What’s in a name?

January 5, 2006 | 60 comments
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I am not Gordon Smith. My name is Doug.

My father is Gordon. This is the story of why I am using his name.

The short version of the story is that he gave me his name, right there in the middle: Douglas Gordon Smith. But he called me “Doug,” and so did everyone else until I was 22 years old. That’s when I started telling people to call me “Gordon.”

That’s the short version of the story. Now the unabridged version.

This past summer I received an email that began as follows: “Dear Mr Smith: How are you? I don’t think you go by Doug any more so I thought I would address you like your students!!!”

Well, that’s a bit awkward. The email was from a high school classmate, who was providing me with information about an upcoming reunion. “Doug Smith” graduated from Osseo-Fairchild High School in 1980, but he went off to BYU and joined the Mormons.

When I decided to join the Church, I undertook a fairly substantial process of personal change. In the year following my baptism and over the course of my mission, I developed new habits of thought and action, and when I returned from my mission to Osseo, Wisconsin, I felt uncomfortable. “Doug” from Osseo didn’t exist anymore.

Still, it didn’t occur to me to change my name until I met a young woman at BYU with two names. Some people called her one name, and others called her another. She explained that she was in the process of changing her name, and she would really appreciate me calling her by her “new” name, which was her middle name. No problem, happy to oblige.

Is that all there is to it? Just tell people, “Call me [Whatever],” and it happens! This was a revelation to me. I didn’t have to be “Doug Smith” anymore. I could be anything I wanted! (“From now on, call me Nuwanda.”) After much contemplation, I decided that using the name “Gordon” would not only be simple, but would honor my father. I was half right.

Changing my name was a tremendous hassle. My wife was fine with it and I didn’t ask my family or hers to change, so I am still “Doug” when we visit relatives. The real challenge was among my friends. The first class at BYU where I announced to the professor that I would like to be called “Gordon” was embarrassing. By that time, I was well into my major and many of my classmates looked at me expectantly, waiting for the punchline. In another class, so many people knew me by Doug that I simply couldn’t change. My co-workers and supervisors in the Reading and Writing Center split about evenly between those who made the adjustment and those who couldn’t. It was hard on people.

Several times during the first few months, I considered abandoning my project. In conversation, I stumbled over my new name. More than once I failed to acknowledge people who called me “Gordon.” People laughed at me. I experimented with new signatures. I changed my driver’s license. I learned to fill out forms with blanks for “First Name, M.I., Last Name.”

At the same time, I was surprised to discover that when people called me “Gordon,” it felt different than being called “Doug.” Over time, I came to associate “Gordon” with my Mormon personality and “Doug” with my pre-Mormon life.

Many women and some men have a name-changing experience via marriage. Does changing your last name in this context have the same sort of effect as changing my first name had on me? Does it distinguish your single personality from your married personality?

I have sometimes thought about my experiences in connection with scriptural accounts of people changing their names (or having their names changed for them). Abram to Abraham, for example. We tend to view Abraham’s experience as having symbolic importance to his people and to us, but I suspect that it was even more important to Abraham, reminding him that his life was different as “Abraham” than it had been as “Abram.”

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60 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. CS Eric on January 5, 2006 at 12:05 pm

    My wife changed from going by her first name to her middle name when we got married. The only person who had a struggle with it was, for some reason, my grandmother. Even her parents had an easier time with it. Go figure.

  2. Derek on January 5, 2006 at 12:39 pm

    I think it helps if your new name has fewer syllables than the old. Then you would be doing people a favor by asking them to call you by your new name.

  3. Russell Arben Fox on January 5, 2006 at 12:51 pm

    My older brother Daniel is named James Daniel Fox, but has always gone by Daniel. For about five generations back, the first-born son in the Fox family has been named James Something; sometimes they’ve gone by “James” (or in my father’s case, “Jim”), sometimes not (my grandfather, who was always “Bill”). It varies depending upon the character and the feeling of the person. I think a not unimportant reason for middle names is to allow for this sort of flexibility and self-discovery, so that as people grow and change they can think a little bit about what their name(s) mean and have meant, and perhaps adapt accordingly.

  4. cooper on January 5, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    At age eighteen I actually went through the legal process to change my name. At that age i chose to take the last name of the man who married my mother and became a father to me at age 12. My birth father had abondoned us when I was 5 and I no longer wanted his name to appear on my legal documents. I chose a man I felt had fulfilled the father requirement and took his name. it was an interesting legal process to work through. None of my 3 siblings went to the effort I did.

  5. Ben S. on January 5, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one with a dual name story, though mine was motived by seven-year old practicality. In 2nd grade, there were 4 other Bens in the class, so I started going by Tom, my first name, shared with my father. I grew up with a split. Ben at home, Tom at school, Tom at Church, until the church/school group started colliding in high school. Several of them took to calling me Tomben.

    Mission companions and undergrad people all knew me as Tom, unless they met me through my sister (as my wife did.)

    It wasn’t until I started grad. school that I made a complete shift back to Ben.

  6. Susan M on January 5, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    I started being called Sue on some internet forums a few years back, and I’ve met a lot of people via the Internet who only know me as Sue. It’s kinda weird–I have a group of friends who know me as Sue now (not just internet friends anymore–I see them regularly in real life). It’s sort of like having two identities–people who know me from different contexts calling me different names.

    As for the syllable thing, that’s true. My kids have started using nicknames now that they’re teenagers–the young men at church got tired of calling Nathaniel by such a long name and started calling him by his middle name, Si. My daughter Catherine has started going by Cat. People are surprised when we call her Catherine now–”Oh how sweet, her dad calls her Catherine” or “Catherine….? Oh, do you mean Cat?”

    I think it’s fun to have different names to go by.

  7. Jack on January 5, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    I carried the sir name of my step father from the age of 5 to the age of 19. In preparing to leave the country for my mission I discovered that my step father (who left when I was twelve) never legally adopted me, so I had to return to carrying the sir name of my biological father–the name on my birth certificate. I don’t remember the change being that big of a deal–probably because it coincided with my entering into a whole new enviroment.

    The other experience I’ve had with a name change is adopting “Jack” as an online cover. That just happened to coincided with my brain splitting in two a couple of years ago.

  8. Katherine on January 5, 2006 at 2:25 pm

    I found it hard to call my children by their names when they were first born, even though we had been using their names for a few months before they were born–seeing and holding them changed the way I knew them, and so it was awkward for a while.

    I also found changing my last name odd when I first got married. I really didn’t feel like a different person at all, so the name change seemed a little arbitrary. I’m glad now that my name identifies me with my husband, and with use the new name did come to fit me.

    To sum up, I find names important but arbitrary at first. I think they can become a real contributor to identity for good or otherwise.

  9. D. Fletcher on January 5, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    Oy, have I got a tale!

    My name is David Wallace Fletcher. The Wallace came from my grandfather’s first name, Wallace Bennett, and it was originally a family name (his mother was Rose Wallace).

    When I was a kid, I was David, sometimes Davy and sometimes Dave. When I was in the 5th grade, I auditioned for a production of Oliver! and got in the chorus of kids, in which there were 7 other Davids. Since I had put my name as David W., the director and cast started calling me D.W., which stuck as a nickname all through highschool.

    But D.W. is often shortened to D., so when I got to college, I officially shortened it to D. Fletcher, which is what I’ve been ever since. It isn’t spelled Dee.

    But professionally, on music or at Carnegie Hall, I’m officially David Fletcher.

    Confused?

    But then, many members of my family changed their names, mid-adolescence. We’ve had one, long identity crisis, I can tell you.

  10. D. Fletcher on January 5, 2006 at 2:32 pm

    Jack, I LOVE the use of the phrase “sir name” which seems appropos, to me, but you probably don’t know it’s spelled “surname.”

  11. Rosalynde Welch on January 5, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    Changing my name at marriage was never an issue for me, politically, and I adjusted to the new sound pretty quickly. But I’ve never mastered the new signature: “Welch” just won’t come from my fingers, for some reason. So my signature now consists of “Rosalynde W——–” trailing off into a listless squiggle.

  12. Gordon Smith on January 5, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    Thanks for commenting, everyone.

    Katherine: I agree that names become part of our identity, and this simplifies our interactions with others, but it also complicates growth and change.

    Jack: Good luck with the split-brain problem. Maybe someone should write up your case. You could be famous, like Patient HM.

  13. Kaimi Wenger on January 5, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    I’ve had all sorts of nicknames. At one old employer, I was on the phone constantly. One day, after I said “This is Kaimi” and the client said “hi Clint” (the umpteenth time someone had tagged me with another name) I decided to just adopt that as my work name: I was Clint from then on, for two years. At another old employer, I went by my middle name (David). One professor still calls me Kai. (Kaimi doesn’t actually shorten to Kai – the word is constrcuted from the Hawaiian Ka-Imi, not Kai-Mi.)

    I also answer to similar names – if someone yells “hey Jamie” or “hey Amy” or Cami or whatnot, I’ll look to see if they’re talking to me.

    It’s interesting – I *do* think of my Clint and David identities as being slightly different than my own current identity. Or rather, those are snapshots in time, and have stayed as they last were, while “Kaimi” has changed.

  14. Bill on January 5, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    I think this story wins the prize, just in time for Christmas.

    I was the home teacher of the gentleman in question for several years.

  15. D. Fletcher on January 5, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    When I introduce myself as *D.*, quite often people think I’ve said Steve. I have to say, “No, it’s D. Comes after C.”

  16. CS Eric on January 5, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    Kaimi,

    Your story reminds me of a work associate who used to call me “Skip.” No idea where that came from. And our old ward organist will call me “Jeff” until she recognizes the mistake. Since she is well into her 80s, I tell her that I just consider it her nickname for me.

  17. Jack on January 5, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    D.,

    You’re right that “surname” is the correct spelling. However lots of folks nowadays are spelling it “sir name.” There are even some geneological sites on the web that specialize in “sir names.”

    Gordon,

    It’s an advantage to have a split brain–whenever I do something really stupid I can blame the other guy.

  18. Elisabeth on January 5, 2006 at 4:38 pm

    I knew a guy in law school named “Ashley”. He was born right on the cusp of the transition of “Ashley” as a boy’s name to “Ashley” as a girl’s name. He changed his name our second year, after enduring years of annoying observations about having a “girl’s” name (which, of course, everyone felt compelled to make upon meeting him).

    I like being called Elisabeth Calvert Smith, but it’s a bit long – and over the years, despite my best efforts, it has been inevitably shortened to Elisabeth Smith, for the most part (especially at Church). Can’t get more white-bread than the name Elisabeth Smith. I feel such a bourgeoise.

  19. Kevin Barney on January 5, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    My father’s name was supposed to be Lee Roy Barney, but on his birth certificate an “e” was accidentally dropped from the first name, resulting in a single name: “LeRoy,” with no middle name. He just kept it that way. His name became my middle name, and it was a nickname to my friends while I was in high school (in the 70s with an afro). When I went to BYU, my new nickname became “DeKalb,” the town in Illinois where I grew up.

    About seven years ago I substitute taught a youth class at church, and according to the roster one of the boys was named James, but he insisted that he went by Fred, and his classmates backed him up. So from that day forward I too called him Fred. I later learned that “Fred” derived from a Utah store, Fred Meyer, which apparently his dad liked so much that the family joke was he should have named his son “Fred,” and so this son took that joke to heart and a new name was born.. Everyone called him Fred but his mom, who couldn’t stand it and called him James. Sadly, Fred died when he was 18; I spoke at his funeral and had occasion to recount this story.

  20. Melissa on January 5, 2006 at 6:00 pm

    I will refrain from theorizing the change of identity that is ostensibly prescribed for women but not in men and reflected in the change of name at marriage in order not to get sidetracked from the sweet recent experience I’d rather share.

    Very few of you know that “Proctor” is not my birth name. My father, Philip Ward, died when I was 14. My mother’s new husband adopted all of us and expected us to take his name, not least because it was vital to my mother to give the appearance of a “whole” family. Despite my brother’s tears and railing, we were all required to go by “Proctor. ” It was simply not up for debate. My parents believed it was necessary to share a name in order to escape any stigma a mixed family might warrant in Mormon Utah society. We moved across the state quickly after my mother’s remarriage. I entered high school with a new name, made new friends, and in concrete ways left my childhood identity behind. The experience of a (compelled) name change at the age of 14 was traumatic and I’ve always associated it with the loss of my dad.

    While I was in Utah over the holidays I visited my Ward grandparents. During our visit, my grandfather made a point of telling me he thought I should change my name back to Ward. I thought this was strange since we’ve never discussed the issue before. Why bring it up now after 17 years? I must have looked puzzled because he reiterated the request and then, choking up, told me that they were proud of me, that they claimed me and wanted people to know that I’m theirs. It was a very emotional moment, the only time in my whole life I’ve ever seen my grandfather tearful. The whole exchange surprised me not a little.

    It would be easy to interpret this request as a simple desire for more Ward family heirs given the family situation. My grandparents had two sons. Each of those sons had two sons. Of the four boys, who could pass the name onto their children, three remain unmarried. Two are in their late twenties. (BTW ladies, the medical school student is a hard-core rockclimber and an award winning cellist, the other speaks fluent Mandarin and is in a top business school back east). The other two are my brothers who took the name “Proctor,” one of whom has now passed it onto his wife and baby girl and hence is unlikely to return to “Ward.” Neverthehless, given that I’m a granddaughter and not a grandson I doubt that his request was motivated by a desire for little Ward grandbabies (my grandparents would have no way of knowing I have no intention of taking a future husband’s name). It seemed to matter to them that I myself as an individual carry their name. Grandpa kept saying things like “you have my genes,” “you’re my own flesh and blood.”

    The experience with my grandfather was a tender one. His tears did not represent a narcissistic concern for the continuation of his name, but rather his love for my dad, a beloved son he lost too soon, and also for me individually. To be claimed as someone’s own is an unspeakably precious thing.

    I can understand how someone’s name, first or last, may feel arbitrary, but in my own experience names carry enormous significance as does, of course, the power to name . . . but I digress.

  21. Mark B. on January 5, 2006 at 6:11 pm

    Ah, but Elisabeth, that “s” sets you apart, gives you a rather mysterious European aura, and, though the bread may still be white, it’s a melt-in-your-mouth baguette, fresh on a summer’s morning.

    A “z” would send you right into the polka-dotted Wonder Bread bag.

  22. Mark B. on January 5, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    Jack,

    It’s interesting that society is running from surnames to sir names. Next think we know, folks won’t be able to conjugate “lie” and “lay” anymore.

    Oh, the humanity!

  23. Julie M. Smith on January 5, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    Can’t get more white-bread than the name Elisabeth Smith.

    Oh yes you can.

    Two thoughts:

    (1) Not wanting to start a threadjack on this issue, but I’d like to state that I chose my husband but did not choose my father (although he’s nearly perfect in every way and I love him dearly), so I felt that choosing to take my husband’s name reflected more choice in the matter than keeping the name. I realize that there can be compelling reasons to keep one’s own name–although I think that an unmarried woman often lacks the experience to understand the repercussions of the decision–but I wanted to present another way of thinking about the issue.

    (2) Like Melissa, I’m saddened that the Zaffiro and Bruno names of my grandparents’ generation will be dying out.

  24. RS on January 5, 2006 at 6:21 pm

    At a previous job I was known as “Jimmy”, but only one person called me that. Here is the story.

    We had a management shake up and a new GM was appointed from outside the company. One day as I was getting in the elevator he called me “Jimmy”. Since he was new, I didn’t want to correct him and I figured that things would work themselves out. He continue to call me “Jimmy” for a couple of years. I finally summoned up the courage to ask him about this, he just smiled and said, “I knew all along.”

  25. Jason Vest on January 5, 2006 at 6:24 pm

    My dad’s family is full of siblings with dual names: Edwin for David, Don for Brent, Dee Dee for Dorthy and–the strangest–Cork for Darwin. The first thought David was too common, so outside family, he goes by his middle name, Edwin. Don (Jr) was called by his middle name to distinguish from dad, but always hated the middle name, so goes by Don outside family. Similarly, Dee Dee is a nickname for Dorthy (Jr) to distinguish from mom. And since Cork was born on his older brother’s 5th birthday, the older brother thought that the baby was his birthday present and as such it was the elder’s honor to name the babe. Darwin was named after a character in a popular TV show: Corky. Mom and dad didn’t care for the name, but how do you change the mind of tenacious children. (He has since outgrown the ‘y’ and goes by Cork.)

    When my wife joined the family, she was quite confused and thought I had twice the aunts and uncles than I actually had. At one family gathering, my wife introduced herself to my second cousin as having married “Don’s son”. Since my grandfather is known in the family as Don, the cousin thought that my wife had married my dad. After that embarrassing moment, she quickly learned how to translate names depending upon context.

  26. Kingsley on January 5, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    Father, how did my brother get his name?

    On the day of his birth I looked into the sky and saw a soaring eagle. And so I named him Soaring Eagle.

    Father, how did my sister get her name?

    On the day of her birth I looked into the meadow and saw a leaping deer. And so I named her Leaping Deer.

    Oh …

    Why do you ask, Puking Dog?

  27. Elisabeth on January 5, 2006 at 7:26 pm

    LOL, Julie! The Smith name is both a blessing and a curse. Despite its mundanity, at least I never have to spell my last name (oh, the indignity of being a “Smyth” or “Smithe”).

    Mark B. – yum, one of those flaky baguettes is calling to me for dinner (although the summer morning will have to wait, unfortunately)!

  28. cooper on January 5, 2006 at 7:50 pm

    Melissa, what a sweet story. I understand your grandfather’s request completely. Thanks for sharing the story with us.

  29. Wilfried on January 5, 2006 at 9:16 pm

    Indeed a gripping tale, Melissa. It’s deeply touching to learn such things about people we think we know and to be allowed to enter a little in their life. Thank you for telling us.

    And of course also gratitude to Gordon for opening this fascinating topic.

  30. queuno on January 5, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    My father is Randall, a solid, honorable name. One of his children and some of his grandchildren have inherited that as a middle name. When my mother first introduced him to her family, she introduced him as “Randy”, a name he hates. However, he didn’t correct her, and the name stuck. To this day, we can identify blindly relatives’ side of origin based on what they call him (Randall from his side, and Randy from my mom’s).

    A funny sidenote to this is that in Ireland, his ill-gotten nickname and surname combined are a rather profane combination that no thinking person would choose for a name. [No, I won't tell what it is, but email me and I'll tell.]

  31. Sarah on January 5, 2006 at 11:04 pm

    My family has a history of changing names around — my great-uncle was named Timothy but went by Teddy, and my grandma (his sister) named her elder son the same way. My father (Uncle Teddy’s younger brother) was named for the poet Edwin Rolfe, but my grandparents realized that if they called him Eddie, their two sons would be named Eddie and Teddy. So they used his middle name, James, and called him Jamie. About 20% of the people he works with (not ones he knows personally) think his name is Jaime or Jaimie. Some of them were surprised to find out he’s a man, in part because all the birth announcements that went around when my siblings were born said “Congratulations, Carol and Jaimie!”

    For me, the internet, there being approximately 1 billion Sarahs in the world (my freshman dorm floor had 23 girls, 5 of whom were named Sarah — same spelling, every one of us,) and genealogical chaos mean that I get all kinds of name changes:
    – the kids at ROTC called me by my last name, and always got it right. I love name tags.
    – about half the people I meet call me by either my father’s last name or my mother’s maiden name, because my name is hyphenated
    – another 10% or so call me Mrs. My-Last-Name, having become confused by the presence of hyphens.
    – the LiningUp.Net crew and most other people who know me online call me by my initials (even when they see me in person; they pronounce it “Sim-pah.”) They even use it amongst themselves when I’m not present, so that they don’t have to come up with another way of distinguishing me from the four other group members named Sarah and Sara.
    – many, many, many people at Church think that my mother’s last name is my last name; my freshman year of college, the folks at the Student Ward somehow got word that my mother’s name was different from what they thought my name was, and they actually changed my name in the social directory. I wasn’t very happy then, but I’m used to it now. Half the kids in the Junior Primary call me by what I think of as my mother’s name. And, of course, I look similar enough to my eldest younger sister that half the adults and teenagers say hello to her when they see me, thinking I am her.
    – some people, even people I know personally, call me by my shortened internet username (pronounced “low”.) I don’t know why. They say it when we meet for lunch. I’d rather they adopted “Sim-pah.” At least it almost sounds like Sarah.

    The consequence of all of that is that I’ll probably want to keep my fancy hyphenated last name for publishing and the internet and other similar activities, and I pray that I’ll marry a man with a nice, sensible, non-hyphenated, relatively easy-to-spell, yet not-entirely-common last name, and change my name to his for social purposes. Also, I’ll be answering to “Sim-pah” till the day I die, I expect.

  32. Kevin Barney on January 6, 2006 at 12:25 am

    A very touching story, Melissa. (And I know it’s none of my business, but it strikes me as absolutely unconscionable to force children to change their name away from that of their deceased father.)

    More than once I felt bad for my son for being saddled with my last name, Barney. I couldn’t count how many kids thought they were being brilliant by making a dinosaur joke. But he weathered it all just fine. My paternal line is Danish and bore the name Stockfisch, but in the late 19th century two brothers in the family, by then living in Utah (and, as I understand it, rather rough characters) had a falling out with the rest of the family, and changed their surname to “Barney.” Why in the world they picked that name I don’t know; I’ve always thought it was in honor of a member of one of the well known Mormon Barney clans (such as Lewis Barney, an ancestor of Ron Barney, the Church archivist), but that is just a guess.

    I do think it is cool, however, that the name appears to be a shortened form of biblical Barnabas, and thus is Aramaic in origin (the “bar” element meaning “son of”), the language of Jesus.

  33. Matthew Crowley on January 6, 2006 at 2:18 am

    I have assisted many people in getting their names changed legally (no I’m not a divorce lawyer).

    Almost all of them have been to remove the name of a step parent. I have also had personal exprience with the powerful need for parents in a blended family to try to hide that status, as Melissa has described. This is often done under the guise of smoothing things over for the kids at church, school, etc. My opinion is that this is a fairly selfish thing to do that benefits the psyche of the parents, primarily.

    It certainly is interesting the lengths that many of us are willing to go to give the appearance of fitting neatly into the mold. The funny thing is, in my experience, that once you have been in a ward long enough to really know all of the families, almost none of them fit this ideal that many of us want to so badly to project ourselves as conforming to. I have a hard time thinking of any family I know not touched by divorce, church dicipline, strayed children, homosexuality, abuse, mental illness, etc. at some level. I don’t t know that I think these things ought to be shouted from the roof tops, but on the other hand our need to “fit” certainly animates a range of foolish behavior.

  34. Gordon Smith on January 6, 2006 at 2:52 am

    I just returned to the computer after many hours away, so I apologize for not acknowledging all of the interesting name stories as they were posted, but I hope a global acknowledgement will suffice. Thanks!

    Following several other readers, I was touched by Melissa’s story. Thanks, Melissa, for posting that here. I am tempted to exchange your story with my original post.

  35. manaen on January 6, 2006 at 3:08 am

    My grandfather was named Ellas, not Ellis, for his grandmother ELLA Stickney. I still see that as the correct way to spell it.

    Some of my roommates had worked in the U of Texas records office for a summer. After the blur of plain-vanilla names, they turned up a winner: Quentin Oglethorpe Titmouse.

    A brother-in-law gives each of his sons Boyd as his middle name. I suggested a first name of Tweedy.

    I’ve been struck by the irony of Barabbas – Bar means “son of� and Abbas means “father.� When the crowd in Pilate’s court shouted, “Give us Barabbas (son of the father)� they did not mean the Son of the Father who was the other choice. How often the world shouts for false substitutes!

    I use manaen as my blog name for two reasons.
    1) As a missionary we answered some Pentecostals that said the prophets ended with the Old Testament by asking about Agabus, who the NT calls a prophet, prophesied Paul’s death, Paul believed him, and his prophecy came to pass. (Acts 21:10-14). It’s Agabo in Spanish and one of the Pentecostals, ignorant of NT prophets, kept saying in his surprise, Agabo? Agabo? Agabo? We called them the Turkey Evangelists from then on. Manaen was another NT prophet (Acts 13:1), so it’s my affirmation of continuing revelation.
    2) This name means Consoler and I use it to remember that after the peace and surety I received through the healing and forgiveness from my dark sins, that I’m to bring the same to others.

    There’s a handy site that shows the frequency of a given surname/sir name in the U.S. in 1850, 1880, 1920, and 1990. You can see it here.

  36. Joshua M Ausborne on January 6, 2006 at 3:20 am

    When I was growing up, I never liked my name. I always hated “Joshua” because it was not at all common, and I hated “Ausborne” for lots of reasons, some of which will be mentioned later.

    One of the reasons I hated the last name Ausborne is because my father moved away and left me to grow up with my grandmother, Grandma Taylor. I have had barely any interaction with him from the time I was 5. I felt he had abandoned me and moved all the way across the country, just leaving me to be raised by an old lady. I seriously considered changing my last name to Taylor when I was 16 and joined the Church. I figured that I was not TRULY an Ausborne because I had no connection to any of them at all. Another reason was because it was so unique. Nobody could spell it without me spelling it for them. Honestly, if I asked you to spell it, you’d spell it Osborne. I even had a teacher in elementary school tell me I was spelling it wrong one day.

    I remember the first time I was called Elder Ausborne. It didn’t feel right, though as I think about it now, I don’t believe anybody really feels right the first time they’re called Elder (I digress).

    It wasn’t until my son Joshua David was born that I really started to get attached to the name Ausborne. I realized MY son had MY names. He’s named Joshua, after me, and David, after my best friend who taught me about the Church, and we primarily call him David. Our other kids have come along, Byron Thomas (Byron comes from my wife’s grandfather, Byron Haderlie), Elizabeth Rae (Elizabeth comes from all over our heritage and Rae comes from my wife’s grandmother, Violet Rae Parkinson), and Ryan Taylor (Taylor coming from my grandmother who raised me). Each of them has my name, and they are an extension of me. While I don’t know those who had the Ausborne name prior to me, I know those that are coming after, and that has redeemed the name.

    Another nice thing about the name is something that I used to consider a curse: it’s uniqueness. If you do a search for Ausborne, you usually find me (if you ignore the results for Cornelius “Corky” Ausborne who used to play basketball for UNLV, only to find his way to becoming a teacher, then prison for doing naughty things with middle school girls. I swear he’s not me!). This means that the future of the name is up for grabs, and the sky’s the limit when it comes to what my kids can do with it.

    P.S. While I don’t know my Ausborne ancestors, I DO know their names. Here are some, and you’ll see another reason why I didn’t select any of their names for my kids:

    Homer Cecil Ausborn (note the lack of an “e” at the end)
    Herschel
    Herbert
    Roland
    Clinton
    Largus Elder
    Flagus
    Ruby
    Maybelle
    Thelma
    Wiley Richard
    Julis
    Dockie

    Those are some seriously weird names, but apparently that’s what you get in Mississippi. :-)

  37. annegb on January 6, 2006 at 3:29 am

    Kevin, do you have a relative, I think his name is Dan, who lives in New York? I think I might have met him in April. at church. We have a lot of people named Barney here, it’s quite a common name.

    Melissa, I didn’t meet my father’s mother until I was 16, and it was at his funeral. She acted like you describe your grandfather. That is how I would feel, as well. I would so want my granddaughter to know how much I loved her. I had to go back and read your story and yes, thanks for sharing it. The thing it helped me with is realizing how my ancestors must love me, at least one somewhere, because I love my grandkids, and they are better people than me. They. were. better. people. than. I. am.

    (It’s too late to be blogging. I was reading something the other day to the effect/affect that peoples’ phones should shut off after a certain hour at night so they didn’t send drunken, embarrassing text message. I think the same should go for blogging.)

    I tend to skim a lot. It’s a character defect. Thanks to those who pointed Melissa’s post.

  38. Kevin Barney on January 6, 2006 at 10:28 am

    Hi, Anne,

    There are a lot of Mormon Barneys, but I’m not related to most of them.

  39. Mathew on January 6, 2006 at 10:39 am

    When my mother took me to my first day of second grade we discovered there were four Matthews in the class–or rather three Matthews and one Mathew. I remember standing next to her as she and my teacher discussed the problem and my mom offered up my middle name as a solution. As it happens, I have always loved being Mathew and did not want to go by my middle name, but I was not consulted. So for a year I was known as Duane to my classmates. The only person I have hit as hard as I could was a second grader named Gary who insisted on calling me Poowayne. I still remember my surprise at how far my fist sunk into his flabby belly and him crumpling onto the floor. It felt good.

  40. Wm Jas on January 6, 2006 at 10:56 am

    “I’ve been struck by the irony of Barabbas – Bar means “son ofâ€? and Abbas means “father.â€?”

    As if that wasn’t enough, it turns out that Barabbas’s given name was most likely Jesus. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barabbas#.22Jesus_Barabbas.22

  41. Lamonte on January 6, 2006 at 11:01 am

    My name is Keith Lamonte John. As you can imagine, having John as my last name causes significant confusion which is a subject for another day. Keith is the name my father goes by although it is his middle name (William Keith John). My parents never called me Keith. In fact they never called me Lamonte. They preferred to call me Monte (silent e). So that was the name I used until I graduated from college. My wife and other close family members still call me Monte. I started using Lamonte after college and early in my career a co-worker suggested that I use my first initial in all salutations (K. Lamonte John). I was living in SLC at the time and I think she thought it sounded like one of those GA names (M. Russle Ballard) – she was a church member. Since moving to the east my name has always been a challenge. First there is the problem with the last name (John). Then filling out employment forms and other paperwork they typical ask for “first name, middle initial and last name”. At my current job they have entered my name in the agency directory as ‘Lamonte John’ so that people in our large organization (many thousands) can find me when they need to contact me and it’s easier if I’m listed with the same name they know me by. My e-mail address in lamonte.john @… and so forth. But when I go to the doctor they call me Keith because all of my insurance information shows my first name and middle initial. Recently I have started to consider changing my regularly used name to “Keith”. In my old age I’ve started to look more like my dad than I used to and so I thought it would be fitting to go by his name. But at 52 years old that might be a challenge. There are too many people to notify.

    I think that the problems I’ve experienced with my name throughout my life have actually helped me to appreciate it more than I would have otherwise. In other words I feel like I have to defend my name sometimes and that has given me a sense of pride in the name that I carry from my ancestors years ago. That probably sounds corny or dumb to some of you but I think there is some truth to it. To this day, there are some professional associates that I have known for a long time who sometimes send me e-mails starting “John,…” I usually get insenced by their lack of attention but I really don’t mean it. I’d probably be disappointed if everyone got my name right all the time.

  42. kneight on January 6, 2006 at 11:48 am

    My name is Nate. My neighbor across the street thinks my name is Gabe. I’ve never bothered to correct him. I’m thinking about naming the next boy we adopt, Gabe Jr.

  43. Blain on January 6, 2006 at 8:17 pm

    My parents tell me that they wanted to “Keep It Simple, Stupid” when they dropped the “E” from the end of my name, thus departing from the norm. I can think of only one, perhaps two, occasions in my entire life where someone spelled my name “correctly” without me spelling it for them. When I was a kid, I thought that I would change my name when I got older, and put the “E” back on to save me the grief. But as one might expect, I came to identify more with the oddly-spelled version. Now, when I receive something addressed to me as “Blaine” (which happens far more often than not), I have this vague feeling deep inside that it’s for someone else; I’m not Blaine.

    Another thing that has come of the spelling variation in my name is that people see “Brian” when they glance at it quickly. I’ve been called Brian so much that I routinely answer to it. So, I like to list off the names that I answer to: Blain(e), Lane, Wayne, Duane, Blair, and Brian. I’ve been called all of ‘em with some regularity.

  44. Keryn on January 7, 2006 at 1:57 am

    We had three criteria for naming our kids: the name had to be spellable, pronounceable, and unusual. (This was especially important for me, as my name is unusual, but neither spellable nor pronounceable–it’s Ker-RIN.) That certainly narrows the field down a bit. And we decided not to tell anyone the name we decided on until the baby was born–cuts down on people telling you they hate the name. So we gave our babies “womb” names–our son (Ezra) was “Kronk” and our daughter (Mercy) was “Yzma”.

    The only problem with this is that it was hard for the first couple of days to remember to call the baby by the proper name. Oh, and there was that time when one of the old ladies in the ward thought we really were going to name our baby “Kronk”…

  45. annegb on January 7, 2006 at 4:08 am

    My husband gets peoples’ names wrong all the time. He gets in the neighborhood. He’ll say, “Karla Owens called and she wants you to call her back.” I go, “I don’t know any Karla Owens.” He goes, annoyed, “you do, too, she lives down the street.” I go, “there’s no Karla Owens in our neighborhood.” He goes, more and more annoyed, “for crying out loud, their kids play here every day, you know, Karla, down there in the yellow house.” It dawns on me. Carol Ohms. He has a friend named Dwayne who he always calls Dwight.

    It’s gotten to be kind of fun figuring out who he’s talking about. He still calls our son-in-law Nate. His name is Nick. He just answers to Nate. I call him Nathan.

  46. Adam Greenwood on January 7, 2006 at 11:41 am

    For reasons unknown, our Elders Quorum president introduced me as ‘John’ at the first Ward Prayer in a BYU ward I and my roommates had just moved into. I didn’t want to embarrass him and my roommates thought it was funny, so we didn’t say anything about it. Eventually people started asking me why my roommates always called me ‘Adam’? Was it my middle name or something?

  47. Rebecca on January 9, 2006 at 7:52 pm

    My grade school teacher changed my name from Rebecca to Beckie when I was in fifth grade due to the amount of Rebecca’s in our class and because I was the newest. I changed my name from Beckie to Rebecca when I moved from Utah to San Francisco. I enjoyed Beckie when I was in grade school. It was cute and fun, it wasn’t that bad in junior high or high school either, but as I got older I hated it. I felt it made me sound dumb, I felt it made me dumb. So I finally became Rebecca once again.

    Just today I was on a telephone conference call where a gentleman on the other line asked me to spell my last name. He then repeated my entire name and said, “that is a very nice strong name Rebecca�. It is funny that it has taken me seven years (since I changed my name back) to figure out what it is I like so much about going by Rebecca “it is a very nice strong name.� I know what you mean when you say you actually felt different when people started calling you Gordon.

  48. Kaimi Wenger on January 9, 2006 at 8:15 pm

    “My grade school teacher changed my name from Rebecca to Beckie when I was in fifth grade due to the amount of Rebecca’s in our class. . .”

    Bah — it’s axiomatic that there can never be too many Rebeccas in a class.

    It’s nice to see you commenting, miss lurker. But be careful — this is a pretty disreputable blog, peopled by some rather odd characters. If you don’t watch out, some of them might try to talk with you about Heidegger . . .

  49. CS Eric on January 9, 2006 at 8:27 pm

    Don’t listen to the threats about Heidegger. I read the posts that discuss Heidegger the same way I do the names in Russian novels: “blah blah blah.”

    I suspect I am not the only one…

  50. Heather Bigley on January 9, 2006 at 9:11 pm

    My stepfather adopted me and my siblings when we were four, changing our name to Bigley. (I remember the day—we sat in a fancy room with a long polished table and the judge asked us if we understood what was happening and if we really wanted to change our last names. I was more excited about the promise of Dunkin’ Donuts after the document signing…) We stayed in contact with our birth father and his family, though. When our stepfather was arrested for all kinds of bad things and my mother divorced him, my older brother announced that he was changing his name back to our father’s name. I don’t think my paternal grandmother has had a happier day. He never did change his name back and she brings it up from time to time to me—as a single woman, it’s something she would like me to do. But I will probably keep this name until I die, even when I marry.

    It’s no longer that man’s name, it’s my name. I have too many degrees emblazoned with this name, too many professional accomplishments, too many journals, too many chruch records, too many

  51. Heather Bigley on January 9, 2006 at 9:13 pm

    ooops, i hit the submit button.

    at any rate, my bio-dad’s a nice guy and my boyfriend’s even nicer, but those aren’t good enough reasons for me to change my name.

  52. Adam Greenwood on January 9, 2006 at 9:16 pm

    What’s interesting to me is the ‘name-changing’ aspect of the temple. We all take on a new identity, no matter how proud we are of the old one, and no one asks whether we want it or not. I kind of like it.

  53. LisaB on January 9, 2006 at 9:36 pm

    I have four sisters. We were all given fairly common first names, and none of us were given middle names–the assumption being that our maiden name would become our middle name. I was always pretty incensed by this, so I chose a middle name for myself as a sophmore in highschool, and even went by in for a time. I also vowed that all of my children, daughters AND sons, would be given middle names as well as first names.

    We named our firstborn in utero and had taken to calling him by his middle name. That lasted for a couple months, when it was already becoming a pain (what with insurance companies, drs offices, & etc. making things difficult as mentioned above). So we gave up and switched over to his first name. One of my sisters said he would have an identity crisis some day over it. Yeah, whatever.

  54. Kaimi Wenger on January 9, 2006 at 9:45 pm

    LisaB writes:

    “We named our firstborn in utero”

    Wow, what a funny name to give a kid. Mr. In Utero Bushman.

    I can see why calling him Utero (his middle name) could be a little strange. But I really don’t see how calling him In is really any better.

  55. Mike B on January 9, 2006 at 9:46 pm

    #53: “We named our firstborn in utero”

    Didn’t the other children make fun of him?

  56. Mike B on January 9, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    I shoulda known someone would beat me to it.

  57. LisaB on January 9, 2006 at 10:37 pm

    Clever guys.

  58. Rebecca on January 10, 2006 at 5:52 pm

    Oh dear #48 it isn’t the Heidegger that I find so scary here at T&S. If that were the case I would never have made it through my youth. I am a lurker because that alone takes more time then I can afford.

    I am a legal marketer by day and fighting an attorney for a moment of his time that will result in time s/he cannot bill is often more then just a struggle, but a down right brawl. After lurking at T&S I often wonder what it is that Mormon attorneys do different from non-Mormon attorneys that afford them time to do so much more then lurk.

    Or am I just a fool to believe that my attorneys are actually billing time when I am not forcing article revisions down their throats?

  59. Kaimi Wenger on January 10, 2006 at 8:00 pm

    Becca,

    To answer your question — all attorneys spend much of their day wasting time. The Mormon ones come around here; the others go to ESPN.com.

    Also, remember that law school trains people to write things quickly and somewhat coherently. I spend a lot less time here than one might think, given that most of my comments are fired off pretty quickly.

    Finally, as a practicing attorney I avoided marketers like the plague. Even if I was doing nothing, I didn’t want to talk to a marketer. Sorry. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that my phone rang constantly with cold-calls, and I learned quickly to avoid them.

    What do you market, anyway?

  60. obi-wan on January 10, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    Also, remember that law school trains people to write things quickly and somewhat coherently.

    [Cue hysterical laughter, nearly to the point of suffocation, transitioning into uncontrollable, despondent weeping.]