By What Name Ye Shall Be Called

When I married Sumer Thurston, she shifted her last name to her empty middle name slot, and took my last name as her last name. Or so I (and the Social Security Administration) thought. A couple of years after we were married, she put “Sumer Thurston Evans” on her business cards; soon she started answering the phone at work, “Sumer Thurston Evans speaking.” Finally, about a year ago, she made one little typographical shift: “Sumer Thurston-Evans.” I can only imagine what the future of Sumer’s nomenclature may be, but it doesn’t look good for the Evanses.

A recent article in Slate encapsulated as a trend what I’d already experienced personally: the ever-changing maiden name. Mormons, being about 20 years behind the times, now keep maiden names and hyphenate last names like the rest of America. Even more interesting, mormon women have discovered the idea of different names for different social contexts: for example, Sumer Evans at Church (for simplicity’s sake), Sumer Thurston-Evans at work, and Sumer Thurston at singles bars.

Some in our ward have taken things a step further: the husband takes the wife’s name as his new last name. An avant-garde trend, but interesting. Why not take this approach? Let me advance to you a reason, albeit flimsy: think of what this does to genealogists! How can you trace family trees? What family are you then a part of? How important is it to “carry on the family name,” and what does that really mean?

To all you enlightened people who see this as a non-issue, where the couple should feel free to take whatever name they choose, let me ask what to do if one spouse has a historically or politically important name — would that sway you? I think if my last name were Brahe, Schrödinger, or Eyring, maybe Thurston wouldn’t figure so strongly. I’m coming off a bit flippant here, and I apologize for the tone. I guess I have never felt (until recently) the pressure that women must feel on this issue. A part of me is just trying to figure out the best road for establishing a family identity, and I’m welcome to all suggestions.

Comments

  1. “, and Sumer Thurston at singles bars.”

    Hah, well I certainly hope not. I can’t see that happening (unless your excessive blogging drives her crazy).

    On the other hand, if she’s already at the singles bar, I think nomenclature is probably the least of your concerns.

  2. “Aaron Zoltar Skywalker”. I like it!

  3. “Guess that will be A. Zoltar Skywalker when he gets called to be a GA!”

    Yea, Kristine … I’m sure I’m on that short list of “future G.A.s” laying on President Hinkley’s desk, even as we speak. :)

    Aaron B

  4. A pointless legal history fact: Hyphenating last names has a fairly long history in English, but originally it was a sign of bastardy. An illegitimate child was literally the child of no one for legal purposes (most importantly inheritance). Taking either parent’s surname could lead to nasty lawsuits over inheritence. The solution was to allow bastards to start their own families using the hyphenation both parents’ surnames.

  5. As a hyphenate myself, I have to say it has its pluses and minuses. The biggest plus, and the main reason we BOTH hyphenated, was so that we could have the same last name, and our kids would have the same name we have.

    On the other hand, our last name, Taber-Kewene, is a mouthful, and apparently unpronouncable for most people.

    The other reason we did it, frankly, was because I have a big feminist ego and could never stomach the idea of just adopting my husband’s name, and my husband is a nice, feminist guy who agreed.

    And I like the geneological implications – doesn’t it make it easier in a way?

  6. Brown’s a pretty steady old-fashioned American name. What was your wife’s maiden name?

    p.s. I now realize that “maiden name” is the only modern context for “maiden”, besides maybe “maiden voyage”.

  7. But Kristine, my wife’s last name is Manson!!!

    Aaron B

  8. By the way, since we’re complaining about our names, I’ll have you all know that my middle name is “Charles.” And my last name is “Brown.” Try to imagine all the cruel jokes I had to endure as a child. My mother had a twisted sense of humor.

    Aaron B

  9. Gigi, I’m glad you brought up the cultural and ethnic identity issue, because I think for many Americans, there is no cultural or ethnic identity, having lost it through melting-pot processes long ago. I’ve got to admit that while I know Evans is a welsh name, I feel no compulsion to link to that history and identity. Perhaps I should — maybe it would make me a stronger person.

    You’re right about Mat not being able to pull off being Korean for very long. Screwing his nose up at kimchee would be a dead giveaway.

  10. Guess that will be A. Zoltar Skywalker when he gets called to be a GA!

  11. Hmm — perhaps I should use my admin power at T & S to retitle all of Steve’s posts there as being authored by “Steve Thurston-Evans.”

  12. I agree with Clark that people get way to worked up about names. I have known those who view a woman’s failure to take her husband’s name as some horrible, ultra-feminist usurpation of the “Patriarchal Order” — one definitely worth breaking up a relationship over. I couldn’t have cared less if my wife had taken my name or not (which she did).

    Aaron B

  13. Kristine says:

    I have a friend who addresses her letters to “Kristine Haglund Harris Haglund Harris.” I changed my name when we first got married, then hated it, and changed back. Got so much grief from church members (and the membership clerk–apparently church software defaults to changing the name and it’s a hassle to override that but still list me in the same household) that I decided to change again to Harris when we moved the next time, just to at least give myself five minutes to alienate people with my *actual* opinions, instead of the ones they presumed I had because of my name. I still cringe every time I introduce myself as “Kristine Harris,” but now it would be hard to change, and my oldest son is kind of attached to the idea that we are the “Harris family” and we all have the same last name (“third name” in his vernacular). I liked the solution one friend of mine came up with back when Steve and I were Harris and Haglund–he called us “the Haggises.”

  14. Kristine says:

    I have a good friend from college whose last name is Chang. She kept her name when she married a nice Swedish boy from Minnesota. But they have given their children his last name, and it always feels like a bit of a jolt when I see these darling children whose Chinese heritage is apparent in their features, and whose names are Erik and Annika Hanson. It’s complicated, ain’t?!

  15. I have always kind of liked the tradition of giving all the children in a family the mothers last name as their middle name-
    Like Gordan Bitner Hinkley.

    As for Wife’s last name- however she wants to do it is fine with me. I would potentially change my name- more likely hiefenate than just lose mine.
    But, if she is down with having the kids use her last name as their middle name, I will probably do that.

  16. I have to wonder, Stephen, if you have somewhat of an ulterior motive for creating this post. I know that, as of late, my using two last names has really bothered you- though I still fail to see why. Although socially, I am Sumer Evans, itÂ’s not like I have a secret identity that comes out only at work. Frankly, if it didnÂ’t bother you so much, IÂ’d go by Thurston Evans everywhere. And the hyphen- well, I just use when I feel like people wonÂ’t get around to saying both names otherwise.

    My frustration on this issue really comes from the fact that I have no given middle name. When I married, I felt rather obligated to take my husbands last name- otherwise, I would still be name deficient. ThatÂ’s not to say that I wouldnÂ’t have taken my husbands last name, just that since I didnÂ’t have really any other option, now I have mixed feelings about it. IÂ’ve considered giving myself a middle name as an adult- though that wonÂ’t really get around the issue at this point. As you might imagine, this is something that I wonÂ’t do to my hypothetical daughters.

    Personally IÂ’m in favor of Stephen becoming a Thurston Evans. A marriage is supposed to be a union, isnÂ’t it? Combining both of the names seems rather appropriate. Especially in an age where ‘presiding’ doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the boss anymore.

  17. I kept my maiden name when I married my first husband, until he adopted my daughter, and then I changed it, so we would all have the same last name. Then, when I divorced, I kept my married name because that was my kids’ last name. When I married my current husband, I changed names because he planned to adopt my son (my daughter was an adult by then) and I couldn’t wait to dump my ex-husband’s name. I’m glad to have a name that people can pronounce in restaurants. However, it’s a name that’s made it impossible to name my younger son Peter. It’s Porter. Never would have worked.

  18. Ben Huff says:

    I think this is actually a pretty different question from what name to take at the start; here Steve thought everything was fine, but now suddenly it’s not, and he’s wondering how deep this goes.

    Sumer, why do you suddenly want to change your name back?

    Is changing your names so you’re both Thurston-Evans going to make you more unified? If I were in Steve’s position I would be thinking, “Uh, I thought we already *were* unified. Why do we have to change something to be unified now?” And thinking that if you don’t feel unified, then changing names seems like little more than a distraction from the real concern. “There’s gotta be something else behind this.”

    Maybe you do need to assert your independence somehow. Maybe there is something you need to change. But maybe there’s something else you need to talk about. And if there really isn’t, then Steve needs some reassurance about the fact that there isn’t. I would, anyway, if it was me.

  19. I’m sure which name I should use in naming heirs to my estate

  20. It’s quite a coincidence, Steve, that you brought up this topic yesterday. Earlier that day, I had to put in an order for my business cards and I was debating whether I should have “Gigi C. Parke” or “Gigi Chang Parke” (no hyphen, somewhat of an homage to Hillary Rodham Clinton :)) I had settled on the latter for all my forms of ID such as social security number, driver’s license etc. At work, however, due to IT glitches and general laziness on my part, I tend to use the former. However, this actually has implications for how people identify / perceive me.

    For those who deal with me in a business setting and know me only by name, not having “Chang” does not make it evident that I am Asian (I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing). On the other hand, those who have seen me clearly know I’m Asian, but because “Parke” is a common Korean-sounding name (i.e. Park), they often ask me if I’m Korean. When I respond “no” they then ask if my husband is Korean. Although I’m often tempted to answer “yes”, I think if they saw Mat, he could only pull that off for a minute (an hour at the max).

    So in the end, although I felt that using “Gigi Chang Parke” was cumbersome and possibly confusing, the “Chang” was hard to let go. Therefore, I put in a call earlier this morning to HR telling them to change “C.” to “Chang”.

    What’s in a name? Maybe it’s the comfort of keeping a moniker that’s been with us most of our lives and a tie to our (pre-marriage) families, but for me, it’s also a connection to a cultural and ethnic indentity that is fundamental to who I am.

  21. Jeremy’s FW, I at least use my name when I post…I’m not posting anywhere as Scott’s FW (is that fascinating woman, freaking wife, flaky witch?)
    I didn’t keep my maiden name because I thought it would help simplify the genealogy for furture generations. Of course, take that to an extreme and I might just go down on the records as the wife of the third son. Her name isn’t important. No woman’s name is.

  22. LOL!!

  23. My last name is “Brown.” BORING. I can’t figure out why my wife agreed to take it.

    Aaron B

  24. My last name is Butterfield. I don’t suppose it is boring, but it is hardly historically or politically important (though there is Alexander Butterfield from the Nixon era, Butterfield 8 with Liz Taylor, and Josiah Butterfield from the BOM). My wife kept her own name–Selcho. I get called Bro. Selcho all the time. This is not at all surprising give that she is undoubtedly the more social of the two of us. There was also a time when at least a couple of people in our ward did not realize we were actually married. I suppose they thought we were just living in sin, with 2 (now 3) kids. Made for some good laughs.

    I’ve not found the name difference to present an issue of any sort in establishing our “family identity.” I can’t imagine that anyone else in similar circumstances has.

  25. My school friend made up a new last name with her husband when they got married. She was interviewed for an Oregonian article because of it. The article also discusses the problem of kids with hyphenated names marrying other kids with hyphenated names.
    http://oregonlive.com/search/index.ssf?/base/metro_west_news/107935546619000.xml?oregonian?wbn

  26. My wife dreamed all her life of finally receiving a last name which would no longer be mispronounced or misspelled. Naturally, she married someone with another German last name and her dream is yet unfulfilled.

  27. O.K., I’m just kidding. But really, I think Randy may have a point. I probably could have been made to take my wife’s last name, since I really do think my last name is boring, but I must admit it isn’t something I’ve ever had to think about. (Also, I will probably always have to play second fiddle to the CNN anchor that shares my name, which is really humiliating.)

    Maybe the solution is to just adopt some really cool last name like “Zoltar” or “Buttafucco” or “Skywalker.”

    Aaron B

  28. Personally I think people get *way* too worked up about names. I’ve never understood it all. I personally couldn’t care less whether my wife took my name or didn’t. (See did but hasn’t spent the $60 yet to have it changed officially)

    It always seemed to give names far too much power when people got worked up over them. I think it is a matter of convinience at best and the traditional view simply has the benefit of offering some genealogical continuity between kids and parents.

  29. Possible explanations for Sumer’s name:

    1. Parents paid per letter on the birth certificate

    2. Homage to ancient Sumerians

    3. Parents wanted her to be “unique”.

    All three are plausible. Only one is true. No matter what explanation you accept, I like calling anything she does “Sumerian”.

  30. Randy, did you and your wife talk about her keeping her name? What were your thoughts at the time?

  31. Sandbergy! Good to see you out in the blog world. Are you and Bobbie in the O.C. yet? If so, hyphenation may be in your future.

  32. So, what happens when a
    “Meghan Smith-Kearney”
    marries a
    “Robert Bowie-Hanson”?

    Are our kids
    “Susie and Bill Smith-Kearney-Bowie-Hanson”?

    They would sound like a walking billboard for a law firm!

    Just wondering.

  33. Sorry to be so late in rejoining the party–to much actual work going on. Kristine, I like “the Haggises.” Mel and I too occasionally combine our names to “the Buttchos.” Fun stuff.

    Clark and Aaron, given how unimportant you feel last names are, would either of you have changed your last name to your wife’s last name. It’s easy to say you don’t care when you don’t have to do anything.

  34. Steve Sandberg says:

    Steve:

    You’ve exploded into the bloggernacle lately. I particularly liked your last T&S post. I’m glad that all your insightful ideas, including the under-your-breath comments in Elders Quorum, have finally reached more ears. Or is it eyes?

    About names: In my opinion, the latin american tradition is both the best for genealogy and for identity, of the parents that is. The parents retain their given names, including both of their last names. Their kids use both of their parents’ names, so neither parent has to feel left out. The order is still patriarchal, but you have to have some order the system to be of any use genealogically. In China and Taiwan, women keep their own names. Of course, the next generation only takes on the father’s name, but it’s no affront to anyone that the wife maintains her own identity apart from her husband or her family. I’ve always been a little confused as to why our culture has worried so much about the issue, or seen the idea of having women retain both their identities and a link to their genealogy as necessarily a radical view.

    Bobbie and I talked about last-name options when we got married, but at the time it would have stirred up more people than she was comfortable stirring up, in the church and out, if we’d hyphenated or if she’d retained her own name. Basically, keeping her last name, or hyphenating, would have made more of a statement than she was trying to make, and retaining her identity in that way wasn’t worth the cost to her. I always thought it would be cool to hyphenate, but the Slate article shows how ridiculous that becomes when the next generation marries others whose parents hyphenated. And my thinking it would be cool to hyphenate was never put to a practical reality test.

    So Bobbie felt, and still feels, a sense of loss of identity. She, like Sumer, put her last name in her until-then empty middle name slot. We then named our first child with her maiden name as his first name.

    The real question, Steve, is what you’re going to do.

  35. Sumer,

    I can’t speak for Steve personally, but my intuition is that many traditional LDS men would see a decision not to use their last name as a rejection of sorts. Like, “I brought my toys over to play, but you didn’t think they were good enough.” Or “What’s the matter with it — it’s a perfectly good last name? Why doesn’t my wife want it?”

    I don’t know if those are Steve’s motivation. Or perhaps he’s conflicted — feeling a little miffed that his name “isn’t good enough,” but also liberal angsty-guilty about feeling that way, and not being as liberal internally as he is externally.

    Hmm, what else can I speculate on? I know, maybe he actually wants to move to Brooklyn — he just keeps up the Manhattan-loving facade to impress all of his friends.

  36. Sumer, what if we named ourselves over again with cool names? We could be Stephen & Sumer Maximum Overdrive!

    You don’t want to bring up the notion of presiding, do you? Because with one bang of my gavel… it’s laundry night!

  37. The “latin american tradition” can also be very annoying. Here’s a story:

    I have two adopted sisters from Costa Rica, and several years ago I traveled to San Jose at their request to try to track down their birth family. I possessed nothing but the Costa Rican social security number of their mother, and some other assorted adoption documents. When I tried to contact various attorneys, or the Civil Registry, I was told their were laws in place to prevent disclosure of the very information I was seeking. In desperation, I resorted to flipping through the phone book (there’s only one for the whole country), looking for relatives of the mother, based on her last name. Problem is, Latin American surnames being what they are, I could only hope to find siblings of the mother, since her parents and/or children wouldn’t have the same last name. I eventually succeeded in locating her (by finding a sibling of her long-deceased first husband who was named in the adoption papers), but not before cursing what I found to be a very irritating Latin American custom.

    Aaron B

  38. The name-changing thing wasn’t an issue for me. I had another one of those fun German names that no one knows how to pronounce or spell (Feuz, pronounced “Foitz), and when you spend 12+ years in school listening to teachers try to pronounce your name, you wish you had something easier. So when my husband actually had an EASY German name (not fair, by the way!) like Kern, I jumped at the chance. I figured I was moving up in the world.

    As far as the middle name thing goes, I kept mine (Kimberley). Otherwise I would have been Jessica Feuz Kern, and I really didn’t want to be another JFK.

    I’ve never felt that I’ve lost a part of my identity. For me it was just a practicality thing.

  39. The real question, I’ve wondered – what happened to the other M in Sumer’s name? Is it a homage to the ancient Sumerians? A quirky family spelling? Or just a Canadian thing?

  40. This is obviously a bit late in coming- but this is my first blog post ever. I recently took my wifeÂ’s last name, possibly making me at least partly responsible for SteveÂ’s post. No hyphen, no double names, just Stanley; the Petersen last name is gone forever. Apparently such a move is a bit “avante-guard.” But why is that the case? My wife and I had never really talked about doing this, but rather followed the generally accepted custom of Tiffany taking my last name when we got married. When we began talking of changing it, the only reason not to take her name, besides my motherÂ’s extreme discomfort with the idea, was some kind of historical or cultural norm – the sources of which are good old-fashioned patriarchy plain and simple.

    I will say that the friction that this move has created has only strengthened my resolve that it was essentially a good thing. My interactions with the bureaucracy ranged from the benign “I’ve never seen a man take the woman’s last name” to the more troubling “a man can’t take a woman’s last name.” It was an interesting process to say the least.

  41. We did talk about it when we got married. I told her it wasn’t particularly important to me. She told me it was pretty important to her. That settled it. I wondered at the time how we would resolve the inevitable issues that arise (what to name the kids, etc.). To date, we have not encountered any problems other than occasional miscommunications at home, school, etc.

  42. We know a couple here from Finland and by law (at least this is what I remember) a girl’s last name is always her father’s first name plus the “daughter” and the a boy’s is the dad’s first name plus “son.” So if they have a son and a daughter, all four people in the family will have different last names. Think about those ward directories. And she said that the phone book is listed by first names and not last names.

  43. VeritasLiberat says:

    What cracks me up is that people who have “Mormon Royalty” surnames seem to go out of their way to keep them (even if they end up using and/or naming their kids more than three names as a result)

    (I’m a convert of three years, so none of my names are special) :(

  44. When I get married, if I can’t take her last name…she can’t take mine. :)

  45. When Jeremy & I got married, the only problem with the name thing was that his sister has the same first name and, at the time, we were in the same department in college and we both got our paychecks from the same desk. I decided not to legally change my name so the not-so-bright secretary in the office wouldn’t get any more confused than she already was. Now, every time I sign any tax form, I have to remind myself to sign my maiden name – one time I forgot and the IRS sent me a nasty letter about using someone else’s ss #. The DMV also just sent me a letter threatening to take my license away because my name didn’t match my SS#. Now I just haven’t changed my name because I’m too lazy. Nothing feminist about it. I don’t need my old name to feel like myself or to feel validated, but maybe I’m just really lazy, and like the fact that Jeremy’s last name is 1 letter shorter than my maiden name.

  46. Who says it isn’t my real name?

  47. Yeah, Aaron, that would take care of the Charlie Brown problem!

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