At a gathering of LDS women from the midwest and eastern United States I attended in the fall, I was struck with how many women introduced themselves using three names: first name, maiden name, surname. While I have used that form professionally (in an effort to demonstrate that the credentials gained under my maiden name are mine), I don’t think I have ever verbally introduced myself as such. Yet, it occurred to me, many Mormon women do. Why?

While some may be asserting their independence Hillary Rodham Clinton style, I think Mormons have a much less feminist reason for doing so. On the one hand, including our maiden names can reveal identity markers we do not want to hide. Indeed, we may want to highlight our ties to other well known Mormons or signal a pioneer heritage. More importantly, though, women don’t want to be lost. We want others to be able to identify us as our former selves: yes, I am that girl you knew in college; yes, I served in Kobe Japan; yes, my family lived in Virginia in the early 90s—did you know us? Including all of them cloaks us in the power of all of our names.

A name can do a lot for you. It can also hurt. You probably heard about the flap yesterday where a local conservative talk show host repeatedly referred to Barack Obama as Barack Hussein Obama. You probably heard that John McCain apologized for that. I am sure there are many who feel that no apology is necessary for using someone’s actual name.

Of course, the use of his name was intended as an insult. It was intended to remind the audience of Obama’s questionable heritage and past. The use of the name Hussein was intended to associate Obama with unnamed but implied unsavoriness.
Barack Obama

Barack Hussein Obama Sr. was enough of a politician that I am sure he would have not passed his name on, had he any inkling of the controversy it would illicit. I met about a hundred men named Kennedy* in Kenya and not a one of them was a Democrat or Irish. Just as naming your son Patrick might once upon a time have indicated that you were Irish or Catholoic, it is now just a name to us. Hussein is just a name and this is much ado about nothing.

While it is an ugly nothing, it could be a powerful nothing.

*one man named John Kennedy introduced his 6 year old son to me: Bill Clinton