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My last name is Henrich. My husband’s last name is Sydnor. He never asked me to take his last name. He knew better. He knew that if he even brought up the conversation my feminist views would express themselves as rage. So Henrich I remained after we were married. Then we had children. I vaguely remember talking about how we would handle our children’s last names before we were married, but I was so in love, I probably ignored his cave man desire to have all his children bear his name. To this day, I am pissed that every one of my children are alphabetically listed under “S” instead of toward the beginning of the alphabet under “H.”
Somehow I compromised. All of our children’s middle names are Henrich. All of their last names are Sydnor. I wanted to hyphenate, but my beloved wasn’t for it. Hence my children ended up at the end of the alphabet and I remain pissed about it. Why does it matter so deeply to me? I have come to understand my answer has everything to do with identity, connection, and future.
Genetics are astounding. Sometimes when I look at my eldest boy, I wonder if he has any of my genetic code. His coloring, deep set eyes, long legs, and lean hips mimic every aspect of his father. Yet it is not only his appearance. Like his father his mind is a steel trap which also becomes overwhelmed when he has to pack a bag. Like his father he thinks deeply, broods, and is slow to express himself. Like his father he can hear something once and then play it on the piano. I am amazed by his gifts because they are so foreign to me.
Whereas my eldest is a cookie cutter of his father, my middle’s mannerisms, mind, bright eyes, freckles, and dimples are deeply familiar to me. When he melts down in frustration, I understand his inability to hold it together. As he struggles over words, I remember viscerally how difficult it was to learn to read. When his face beams with joy and compassion, I know he has inherited my fragile heart.
My children know it makes me crazy their last names are Sydnor. They good-naturedly tease me about it. We also have open conversations about their gifts and challenges. My middle knows he inherited his dyslexia from me. My eldest knows that, like his daddy, he packs away his emotions deep inside. We also celebrate the genetic gifts with which they have been blessed. Recently, my middle declared that his older brother’s last name should be Sydnor and his last name should be Henrich. “It makes sense! Josiah is just like dad, and I’m a Henrich,” he declared proudly. I beamed at his sense of belonging. Then I wondered what I had done[AR1] .
Both my husband and I are deeply connected to both my boys regardless of names and dominant genes. Neither of us feels more connected to one because we share similar genetic codes. In fact there are times we are more successful parents for the child least like us. Yet more significantly, our children’s identities move beyond genetic code and name. When I look in on their sweet sleeping bodies Isaiah’s words play in my memory, Look, I am doing a new thing! (Isaiah 43). They are none other than who God created them to be.
I am not a Sydnor. I am radically different from my husband’s family, whom I love dearly. And there are many aspects about my children that are utterly un-Sydnor like (thank God for her tender mercies!). In the same way there are many things about my children that are utterly un-Henrich like (thank God for his tender mercies!).
I wonder if this is what Paul was trying to articulate when he wrote to the Galatians, There is neither Jew not Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3). The Galatian house church represented more differing identities than my sleepy home in Massachusetts. Paul was urging the Galatians to rid themselves of identities that divided them and instead embrace a new common identity, as followers of Jesus.
There is neither Henrich nor Sydnor, speller nor non-speller, expressive nor brooding, dimpled nor non-dimpled. I believe this is why I rail against my children’s last names being simply “Sydnor.” I want a name that connects my children to the new family my husband and I have created together instead of families from the past. I also realize that I don’t want my children’s name to be hyphenated. I want a new name for all of us.
The only name I can come up with is the name that God has given to all of us, that Jesus gave to his disciples, and that God gave to Jesus in the waters of his baptism: Beloved. Maybe next year I will sign our Christmas cards, the Beloved Family.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.