What Your Surname Means
(and what to do about your surname at marriage)
Having celebrated our June wedding anniversary this month, I got to thinking about what a bride’s surname – or any surname – means.
Imagine living when surnames were nonexistent. Jack and Jill at birth remained just Jack and Jill with no last names. Oh, the problems if five Jacks and nine Jills all lived in the same town! Surnames solved problems of that sort until marriage.
A wedding changes a life journey in many ways, one of which is surnames.
At marriage, two single people become a married person – traditionally using one surname. Some choose a different option, but that tradition’s still alive.
Brides and grooms aside, though, do you know what your surname means?
Your Surname Identifies You by Occupation
The first surnames in history identified a person by occupation, e.g., Jack who made his living in carpentry work became Jack Carpenter.
What your surname means may not work that way today, but look at these photos.
The man in the first photo is a member of the United States military. He might say, “I’m a Marine” as though that’s his surname, and it is – in a way.
The name “Marine” identifies him by occupation. It says he’s a well-trained, tough warrior. Data from a number of military reports show that Marine training is the hardest among all the United States military disciplines.
Take the name “Marine” and he must live up to it. Fail to perform according to the Marine Corps’ high standards, and he’ll be taking the name in vain. Behaving other than the name requires will prove he isn’t a Marine at heart. He’ll be discharged.
The second photo shows an actor who plays the role of Peter Pan. He might tell you, “I’m Peter Pan” as though that’s his surname, and it is – in a way.
The name “Peter Pan” identifies the actor by occupation. It says he’s acting as a free-spirited, mischievous young boy who flies, never grows up, and has ongoing adventures in a place called Neverland.
Take the name “Peter Pan” and he must live up to it. Fail to perform according to the director’s expectations, and he’ll be taking the name in vain. Behaving other than the name requires will prove he isn’t a Peter Pan at heart. He’ll be replaced.
This third photo represents a woman at a “Star Trek” convention. She might tell you, “I’m a Trekker” as though that’s her surname, and it is – in a way.
The name “Trekker” identifies the woman by occupation. It says she’s occupied with being a fan of the “Star Trek” franchise. She attends a Trekker club, wears a Starfleet Uniform, and speaks the fictitious Klingon language to some degree.
Take the name “Trekker” and she must live up to it. Fail to perform according to other Trekkers’ expectations, and she’ll be taking the name in vain. Behaving other than the name requires will prove she isn’t a Trekker at heart. She’ll be ostracized.
As you read right to the end, hold onto the repeated thought from those three photo discussions.
Your Surname Identifies You by Family Head
What your surname means may be determined by your position in your family.
When a bride and groom marry, they join one life journey (LiJo) to the other. The groom doesn’t force the bride into his LiJo, and the bride doesn’t force the groom into her LiJo. They don’t have two. They create one new Life Journey (LiJo).
1 LiJo + 1 LiJo = 1 LiJo
Jack Carpenter and Jill Tailor’s two life journeys became one Carpenter life journey. He earned the surname Carpenter, but his wife and children each became a “Carpenter” when Jack became the head of a new family.
Most of us think of our families as bodies with a head. We call the one who most exercises family control and supports the dependent members the head of family.
The surname of the family head becomes, traditionally, the surname of a married couple’s new life journey.
Your Surname Makes Demands on You
Considering what your surname means may have you ready to dash off to a court and request a surname change, but wait!
Before you go changing your surname (for whatever reason), stop – and think. Whatever surname you choose to use is going to make demands on you as long as you use it.
When I say, “I’m a Hamilton”, I say I married a man whose surname is Hamilton and that name makes demands on me. I must perform according to my husband’s standards. I must reflect what my husband is. I must join the life journey I used to live with my husband’s life journey. While remaining true to myself and to my beliefs, I must be true also to my husband and his beliefs.
Fail to perform according to the demands of my husband’s surname, and I’ll be taking his surname in vain. Behaving other than the name requires will prove me unwilling at heart to join my life journey completely with his.
My position at a California university required daily interaction with the executive leadership. This was a number of years ago, but I still remember one top-level leader telling me, “I like to think of myself as a Christian.”
He liked to think of taking the surname of Christ as his own. He liked to pose as a person who lives up to the high standards of Christ.
The word Christian (from the Greek word Χριστιανός) means a “follower of Christ” who obeys all of Jesus Christ’s teachings. The word Christian tells us specifically that the person claiming the name is subordinate to Christ.
The name Christian makes enormous demands on a person who says, “I am a Christian.” He or she must live up to that name with all that it demands. Fail to perform according to God’s expectations, and the one claiming to be a Christian will be taking God’s name in vain. Behaving other than the name requires will prove he or she is not a Christian at heart. He or she will incur eternal punishment.
What your surname means can make a huge difference in the way you handle your life journey. You may shrug it off in the mundane part of life, but I hope you won’t try to side step it in the spiritual part of life.
I hope you’ll be who you claim to be.