What Is In a Name?: What My Double-Barrelled Surname Means to Me

When I was younger, I hated my name. It never fit in any little box; learning to spell it was a nightmare. I always have to say it twice over the phone and I can never hide on the internet because I am always the very first Google answer. But I am gradually learning to appreciate what my double-barrelled surname means to me and my family, especially my mum.

Double-barrelled surnames will always have posh connotations; they were, after all, established by the aristocracy to lay claim to multiple inheritances or to prevent a family name dying out. However, they are becoming more and more popular, regardless of social class.

For me, my surname connotes a rich and messy family history. Harvard was originally the Welsh Havard, and a family member in the fairly-recent past decided to add the ‘r’ (the ongoing rumour is that one particular Havard was trying to escape to his second family).

Harvard is actually my grandmother’s maiden name, and not my mother’s as one might presume. My mum changed her name at eighteen, not wanting to keep the name of a father she hadn’t seen since she was six.

My grandmother is now re-married, as is her sister; her brother chose not to have children. My mum and I, therefore, are the last Harvards left on our particular branch of the family tree.

Harvard, to me, represents my grandmother, a strong-willed woman who was dealt a hard hand but never let it turn her anything but kind. It represents my great-grandmother, a classically trained pianist who raised three children alone in the wake of the Second World War. Most of all, it represents my mum, who swore as soon as she could that she was going to be her own woman. Who, upon writing up my birth certificate, locked eyes with a nurse who commented, “Good idea not to give the baby her father’s name, seeing as you’re not married.” She added hyphen Davies there and then.

To me, my double-barrelled surname represents my parents and both sides of my Welsh and East-End family history. It represents my messy family past. It reflects all of the strong women before me and my mum’s desire to always get the last word in. Even though it still won’t fit into all those little boxes, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Image courtesy of Guido Coppa.

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