‘Hand Me Down’ Names


Being the seventh child in a family of ten provided me ample opportunity to practice the art of graciously receiving “hand me downs” in all its forms. Be it clothes, toys, bikes, shoes or bedrooms. In a large family “hand me downs” are a way of life. I personally never felt cheated when “hand me downs” came my way, although, of all the hand me downs, shoes were my least favorite item to receive. There is something about putting on some old shoes that creeped me out for some reason, even if it had only been worn by one of my siblings!

The other day I was listening to a county song. In it, singer and songwriter, Tug McGraw, tells of a boy meeting a girl who “said her name was a hand me down name from the side of a family that long ago came, over here on a boat from somewhere in Spain” (“Felt Good On My Lips”) Which got me to thinking how proud I was to have a “hand me down name.” Mine didn’t come from Spain but from Denmark and England. The concept of “hand me down names” is a part of our culture, both secular and religious. In our culture we mostly follow the custom of the paternal order, taking upon ourselves our fathers surname. For boys, that surname follows them till death. For girls, oft-times, till marriage, when out of custom, they take upon themselves their husband’s surname.

Unlike all other “hand me downs”, in my opinion, “hand me down names” are better to have than “new” ones. There’s something about carrying an old name that is inspiring and gives it meaning! My middle name is after my paternal Grandfather, who was named after an uncle. I have two sons and a grandson who carry it in their names. Somehow, this “hand me down name” has created a bond. One of my other sons is named after his maternal Grandfather. The couple of years ago I was in the halls of church and watched my only grandson waddling up and down the hall. He is named after his father, another of my sons, who got it from a nickname of mine. And my only daughter is named after one of my sisters. Getting a “hand me down name” is a bit of an honor, I’d say. And living up to it can sometimes be challenging. Mervyn B. Arnold of the spoke of living up to “hand me down” names. He said:

“When George Albert Smith was young, his deceased grandfather George A. Smith appeared to him in a dream and asked, “I would like to know what you have done with my name.” President Smith responded, “I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.”

Arnold continued in his talk by saying:

“The importance of having a good name is spoken of in Proverbs, where we read: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold”(Proverbs 22:1)and “The [name] of the just is blessed.”(Proverbs 10:7)

Imagine that! The scriptures teach that receiving a good “hand me down” name, is worth more than “great riches of silver and gold.”  And so it is! There has oft been times in my life, when upon introduction of myself to someone new, they ask, “Are you so and so’s boy?” When I say “Yes,”  I can tell I have gained instant credibility due to their respect for my parents. My “hand me down name” has been a great blessing. I hope all of us can live lives such that when we “hand off” our names to our posterity, they will find it worth more than silver and gold. Of course, some of us might not bear the name of an honored relative, or we may no longer carry the name of our fathers. Yet, as Elder Arnold reminded us:

“Each week as we partake of the sacrament, we covenant and promise that we are willing to take upon us the name of Christ, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. If we are willing to do so, we are promised that most wonderful blessing—that His Spirit will always be with us.Just as President George Albert Smith had to account to his grandfather for what he had done with his name, someday each one of us will have to account to our Savior, Jesus Christ, for what we have done with His name” (“What Have You Done With My Name”, GC, Oct. 2010)

So, in a sense, all followers of Jesus Christ have a “hand me down name” to live up to! May each of us bring honor to our earthly names. But more importantly, may we bring honor to the Savior, of whose name, we have all taken upon us to follow. 

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