Oct 28, 2022

Changing Names

October 28, 2022

My parents named me Carol Ann Fernelius. Although Carol and Ann were meant to be spelled as two words, they intended me to be called “Carol Ann.”


Their plan worked fine until I got to second grade. At that point, the teacher required us to print both our first and last name on each of our worksheets before we began doing the work. I was fine with printing my full name, but Carol Ann Fernelius is a long name.


I remember looking around one day when we were doing arithmetic problems and noticing that the other kids had already done several problems while I was still printing my long name. I was upset with the situation since if you finished quickly, you could hand in your paper and either read books in the classroom library or play in the classroom’s mock grocery store.


I wanted desperately to do both of those things, but my name was getting in the way. It just took too long to print. If I’d been older, maybe I’d have shortened my name to just initials, but at six, I wasn’t that clever. I decided that I could at least drop my middle name.


From then on I left out “Ann.” Eventually the teacher and the other students started calling me Carol instead of Carol Ann. Soon my siblings dropped Ann as well.


By the time I was in high school, no one except my parents called me Carol Ann. A couple of times they asked me if I’d like them to drop my middle name, but it felt wrong. I’d always been Carol Ann to them, and I always was until they passed away a few years ago. Now no one calls me Carol Ann, and sometimes I miss it. My full name had become almost a pet name that only my folks used.


My story is probably not unique. My name change wasn’t even very radical. Lots of people have pet names and nicknames. Unlike mine, many of those changed names have no connection to the person’s formal name. I’ve known women named Birdie, for example. In no case, has the woman’s actual name been anything close to Birdie. One woman I know who goes by Birdie is really named Margaret. She doesn’t know why she was called Birdie.


Names change for all sorts of reasons. That’s why genealogists need to be alert to the possibility that Mary Catherine Savage might show up in a census record as Margie Savage. Maybe, like me, she just thought her original name was too darn long!


Carol Stetser