still holding on to my Indian heritage and the belief that Hinduism is more of a way of life than a religion. In my mind, and the mind of the priest at our Church, being Hindu and Catholic were not mutually exclusive. I feel like my married name perfectly reflects this.

Sarah at Parenting God's Children
When we got married, I read a lot of stories about couples choosing their surnames in every possible manner: one takes the other, blending, coming up with a whole new one, etc. For me, I felt honored to take my husband's last name. I love his family and love being a part of it. I love when people call me Mrs. Moore! I must say, though, my maiden name was pretty awesome: King! Isn't that an awesome last name?!

Melissa @ Vibrant Wanderings
Prior to having children, I was a preschool teacher and saw all sorts of family name configurations. I loved the variety, and enjoyed it when parents would share their personal stories and reasoning behind the names they chose to use for their children. At the same time, I saw a lot of confusion around families where different members had different last names, and I had to giggle when I thought of James Sanders-Snow marrying Julie Mitchell-Evans. What would they come up with!? I decided way back then that I wanted a single last name for all of the members of my family, so I didn't give much thought to changing my last name to my husband's when we married.

Looking back now, I wish I had given the subject a bit more thought. There are so many options, and so many ways to honor the rich history, or the fresh start of a new family. James and Julie could come up with one, single last name if they wanted to, and it would be no big deal! The last name my family has is not only uncommon and therefore frustratingly difficult for others to spell, but it really isn't connected with much in the way of family history. It's Italian, but was Americanized at Ellis Island and only goes back a single generation genealogy-wise anyhow, since my husband's father was adopted. My husband doesn't feel particularly connected to it, and it has never felt like it really "fit" for me. I'm grateful that our children will have a number of options when they reach adulthood, and can choose a name (if they so desire) that they feel represents them and their families better than the name they were given at birth.

My husband and I both grew up without our fathers. We had their last names, but they weren't part of our lives until we established relationships with them as adults. As such, neither of us were inclined to hold onto our surnames when we married. The first thing I said to my husband was "My name is Helena. I'm thirty and I like dinosaurs." He was hooked, for some reason, although neither of us were looking for a partner. I guess you could say it was love at first sight. While we were engaged, we spent the better part of a year trying to figure out what our last name would be. He suggested a funny spelling of Saurus and I said no way. A month or two passed and he googled the spelling, and lo and behold, it was the word for the little pods of sporangium under fern fronds, and I love ferns nearly as much as I love dinosaurs. I think they're magical. This is how we ended up with our name, as goofy as it is. We are pretty goofy people, after all. Our children can change their last names and we won't be offended, but I think they may actually like it.

Shannon at The Artful Mama
When I got married I chose to take my husband's last name. All my life I had been teased about my own last name because it was similar to a popular candy name. I considered keeping my last name as my middle name but my middle name is that of my aunt and I thought it might hurt her feelings if I dropped the name and I did not want four legal names either. I often wish I had chosen to hyphenate my name or make the middle name switch because even though I was teased for that name I was proud of it. Both of our names were very short mine four letters and his five but in the end I decided simplicity and tradition was best for me.

Mandy @ Living Peacefully with Children
Before my husband and I were married, we had a long discussion about last names: if either of us would change our last name, which of us might, what the name would be, etc. In the end, I ended up changing my last name. I didn't have a great relationship with my father, so keeping the same last name held no appeal for me. It was important to my husband that we share our last name, so it seemed to make since at the time. A few years later, my husband wished that we had both changed our last names to something entirely new, as he found that he no longer wished to share a name with his parents. Since then, we have both found peace with the last name we have. In fact, we have embraced it. It fits us and holds no connection to his parents for us any longer. When our children were born, we opted to give them the same last name. Our children's middle names come from my mother's side of the family - various first and surnames which hold meaning and have connection through the generations.

Matthew Temple at clownfysh
My parents named me Matthew Van Temple. I always knew I was going to change my name. From an early age, I adjusted what people called me, insisting on "Matt" instead of "Matthew". When I was in my early twenties, I changed my name to Inhaesio Zha, leaving behind my old name. Zha was a spiritual name, what I was called by my group of friends—we all had special names that we called ourselves when we were together, to remind us that we saw each other differently than the world at large saw us. Zha was that name for me. It has a meaning, but I keep that between me and the people who were present at the time I changed my name to that. Inhaesio I chose because in Ohio, where I changed my name, you needed both a first and last name, so I picked the Latin version of an English word I liked: inhesion. Hence: Inhaesio Zha. In recent years, I've started using Matthew Temple as my writing name—my pseudonym. So I have the strange inversion of my real name being the name I made up, and my pseudonym being the name I was given. I love both names. Zha is a special nickname that people close to me use. Matthew is a name that reminds me of my childhood, and that's something I like more and more to be reminded of. Both suit me, and I use both. I like to play with names.

When my parents got married my mom never changed her name. I was born and they weren't sure what to do. At the time my dad was thinking of dropping his last name and going by his first and middle. His middle name is Scott. I was born at home in my uncle's guest house. His name is Scott. So after a week of figuring out my first name they landed on Scott as a last name. Bonus story: my brother was born three years later. He was born in water on our back porch in Arizona. They chose Redlin for the red rocks and water. Neither of us have legal middle names. My dad never changed his last name. I am surprised by how few problems we've had with four different names. I love that we each have totally personal first and last names. I love telling the story. In the last few years I've thought of adding my mother's maiden name as a legal middle name but we'll see.

My mom is Hindu and my dad is Muslim (don't ask, we have no idea what happened there); we're from Guyana, South America, which is a country that the British stocked with slaves from India a long time ago. To the layman, I just look Indian. After 9/11, my friends teased me that my last name was either the first or last name of something like 16 out of 25 (!!) of the FBI's most wanted terrorists list, and they were going to turn me in for the reward. Real funny, guys. More recently I've used my last name to play in 'Draw Mohammed' (the Islamic prophet) day, by drawing a picture of myself. It's not that I object to my last name, exactly, just that it's full of little niggling things that annoy me. Like people spelling it wrong. Or people who barely know me asking me why I don't fast at Ramadan (Me: "Religion isn't hereditary, unlike last names!"). Or getting the side-eye and/or cavity search at airports. Or having to explain why my first name is Hindu and last name is clearly Muslim. Basically, if I ever get married, unless the guy's last name is Hitler or something, I'm definitely going to change it. Though I wonder, if 9/11 hadn't happened, whether I would feel the same way.

Mama LaMa
I have always had trouble with my names - my first name, my last name... then my potential 'married name' started creating the latest challenge. My first thought was, "No way am I taking on a man's surname! I'll keep my own, thank you very much!" But slowly some mushy voice from within started whispering that it would be nice to have something of his and make it 'ours' this way. I especially thought it would be good if we had kids, if all of us shared the same name. Here's the thing, though, my family name is La (with a tilda on it - but I can't get that to work, here). My husband's name is Ma. I knew for sure I wouldn't drop my family name - that is not done, in my culture. So I would become La Ma... hmm... Lama? In Portuguese, my native tongue, that means 'mud' - so my name would become mud. Well, okay, maybe I should drop my name and become just Ma... wait that means 'evil' in Portuguese. Bummer... so I talked it through with my soon-to-be hubby and we thought, f*ck it, we'll embrace the absurdity and become the La-Mas. The jokes rolled in. Friends suggested we should name our first kid Dalai and the second one Spittin. But I stuck to it. I changed my name and became Mrs La-Ma... I am still waiting for my hubby (of now 5 years!) to change his.

Laura at Authentic Parenting
My name "Schuerwegen" is a Flemish name (I am Belgian) composed of the words shuer and wegen; schuer komes from scheuren: to tear and wegen meant bread in old Dutch, so compiled it makes he (or she) who tears the bread.

Jennifer at Our Muddy Boots
I kept my given surname. My family thought it was a mistake. My dad, with whom I worked at the time, ordered me a company credit card with my husband's last name on it. It was waiting for me when I got back from my honeymoon. I never activated it. Then one day my wise and then 87-year-old grandmother said "you know Jennifer, I understand why you did not change your name. Yesterday somebody asked me what my maiden name is, and I had to stop and think. I could not remember."

Nearly ten years and two children later I have not changed it. I don't even think about it. My kids have two last names legally, but we use only my husband's for them. I am not offended when people call me Mrs. Husband's-last-name, but that is rare. Nobody in my circle calls me Mrs. Anything anyway. And I am sort of backwards. I choose to use my husband's last name professionally. My career choice (not blogging!) is public and reliant upon a nice sounding name combination- his last name sounds nice with mine, so it works out.

Patti @ Canadian Unschooler
My last name is the name of a tiny town in Germany, just over the border from The Netherlands. According to family lore, a French soldier in Napoleon's army had had enough of marching through Germany in the dead of winter. While passing through the town of Tinholt, he fled into The Netherlands (Holland), married a Dutch girl and changed his name to Tinholt. I'm not sure if the first Tinholt was a brave, peace loving man or a pathetic lazy wretch. Either way, I am proud of my Dutch heritage (which was originally French, I suppose)!

Do you have a name story you'd like to tell? Does the meaning or origin of your last name hold particular value to you? How did you decide on last names when it came to your children? Please share in the comments!

P.S. I know you're going to ask about when we're going to reveal our new surname: Look for it next week!


  1. I left a comment on your last post about blending your name, so I was disappointed that my story wasn't featured! I guess I didn't write it in the right spot.

    The origin of my last name has affected my life quite a bit and has taken me on a specific route differing from my other family members. It has German roots, and I found myself taking German language classes as an elective all through jr. high and in high school. In jr. high I day dreamed of marrying a [real] German man. In college I majored in German. I studied abroad in Germany. I met a German man and while dating, we talked about last names. He said that he never liked his last name (because of the length and pronunciation) and would like to change his name to mine. That made me really excited because I never envisioned myself with another last name and at age 21, I consciously told myself that I would either hyphenate or keep my last name. Two years after making that final revelation, I married my [real] German sweetheart, he changed his name to mine, and now we still have the benefit of having one last name for our nuclear (bilingual!) family! :)

  2. I'm so sorry, Becky. It was never my intention to exclude your story. I also didn't want to assume that I had permission from those who commented on the other post to use and republish their stories (and names, websites) within this post, which is why I created a Google form to solicit stories that way.

    I really love your name story. =) How neat that you kept (and shared) the name that has held such deep meaning for you throughout your life!

  3. I never thought twice about changing my last name when I got married. I felt it signified the transition in my life from being single and connected to my childhood family to a new life where I'm connected to my husband and the family we'll grow together. I've always identified most with the heritage of my German/Swiss first name, Gretchen ... rather than my Scottish maiden name. My married name is Bossio, and my family thinks I'm somewhat bossy - so everyone jokes that my married name is a better fit anyway!

  4. I love these stories! So fun to hear everyone's take, and it's enlightening that surnames are rather more fluid than we often give them credit for.

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