Do you like your last name?
We tend to think of surnames as set, but that’s not so. Names are changed routinely in cases of adoption, marriage, and divorce. Immigrants refine their names to fit in more; aspiring actors and musicians take new ones to blend in less.
My feelings about my surname are complicated. I was born with a wildly unusual last name: Niadna. It belonged to my step-grandfather, who adopted my father. But the marriage didn’t last, and I never met that particular step-grandfather. (My grandmother remarried again, and the man I knew as my grandfather was a rock. But by then, my dad was already all grown up, launched into the world with this borrowed surname.)
As it happens, Niadna had been whittled down from a longer surname. I’ve seen the original written out a few times, and it’s a doozy. Not that Niadna, with the d-n, is a piece of cake.
And I actively disliked my stand-out surname. Hated that pause that told me the person calling roll had gotten to my how-do-you-say-it name.
But what I really disliked? The questions. The guesses about the name’s provenance. Mostly because my answer was so very unsatisfying.
My parents and siblings were the only Niadnas I’d ever met. I didn’t know much about the origin, or the meaning, or anything about it. I knew it was Polish, and I most certainly was not. There were no family holidays with cousins and grandparents with the name. No stories of the first ancestor arriving in the US and dealing with questions of assimilation. (Thanks to the internet, I’ve found fragments of those stories – but they’re not mine.)
Instead of connecting me to something larger, my surname marked a dead end exactly where you’d hope to find a path.
I’d guess that others feel this way, too. Family isn’t always easy, and surnames can be imposed – slavery is the most obvious example. But other stories are out there, too, tales of those in the minority who shed their surname in order to advance, while trying to remain faithful, in some way, to their heritage. Other times, as in my case, they can feel pretty random.
And so this story really resonated with me. “We cannot be indifferent to names. Names are alive and they ask things of us—sometimes too much.” Beautifully said. Because when those complex and clearly other surnames work? They’re so very powerful. Yes, they’re a tether to another time and place, but they serve as a kite string, too, allowing us to move forward.
Right before I was about to hit publish on this post, I found one more reflection on the value of family surnames. A different life experience, but a similar conclusion, I think.
- Did you watch Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries? It’s Australian, but I found it on Netflix in the US. The heroine’s unusual name drew me in: Phryne. My post on the name is routinely among the most-viewed on this site because, well, who writes about Phryne? (At first glance, I thought it was a needlessly complicated re-spelling of Fern.) Now the series has inspired a spin-off, set in the 1960s, featuring Miss Fisher’s niece. Her name? Peregrine. If you’re a fan of the series, I’m sure you have so. many. questions. And if you’re a fan of names? Well, I’m wondering if we’ll see an uptick in parents considering Peregrine for a girl …
- I’ve loved the name Bay for ages, but I’m not sure if Bay Bieber is a catchy, unforgettable combination, or a set-up for a lifetime of being known as Bay B. Factor in an older half-brother famous for singing “baby, baby, baby oh …” and this might be kind of a lot. (Apologies if the song is now lodged in your brain.)
- These lists of names by style might be the best thing I’ve read this summer. Call me crazy, but I really hope pretty much all of those upcoming names catch on! (Well, maybe not Unique. How crazy would it be to see Unique in the US Top 1000? It appeared a few times in the 1990s, into the early 2000s.)
- Funny – we were talking about Promise, inspired by this list above. And then Swistle came up with a long list of Colonial virtue style middle names. She’s not sticking to names that were used at some earlier point in American history; just ones that seem like they maybe-possibly-might’ve-been. The comments are stellar.
- Last week it was Wilding. This week, it’s Legend Wilde. Parents continue to turn it up to eleven when it comes to epic boy names. But then, Maverick now charts in the US Top 100, so maybe these big, bold names aren’t really that big and bold?
- Are you following this series on star names from Roses & Cellar Doors? I’ve been thinking about Lucero lately, so it’s fun to see it pop up here.
- Speaking of stars … I finally saw the fifth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. The first movie came out way back in 2003, so it’s interesting to watch how they introduce new characters. It’s already confirmed that a sixth movie is coming, and one of the new characters will be back: Carina. I loved the backstory they gave her name, and the way it played into the plot. I’ll keep this spoiler free, but did you see the movie? What did you think?
- Bluejean: used as a baby name nearly a century before David Bowie’s 1984 hit single. And if that song has now replaced the Bieber hit in your head, well, you’re welcome.
- Loving this series on nature names from Tulip By Any Names. She’s only up to B so far, so we’ll get to enjoy this one for weeks to come!
- In praise of naming our sons Roger and Raymond.
- I haven’t seen Love, Simon yet, but some of the character names caught my eye. There’s a Lyle and a Bram, but also Jacques and Blue. The latter two names are pseudonyms used online, but an important part of the plot. I’m intrigued …
That’s all for this week! As always, thank you for reading – and have a great week.