Why I Changed My Last Name

by | Oct 8, 2023 | Uncategorized | 32 comments

Many of you have asked me why I changed my last name. I thought I could slip it under the radar since Paul and Finn are both tiny, 4-letter names, but alas… my audience is more perceptive than that, so I will explain :).

There are many reasons why, after more than two decades of marriage, I’ve decided to take my husband’s last name as my own. I’ve written dozens of pages about it in my journals, talked about it with friends, meditated and dreamed on it, and written poems about it. What follows is a brief outline of the factors that led me to this decision.

To start, I’ve never loved my last name. Paul was undoubtedly shortened somewhere along the way from a longer Eastern European Jewish last name, but I don’t know what that name was. As such, Paul doesn’t speak to my lineage and so doesn’t carry any meaning for me. The name has always felt empty to me – something that a random someone hacked off an ancestor’s documents so that he would assimilate more readily into American culture.

Finn, on the other hand, speaks to a rich lineage of Irish descent. It speaks of mythology and heroism, of nature and nobility, of many of the values that I hold most dear to my heart and which I cherish most in my husband. (See poem below)

I am proud to be a Finn.

Secondly, as I move into the second third of my life, I can feel my priorities shifting. While I’m still deeply devoted to my work in the world, there’s a shifting and softening in service of the feminine that is guiding me to offer my work from a different place inside of me. This softening is connected to holding my marriage as central, and this is represented by taking on my husband’s last name.

Lastly, with our older son Everest going to college and our younger son Asher starting high school, the urge to have one family name, which has reared its head many times since having kids, intensified. Maybe it’s knowing that our children will be spread across the globe and eventually, perhaps, through the solar system, that inspired me to unite under one family name as a way to bind us more firmly together. Of course, our bond transcends our name and is built on nineteen years of attached relationship, but there’s something about sharing a name with my children that felt non-negotiable in the months prior to Everest leaving.

Sometimes I can express myself more adequately in ritual-poetry than in prose, so I would like to share some stanzas from a piece that I wrote for a ritual that we did at the creek on our anniversary in June, the day I officially changed my last name (photo above).

Creek Ritual for our Anniversary and Name Change

Today I separate out from my father and brothers and step onto a new path –
the path and lineage
of Finn –
of Ireland and fairy folk and
warriors –

and claim my place as the mother of
warriors and magicians.

I am wife and mother,
and taking this name represents my
marriage and motherhood as central in my life.

I let go of all of the father-line has carried in the name Paul
that has not served me.

I fully claim my place in my new family name and my new lineage,
my place as a female Finn.

I take my place beside my new sisters –
Kelly Finn and Perki Finn and Stephanie Finn and Liz Finn.

I have no sisters in my original family,
but today I mark my official place with Finn sisters –
the women who are carrying this last name.

I release any heaviness of Paul –
any of that energy that hangs onto me
I release now into these waters –
and open to receive the light and true place of Finn.

I am a convert now.
Just as Ruth converted to Judaism, so I convert to an Irish lineage.
Not by blood but by marriage and motherhood.

I step out of what has never fully fit
and into a new dress –
white and clean and clear and holy –
for the name Finn also means fair or white
in the sense of purity.

There is priestess in this name, and
it calls to me now –
Connected to this land the way Finn MacCool and
Osian are connected to the land,
Mother of Finns – of fauns – of magic.

When I bring my new name into my work life I bring a message that says:
“My work is important but my husband and children are central.”

I am Sheryl Lisa Finn,
on my books and work moving forward –
A declaration of who I am what I hold as holy.

Sweet creek waters:
May I release the old. I toss “Paul” into these waters.
May I be blessed with all that this new name carries. I step into “Finn”.

May our family be blessed with:
True strength and power
Health
Magic
Safety
Gentleness
Kindness
Softness
Abundance
Love

Today, we stand under one name,
the tallit of Finn,
never to be separated,
in this life and beyond.

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32 Comments

  1. Sheryl, this brought tears to my eyes and I can’t quite put my finger on why! It was just so beautiful. I have long held this struggle with my last name and the struggle to accept that my lineage carries such weight, sadness and cruelty. Reading of how you let go of what no longer served you in this way was really beautiful, it was like I could feel the ritual through the words. So happy for you in this new stage and time!! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    • Thank you for this beautiful response, Diana. I have a big smile on my face after reading it!

    • Yes! These are very similar reasons why I let go of my Eastern European name for a very common Scottish last name! Letting go of one lineage to create a new one. Felt so old fashioned and out of character for me, but holds so much meaning to create a family with healthier roots and be identified with one name. Diverse characters under the one tent!

      • Yes, exactly! Beautifully articulated, Thank you 🙏🏽

  2. Sheryl, thank you for sharing such an interesting insight with us. I believe life transitions are deeply connected with symbols along the way, in fact, symbols translate and connect things I cannot verbalize, I just feel new connections forming in my mind all the time. For me it happened a similar way when I married and took my husbands name. It was a symbol to let go of deeply ingrained family traits that I didn’t want to carry. In fact, my original family name literally means “bitterness” in my native language. A symbol that resembles so much with past stories and traits of my ancestory. I adopted my husbands name which translated in my native language means water creek. Like a creek I want to flow freely in the course of life. Thanks for such inspiring words, in fact, I never thought I myself did the same unconsciously until I read your wonderful post.

    • Oooh, I love this, Silva: from bitterness to creek waters! Amen!

  3. No matter what your name is, you are a person who always bring a smile to my face. Middle school and high school memories with you. I am in awe of how much you have achieved and how your words have helped so many. You are a force and I am privileged to know you.

    • Michelle, thank you! Just seeing your name brings a smile to my face and soul. I adore you! Always have and always will. xoxoxo

  4. Ooh! So interesting and meaningful to read about your process here (as another woman who kept her last name, but now has a different one from my infant son…and am wondering about that).

  5. But taking one’s husband’s name is such a strong legacy of patriarchy…Was that a consideration for you? (I kept my last name, and my children have my last name–something I suggested when they were born and my husband didn’t objec to–so I do share that with them, however.)

    • Our maiden names come from our fathers so it’s still a product of patriarchy. To each their own :).

  6. I love this Sheryl❤️

  7. Wow this was one of the most profound name ceremonies I have ever read. Thank you deeply for your willingness to share such a deep vulnerable emotional process. It is serving as a guide to us who may feel called to go through a similar process in our lives and creating a ceremony about it. I feel it’s profundity in my soul and I nod to you and your family for standing witness to this process for you.

  8. Thank you for sharing this, Sheryl! I had wanted to ask at the last Patreon meet-up, but also wanted to respect your boundaries around this. ❤️ The symbolism of the name change at this stage of your life makes so much sense to me – and I can feel the rising power in you as you take this new stand as an even stronger family unit. So beautiful.

    I don’t have the urge to drop my maiden name yet, but it does sometimes sadden me to have a different last name than my children. I just wish I admired my in-laws and my husband’s lineage a bit more. 😉

    I also wanted to share how deeply moving I found the latest podcast episode. The combination of you sharing your journal with the soundscape beneath it made hearing your words even more powerful. I so appreciate your modeling of how to navigate through these grief portals of motherhood. As my daughter (Juniper!) moves closer to her fifth birthday in December, she is becoming conscious of death. Her questions and little tears rip at my heart. I hold her as close as I possibly can as she asks me if I am going to die one day. Like you and Victoria said in the episode, all I want to do is scream out “No! This isn’t the way it is supposed to be!” This transition into her death awareness has been one that I have dreaded (honestly since she was a tiny baby), and now here we are. I’m breathing into it all – turning to my journal – allowing her grief and my grief to mix together. It is hard! I feel so grateful to have you and your wisdom to guide me and help me know I am not alone. 🙏

    • Dearest Cindy: I feel your heart and soul so fully and beautifully in your words. Oh, the awareness of death… it’s so painful to witness our children as they come into this stage. And I can hear how beautifully you’re attuning while also tending to your own grief. That’s all we can do, and it’s a lot. It’s enough. Also, next week we’ll be sharing Everest’s reflections on his life so far in a bonus episode (as we mentioned in this episode), and he’ll be touching on his early fear of death and how he walked through it. Stay tuned! Sending you so much love, Cindy, as always. Very grateful that you’re here. ❤️❤️🙏🏽🙏🏽 PS: Your daughter has the best name EVER!

  9. Hi Sheryl,
    After doing a lot of geneaology research, I have come to the conclusion that it’s a bit of a myth in American society that the last names some of us have are “the result of a random someone not being able to pronounce a name and writing down whatever thing they thought made sense.” Our immigrant ancestors tended to be a lot more in control of the process than that. It is most likely the case that your patriarch/matriarch ancestor decided “Paul” was a good name for them in the new world and gave themselves that name. It is unlikely that someone made that choice for them. It’s also not that hard in many cases to do some research and discover what your ancestor’s original name was (I even offer my free services if you’re curious.)
    That said, I’m in no way trying to argue against your decision. Just as your ancestor decided on a name that worked best for them, you get to decide on a name that works best for you.

  10. I love your new name! 🥰 I love the history of it, the intentionality and awareness with which you claimed it, and the beautiful ceremony you described. Congratulations, Sheryl Finn! ☘️ I imagine it feels like a rebirth of sorts, a new beginning, a fresh chapter… so happy for you and your family!

    • Thank you, Laura! And yes that’s exactly what it feels like: birthing myself into the second half of life on the wings of a beautiful, fresh new name.

  11. Ah interesting! I have many times considered taking the last name of my husband but so far haven’t. I have the same feeling regarding my children about it -I think it would be nice to all have the same last name (my 3 sons are similar ages to yours). His last name is not as cool or inspiring as your husband’s though 🙂 Thanks for your explanation, I totally understand it.

    • I completely understand your ambivalence. I sat with this decision for many years before taking the leap. x

  12. Hi Sheryl,
    Congratulations on your name change! I love how you describe it and it’s profound that you chose to change it just as Everest was leaving for college. It’s so beautiful and inspiring to read how dedicated and committed to each other your family unit is. I’m going to have a listen to this weeks podcast soon 😊
    It’s interesting as I wanted to keep my name (although not married) and my son has my name. It’s the other way around for us. My partner like you, felt that his last name had not sat right with him, for lots of reasons. He was pleased that our son has my name. We couldn’t double barrel as we have very wordy long surnames! We had some odd comments about my son taking my name , including from both sides of the family.
    I often wondered if we got married if he would take my name. For him it’s wrapped up in his relationship with the patriarchal side of his family. As I’m writing I realise just the symbolism of names has so much to offer!
    Again, huge congratulations Sheryl. It’s so inspiring how you trust your voice and judgement and navigate transitions. ❤️

    • Thank you, Sara! Yes names hold so much meaning and symbolism, and I appreciate you sharing your story here :). ❤️❤️❤️

  13. Hi Sheryl,

    Congratulations on your new name! It suits you beautifully.

  14. Thank you so much for sharing this, Sheryl. Im not married, but I often think about what I would do If I got married to the man i’m with now. I really love my last name, and I really do not like his last name at all. I just don’t like the way it sounds. I feel so guilty when I think that I wouldn’t want to change my name if we got married. But knowing that you didn’t change your last name for so long makes me feel better. I love that you made the intentional decision to do so, instead of doing it because of societal pressure. Im still torn on making a decision, mostly because I feel bad for not liking his last name!😆

    • Trust yourself, Steph! There are no right or wrong ways to do this :).

  15. Hi Sheryl. This was really beautiful to read. It resonates with me very intuitively. I am blessed to have some close Indigenous friends- and name changes and ceremonies are common in their cultural practices. I’ve always felt such a draw to the lore, storylines, and energy associated with names- and I also do see them like a harbour- a specific harbour with particular shores that calls in people through blood, marriage, or curiosity over time. My partner and I are considering getting married in the next couple years, and between us have many names to choose and connect with. For both of us- a resonant one is my mom’s maiden name, Love. I carry this name, and in Scotland it is a name descended from the Mackinnon clan, which comes from the Scots Gaelic name “Mac Fhionghuin” which also means “fair born” or “fair son” (and connects to the Irish root of Finn). A neat connection :). I love travelling the river currents of names, and I love and appreciate the intentionality, strength and power you model in the choosing of Finn.

    • Your works always carry deep poetry, Claire; thank you. And I love the Mac Fhionghuin / Finn connection!

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