What's in a name?

Several people (Thanks Carmine and Carroll!) have asked me about my last name, so I thought I would use this opportunity to give you all the scoop. It is a hyphenated name–sometimes called a “double-barreled” name–and therefore a mouthful. Historically, hyphenated names have been used in some cultures, such as British, to indicate nobility: I am fond of “the Royals,” but we are not British nobility. In British culture a hyphenated name is heritable and is often done to preserve a family name that could disappear due to having no male heirs. In other cultures, such as Iberian Spanish, the custom is when a person is born to take the first surname of the father and the first surname of the mother. In German tradition, at marriage the couple will take the husband’s surname and the wife’s surname: this is called an “alliance” name and may or may not be hyphenated. Like most things American, our last name is a hodge-podge of traditions. On the one hand, when Beth and I got married we were older and established in our professions, so we wanted to retain name-continuity. On the other hand, we also wanted to have the same last name. Another factor was that my side had many male heirs to carry on my name, but Beth’s had very few. So, we decided to hyphenate, which is an increasingly common American practice. But then we had to decide whether my surname, Pitts, or Beth’s surname, LaRocca, should be first: most traditions hold that the man’s name should go first. So, I took this conundrum to one of my Harvard professors, Rev. Dr. Peter Gnomes, since I was working as his Seminarian at Harvard Memorial Church. I asked Peter which sounds better: Pitts-LaRocca or LaRocca-Pitts. Without missing a beat, and in his Bostonian Blue Blood accent, he replied emphatically, “Oh, LaRocca-Pitts! It’s so much more euphonic!” So, that settled it. And as I now like to say when people ask me about my last name, I reply, “Beth was the Rock and I was the Pitts, so together we are the Rock-Pitts.” There you have it! (See Wikipedia, Double-Barrelled Name)

Isaiah 45:4:
“For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
 I surname you, though you do not know me.”
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