Playing the name game can become confusing

I kept my last name when I married because I liked it. Maureen Webster stood for who I was, my origins.

My husband, Jim Hoeffler, agreed, and calmly began answering the questions of skeptics. When we lived in the country, people asked outright, "Are you married or just living together?"

Once, a man at church referred to Jim as my "friend."

"He's my husband," I quickly corrected.

When our first child was born, we gave him his dad's last name, with my last name as his middle name: Benjamin Webster Hoeffler. But when I was pregnant with our second child, a new idea sprouted. Two friends, Jean and Andrea, had each given birth to daughters and had decided to give them their own last names. "I like the idea of my daughter carrying my last name into her future," Jean said.

If she and her husband could make that decision, we could, too. Shortly, our son Evan Hoeffler Webster entered the world.

Fast-forward three years. Ben was 8 years old and wanted to be like his dad in every way. Soon, Evan would want the same. I wondered how he would answer all the questions I was answering now: "Is that your stepdad? How come your name isn't Hoeffler, too?"

What bothered me most was that Evan wasn't linked by name to his brother. And I hate to admit it, but sometimes, even I became confused over their last names.

After several years of wondering, "Was this a good idea? Had we made the right decision?" I changed my mind. I wanted both boys to have the same last name, to be known as the Hoeffler brothers, their dad's name.

My adaptable husband agreed, again. So we filled out forms, wrote a check, and made a date with the county judge to change Evan's last name.

Then, I thought about my own name. I was feeling restless, and we were about to move to a new town. Maybe this was the time for me to make a name change, too. We'd be a family unit with no questions asked. It sounded like a great idea.

Ben interrupted my daydreams. "I want to change my name, too."

Surprise. I wasn't the only person in our household swayed by the talk of name changes. This had gone far enough. I replied to Ben, "I like the name we gave you. When you're 18, if you want to change it, we'll talk about it. For now, you're Ben Hoeffler."

And I was Maureen Webster. I couldn't grow into any other name at this phase of my life. So, complications or not, I would continue to have a different last name than my husband and children. This discussion was over, for the simple reason that it had grown too big to manage anymore. As Jim put it, "It was difficult when we first married, but we've adjusted. You made a decision; let's stick with it."

Finally, the day arrived when we were to meet the judge and officially proclaim Evan a Hoeffler. The judge beckoned us to his bench, offered little Evan a seat and a lollipop.

"I understand you want to change your name," he said.

"Yup," Evan replied.

"This was a hospital error, and you want to correct it?"

I hesitated. Did the judge have enough time to hear the story of our family names? I didn't think so. "That's right," we all nodded.

"Well, little guy, it's time to correct the error. Here's your new name." And he stamped the official document with the raised seal and sent us on our way.

A Webster by any other name is a Hoeffler.

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to:

Maureen Webster lives with her husband and two sons in Stillwater, Minn.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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