I’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.
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.