Do Last Names Matter?

NametagsI’m on my third last name. I had the first two for twenty years each and this one has been my moniker for almost 32 years. Recently I began wondering at what point no one calls you by your last name any more anyway.

My mother-in-law was in a repeating cycle her doctor told us was common. She’d have a fall, go into the hospital, go to rehab, then go back home. Things would be fine for a while, but then the cycle would repeat—until the time she didn’t make it all the way back around and went to assisted living instead of home. This made for a lot of different hospital and rehab rooms.

Each room she inhabited would have a white board or a door plaque for the patient’s name. My mother-in-law’s name was Mary Frances Brummett. Not Mary. Not Frances. Mary Frances. Inevitably I would come into her room and see her name displayed as Mary. I would pull a pen from my purse or find the white board marker and add “Frances.”

Sometimes I’d be visiting when a caregiver came in with a chirpy, “How are we today, Mary?” One day I corrected one of these people and after she left the room Mary Frances said, “I’ve told them all but it doesn’t do any good.” Really? With all the other indignities she was suffering her last few years, why couldn’t she at least be called by her preferred first name?

And why were they calling her by her first name anyway? I’m old enough to remember when a married woman was no longer addressed by her first name. “The doctor will see you now, Mrs. Brummett,” was the way she would have been summoned in those days. Sales clerks in stores may have dared to address my mother as “Honey” or “Dear” if they’d known her for years, but if they wanted to make the sale they would also address her as Mrs. Parker, not Lois. Only those to whom she said, “Please, call me Lois,” would dare to do so.

When did everyone start calling older people by their first names? Was it some weird aberration of political correctness? Or did the HIPPA laws demand that we all become more anonymous and go only by our first names? I really don’t know, but I have to feel it contributes to older people feeling like they are not being given the respect they deserve.Stones

During this Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve only been able to piece together bits of information about the dear seniors who were in my Bible study at assisted living, a facility with a coronavirus outbreak, because HIPPA laws prevent the facility from telling me anything about their conditions. I’ve watched the obituaries faithfully, and yes, I’ve seen a couple of those dear souls listed. My consolation is that I know they went straight to heaven. I was never told their last names, and didn’t feel I should ask, so I’m left to identify them by their first names and photos.

Do last names matter? I suppose if you’re a descendant of the Rockefellers or a professional genealogist they do. Otherwise, I’ll add this to the list I’m accruing of lost cultural battles and just be happy to go by Nancy. I hate it when they mispronounce our last name as “Broomette” anyway. And the Bible says that when we get to heaven we’ll get a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it (Revelation 2:17). Wonder what mine will be? I hope I like it.

Comments

  1. Andrea Doray says:

    Thank you, Nancy! The “Mrs. [husband first name] [husband last name]” days seem all too recent … I once took off a name tag at an event, crossed through that, and wrote my own first and last names. And, although “Andrea” was a burden in high school, I’ve kind of grown to like it! I always appreciate your words.

  2. Sues Hess says:

    Yes, our American culture has become so informal… having lived in the German-speaking world for 10 years, I experienced a different level of respect for the elderly. Try as I would, I goofed many times by using the informal “you”, rather than the formal “you” as was proper until invited to go by first names – which sometimes took decades to happen! But that has also changed with time… Thanks for this writing, which took me a short piece down memory lane.

    • I lived in Germany, too, Sues, although my German never got as sophisticated as yours. But I know what you mean! Thanks for the comment.

  3. Elizabeth H. Van Liere says:

    Right on, Mrs. Brummett. (Smile) . The thing that has frustrated me is when a clerk in the grocery store calls me “Honey.” Or “Dearie.” Hey! You don’t know me. But, it’s behind me now since my daughter does all the shopping and I don’t see any clerks anymore! So I guess that shows it wasn’t that important in the first place. Oh well. Good thoughts, Nancy.

  4. Mary Anne Friesen says:

    Thanks Nancy! I can totally relate to this.

  5. Jimmie Bohannon says:

    I am ready for my new name in Heaven!
    Jimmie ‘Buchanon”

  6. Me too. I’m just afraid it will be Eunice since my mother’s name was Lois and my son’s is Timothy! 🙂 (1 Tim. 1:5)

  7. My birth name was Lovelace as my email address shows. At least 90% of the people I’ve known all my life have pronounced it Loveless even though we pronounced it carefully with more emphasis on the last syllable. I have news for all those people: we are NOT love-less!

  8. I so agree. I have often wondered how things became so informal — social media, most likely. I have had various last names, and because I carry the last name of the man from whom I was divorced ten years ago, I have wanted to change it. But to what? My maiden name? The name of a previous husband who was the father of my children but he’s been dead for 14 years? However, because of the internet and me being a writer, as well, my current name is online and if I changed it, my professional publications wouldn’t necessarily follow me! I’d have to explain that, “yes, I wrote that,” but now I have a different name. Sigh. You know the saying… A rose by any other name…

  9. Jan Keller says:

    I always delight in your thoughts! Today’s world needs a splash of humor so I’m happy to share that I chuckled as I read … and I’ll share that whenever anyone calls me Mrs. Keller, I don’t recognize it and look all around me for my dear departed mother-in-law. That moniker seemed more fitting to her. Thanks Nancy!

  10. Joelle Rae Brummett says:

    Nancy,
    After my divorce, it was important to me to reclaim my last name. My heritage is an important part of my identity. While I am now Joelle Rae Brummett (my given name), I don’t mind when my boys’ friends call me Mrs. Beller. I affirm it as a name connected to being their mother, another important part of my identity. I also don’t mind being called Mrs. Letts. I affirm that name as one identifying me as wife and partner to my new husband, which is also an important part of my identity. And so while it does seem the culture is changing, I think last names still matter, even to those of the next generation. In fact, Will brought up to me that he is thinking of changing his last name to Beller Brummett, possibly with or without a hyphen. He says it is important to him to claim the name of his mother as well as his father. And while it doesn’t matter to me if he actually does it or not, I feel honored. I think last names matter. They are important in recognizing to whom we belong, which to me is at the heart of who we are. Thanks for this blog, and thankful we share a last name.

    • Hi Joelle! I’m glad we share a last name, too! I always answer to Mrs. McConnell with friends of Rob and Tim. No problem. I agree with you that last names DO matter. It was all meant sort of tongue-in-cheek. 🙂

  11. alice scott-ferguson says:

    Thought-provoking thoughts! If you have ever watched the British show on PBS called, Keeping Up Appearances, you will recall Hyacinth’s constant correction of the butchered pronunciation of her name , BOUQUET (with French accent, please), most often repeated as BUCKET!!! I have often wondered about the ‘new name” too. Will it be one that truly expresses my real and essential essence; the essence only He knows? And of course, there is the changing of names of the ancients from Abraham, Sarah all the way to Saul. There IS something in a name, and thank you, tender heart, for reminding us of that.

    • Alice, I haven’t watched that but it sounds like I should look it up!! Thanks for the chuckle. And for getting my sarcasm!

  12. Nancy not at all sure you will receive this considering my talent with emails 🙂 your last column got me to thinking about last names. Which one to use? The first one being Parker that being my maiden name was obvious. But then came the first marriage and divorce (with 2 boys). At which point the decision arose do I keep that married name or go back to my maiden name? I chose to keep the boys’ father’s name Which made it easier for them in school and sports etc.This led to my living the next few years with a name that was not mine. Then comes the second marriage and several years later, divorce. Now who am I? I’m not my first name, I’m not my second name, and I’m not my third name. I am the same name I have been for the last 40 some odd years. I kept that name because of my career and the expense it would be emotionally and dollarwise to change my name at that point in time. The next time I’ll change my name, will be when I enter heaven where we will all be known as God’s children.

    • Amen, sister Patty! And of course to me the three of us will always be “The Parker Girls!” Love you by all your names.

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