An old English nursery rhyme whose first written record was 1872, “Sticks and Stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” and “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” by William Shakespeare Act II Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet both intimate that names are of minor consequence, not worthy of retaliation if used against you and irrelevant as it is what things are that matter, not what they are called.
So then why does it matter. Our family name will die with my brother and I. Even though he has two boys they have gone the modern way and have taken their mother’s surname. I personally like the Icelandic way where there are no surnames to hold onto. They may use either the more common patronymic system where the father’s first name is used or a matronymic suffix using the mother’s name. Added to the end is either son or dottir (daughter) to denote sex. This was common throughout Nordic countries but changes in naming laws to ensure that inheritable names were given occurred earliest in Denmark in 1828 and finally in Norway in 1922. Using the Icelandic method of naming removes that fierce protective urge one has towards ones name although I imagine it must make researching the family history a trifle difficult once migration of the population began.
Researching family history is difficult enough as it is. Often due to insufficient written history and the looseness that many had with the spelling of their name. My brother http://mountainsrivers.com/2014/03/11/maternal-ancestors-bronze-age-iron-age-roman-britain/ has managed to trace us back to Urwen my great 292nd grandmother but it is my mother’s grandfather that is proving elusive and simply due to a name change. Stanley-Clarke was her granddad’s surname which he changed to Stanleigh-Clarke which allowed him to marry another woman whilst still married to my Grandmother. Like my Uncle many of my new cousins (that we have not been able to trace) most likely dropped the Stanley/Stanleigh from their name making them anonymous in the huge pool of Clarkes.
My ex husband also had a double barrelled name. His father, in appreciation for services rendered added the person’s name to his own. Already two of my brothers-in-law had dropped the addition.
Surnames came up at the recent nursing reunion that I attended. It was often the only way we could bring the person to mind. Many of my compatriots were given nursing surnames. The hospital policy was that they would not have two of any surname so that there could never be any confusion about whose signature it was in legal records and for ease of the pay department. I was always a trifle jealous not to have been given one of these names and I know I would have had difficulty dropping it if I had been given one. One woman was telling us that a patient said to her one day “I don’t understand how this hospital gets so many upper crust girls to nurse here. Do they only take you on if you’re someone?” She had no idea what he was talking about but on further questioning discovered the double barrelled names that the hospital had given many of the girls had given the fellow this impression.
So do names matter? W.C Fields said “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to” or as I often say to my husband ” I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.”