Sunday, March 29, 2009

What’s In a Name…

On June 26th, I plan to have a pretty decent day. I’ll be in Chicago with family and friends, and in my dreams, the day is warm, but not humid. That evening, as you may know, I will walk down a church aisle wearing a linen suit, and promise myself in marriage to a woman I’ve come to love and respect very much in the past three years. At the end of the worship service, we will walk through a community of our guests, no longer as two persons pursuing separate vocations, but as a new family, formed by promises and a shared understanding of God’s call on our lives. Which means, in some sense, we will be transformed. Not entirely, of course, but enough that we’ll both accept new expectations and responsibilities, will check something different on our 2009 tax returns (oh, the romance) and, of course, we’ll take on new identities. Husband and wife. Partner and spouse. Mr. and Mrs. … Isner.

Whoa! That last part may have been unexpected, so let me explain. Or perhaps I should quote a Servant Leader’s response when I informed them of this decision last time we met. "You're marrying each other, and you're marrying your names. That's cool." We couldn't agree more.

If you didn’t know, Tabitha’s last name is Knerr, mine is Isaac; do the math Is + ner and you get Isner. This decision is something we’ve spent months thinking about, praying about and discussing together. We’ve talked with our families, and our friends. I brought it up with the Servant Leaders, and told the Board. Now I’m writing this letter, because I know that two people combining their last names doesn’t happen every wedding. And since, at the very least, we’ll be changing the bulletin’s spelling of my name, I want to share our thoughts with you before it happened.

Basically, the question “What to do about our surname…” is something many couples ponder nowadays. Do we do what's traditional, and Tabitha takes Shane's name? Or what about Shane taking Tabitha's name? Are we comfortable with that? Does it reflect to us and our community the kind of mutual partnership we hope to create? Some of our loved ones answer those questions, 'yes,' and it brings them a real sense of meaning and joy. But we could not. Both of us felt attached enough to our surnames, the lives and families they represent, that the thought of entirely removing them from our lives didn't sit well. So another solution was needed.

What about the hyphenated name? Doesn't that make it clear that your marriage joins two lives and two families in equal measure? Again, some friends have said, "absolutely," and proudly make that dash on every check they now write. But we could not. We worried our children might then have to make a decision about which name to keep or which to drop when s/he also gets married. Just think, we could have been the Truscott-Perine-Welge-Bell-Miller-Brooks-Knerr-Isaac family!

Why not just keep both your names? You'd still be married, whether or not you shared a last initial, right? We know folk who've done this, and it feels wonderful for them. But we just really wanted the same last name, something common for the whole family.

That's when we thought, "Why not join our names?" And we liked it. It felt like a way to honor where we came from and who we’ve been, while also reflecting the full union and mutual partnership that will be our marriage. We know that’s not everyone’s choice or preference, but it fills us with joy about the new family we’re creating out of the two beloved families from which we’ve come.

We hope that explains somewhat the quirky decision we’ve made. When I told Dad, after some discussion he said, “Well, does that mean we get free tickets to Disney World (referencing, of course, the former CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner)?” Alas, we don’t think so. But we appreciated his and Mom’s support. It’s going to be an adjustment, of course, for all of us. I’ll still call myself Rev. Isaac every now and then on accident, so thanks in advance for your patience and support. Ultimately, we hope it reflects what marriage has always done- God transforming, through love and promises, two lives into one new life, a new family, for the sake of better loving the world. May that be true of your families as I pray it will be of mine. In all things,

Grace and Peace,


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