Monday, 18 April 2016

The importance of family names

When I had my children, the thought never entered my mind to name them after their grandparents or other ancestors.  As young people, we tend to consider our parents' names 'old-fashioned' and aim to give our own children something contemporary or popular.

But I'm talking about family names here - surnames.  When my children were born, I had no real interest in family history and knew nothing of my ancestors beyond my grandparents.  I did know my maternal grandmother had the same first and middle names as her mother, and that her first name is my mother’s middle name.  I also knew my paternal grandmother had the middle name Guthrie and as a kid I thought it odd, a girl having a name like that.  It never occurred to me it was a family name but then again I didn’t dwell on it.

Margaret Guthrie Kidd was named for her great-grandmother, Margaret Guthrie; I know that now.  She was born in New Zealand to a Scottish father and a New Zealand-born daughter of Scottish immigrants.  The Scots had the right idea.  Time and again I’ve seen maiden names as middle names.

I constantly drop family information into conversations I have with family; I can’t help it.  My kids aren’t really interested – as I wasn’t – but I’m hoping some of it will sink in.  When my brother’s partner was pregnant, I suggested they think of giving the baby a family name as a middle name, as I regretted not doing so with mine.  Their child now carries a maternal family name as a middle name.

One of my grandchildren has a grandmother’s maiden name as a middle name.  Another grandchild’s middle name is a blend of my first name and the first name of a great-grandfather.  When she grows up she’ll wonder at that name and I hope be proud she carries something of me.

I want to tell people: honour your ancestors by remembering them.  If you’re a female, don’t let your female family names disappear.  Consider giving a child your maiden name as a middle or even first name; give a child a family name that belonged to a great or great-great-grandparent.

One day that child will grow up.  One day that child will think about their names and wonder why they were chosen or created.  One day they will be proud to carry the name of an ancestor.