There are names that have become associated with certain things so long that it is hard for ones from that family background to break out of their mold. Can you imagine what it would have been like to have been born into the James family during the days that the James brothers, Jesse and Frank, were terrorizing the countryside robbing people, banks or whatever might be a source of some money? Imagine going down to the local bank to ask for a loan. The banker would ask, “Now what is your name and where are you from?” If you said, “Well, I’m one of the James family. You probably have heard of my brothers Frank and Jesse. But I’m nothing like them. I am trying to start a legitimate business and just need a loan to get things going.” Do you suppose you would get the loan or would family ties cause the banker to say, “No, I don’t think we can do that?”
Think about names that you associate with different matters. If you live in Little Rock and someone mentioned that they were part of the Stephens family you would likely get plenty of attention and some exciting offers since that very name is associated with great wealth and business success. What if you said you were one of the Bush family or the Pryor family? You would probably be expected to get into politics of some kind. Different family names send out different signals usually because of some family member that has become well known for some particular action or trade they were involved in.
What about your family name? When you received that name, what do you think it signaled to the people who met you early on? Just about every younger brother or sister who started to school had to face the fact that most of the teachers had already made up their mind about what kind of student and person you would be based on what they had seen from your older brothers or sisters that had been part of their classes. Sometimes in such situation we work at trying to break out of the mold we have been pushed into. At other times we accept the mold and try to excel even beyond the reputations that have been left by the older siblings who have gone ahead of you. We all received a name and with it some kind of reputation which people used to determine what they thought of us even before they really knew us at all. In days past if a young person met an older person, it was pretty common for the older person to ask, “Now who was your mother and dad? What was your granddad’s name and where did he live?” They were building a frame of reference by which they would decide which pigeon hole they would put you in long before they really got to know you at all.
As important as it is what kind of name and reputation we may have received from our parents or grandparents or siblings, the truth is you can break out of the mold that you have been given. You can expand that mold to make room for your growth and even your actions that didn’t fit the mold to begin with. But here is the more important question for everyone of us to answer. What kind of reputation are you leaving for the ones who will take your name in the years to come? When I return home to Alabama it is common for someone to say something about my mother and dad and to comment that I am following in their steps or that I’m not based on how they see things. But, in other parts of the world, such as here in Arkansas where I live, they know nothing about my parents and their idea about my name and what it represents is determined completely by what they have seen or heard from me. Then the whole focus and question shifts to what kind of name I’m passing down to my children and grandchildren. Will they go to the bank for a loan and have the banker ask them about their name and background and when he hears their family name will he be afraid to make the loan because of what he knows of my reputation or will he more likely say, “I’m inclined to give you the loan. I know your dad and I suspect you have the same character that he does so I’m going to trust you to repay the loan.”
Your children and grandchildren can outgrow the name you’ve given them. But you can certainly make a huge difference in how the world sees them from the first moment when they hear their family name by how you live and conduct yourself in the world every day. I want to live in a way that makes the way smoother and easier for the ones who share my name as the years pass by. Many years ago now, when I was 18 and wanting to purchase a car and finance it I went to the bank in Vernon to meet with Mr. Bragg. The loan wasn’t for much but I didn’t have much to offer as a basis for making the loan either. He asked my name and I told him. He said, “Are you one of Roy Barnes’ boys?” “Yes sir, I am the youngest of the group.” There wasn’t any application to make. He said, “Yes, we’ll loan the money. I know your dad well and I would trust him with anything he asked for so I think I can trust you as well.”
Are you paving the way for your children? Or, are you giving them a heritage they will have to overcome?