When I first began researching my genealogy in 2005, I was quickly struck by how far removed my surname is from anyone I have a blood relation to. My father's last name is now Williams, but he was born with the surname Harloff. My grandfather's name is now Harloff, but he was born with the surname Christy (Christie?). Both Williams and Harloff are their step-father's surnames. And, I guess it really doesn't matter much. Or maybe it does. I don't know. What's in a name?

Many families take great pride in their surname. Many of them have rich and long histories, and tell a story unto themselves. My mother's surname, Harding, for example, can be traced back to a Viking King who ruled over an area then known as Hardanger -- the residents were thus dubbed with the name, which evolved into Harding. A name such as mine, however, tells no such story. I have no ancestors named Williams. I have no ancestors named Harloff. I do not know anything about the Christy's. And I don't know how I feel about that. 

On the one hand, I've never felt much emotional connection to names. We don't choose them -- hell, half the time we don't even like them -- and they don't necessarily tell you much about a person. It's just a label, like any other. Something to address one by. 

On the other hand, my reason for beginning this genealogical journey was suddenly becoming aware that all of these people, every move they made, every relationship they had, every ocean they sailed across, had led directly to my own existence. Who they were was entirely relevant to who I am. Those names are more than just names -- each one represents a generation, an individual, a life that made mine possible.

And on that third hand that I don't have but always seem to need, those people who we may not share any DNA with are just as much a part of our family history as anyone else. There is a reason my name is Williams and not Harloff or Christy or Harding, and those reasons are just as relevant to my existence as all the rest. Genealogy is anything but predictable, and our surnames certainly do tell a story, even if it's not the one we expected to read.

So, what's in a name? Nothing. And everything. I am Robyn Williams. I'm also Robyn Harloff, Robyn Harding, Robyn Stalker, Robyn Trowbridge, Robyn Hough, Robyn Strachan, Robyn Hooker, and Robyn Layton. And maybe, one day, I will get to be Robyn Christy, or possibly Christie, as well. 


Leave a Reply