Names on remarried mother's headstone
November 25, 2014 1:11 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to figure out the best way to name my recently deceased mother on her gravestone. I would like my father's name to be included but I would also like to be respectful of my step-father and of my mother's marriage to him.

Let's pretend that these were my mother's names:

- First name: "Dorothy";

- Middle name: "Joan"

- Maiden name (name before marriage), duration, 28 years: "Anderson"

- Name of first husband (divorced), duration 38 years: "Brown"

- Name of last husband who is still living, duration 13 years: "Clark"

My father's name, Brown, is the name of all my mother's children and grandchildren and also the name by which she went during 29 of the 42 years that she lived in the community in which she is buried. My mother and father divorced.

My step-father, Mr Clark, was (and sadly is again) a widower and will be buried with his first wife (the mother of his children) in a different community.

One of my siblings has suggested just using her final married name "Clark". I would like my father's name "Brown", to be included but I would also like to be respectful of my step-father, "Clark" and of my mother's marriage to him. What is the precedent for including names from past marriages (is it generally considered appropriate) and how can it tastefully be done? (undecided about whether we need to include her maiden name).


thank you
posted by fries to Society & Culture (24 answers total)
 
Response by poster: p.s. my father, Mr Brown, is also dead and is buried in a different country, where his widow, Mrs Brown, will also be buried.
posted by fries at 1:14 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


My step-grandmother had a similar situation, if I recall correctly they went with:

Dorothy Joan Brown Clark
(below the name, in smaller letters) née Anderson

Very sorry for your loss.
posted by troika at 1:19 PM on November 25, 2014 [14 favorites]


Go with the whole thing: Dorothy Joan Anderson Brown Clark.

It's perfectly normal to include both married names; the only times I'd nix that would be if she'd been married several times: something like 'Dorothy Joan Anderson Smith Jones Johnson Wilson Brown Clark' might be a bit unwieldy on a headstone! In that kind of situation, I'd keep it down to her last spouse and perhaps her maiden name. But two spouses? That's fine and normal.

(Oh, and my condolences on your loss.)
posted by easily confused at 1:19 PM on November 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


My grandmother, who is buried next to her first husband, is listed with all her names, similar to this:

Mary Smith Jones Brown

where "Smith" would be her maiden name, "Jones" her first married name and "Brown" her second married name.
posted by telophase at 1:20 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I kind of feel like your mother chose her name, and it's not super appropriate to assign a name for her that she didn't select herself. It sounds like her name -- that she chose, that she made the effort to go through the process of changing -- was Dorothy Joan Clark. I think the most respectful thing would be to respect her personal choices as to what her name is and what her name isn't and use that. If she wanted to still be called Brown she would be, but she chose to drop the tie of her name to her children, for whatever reason, and I'd feel weird about not respect that decision.
posted by brainmouse at 1:20 PM on November 25, 2014 [50 favorites]


Obituaries frequently use the form (nee Anderson, formerly Brown) -- maybe there's a way to indicate these on the tombstone without changing the name that she chose to use. E.g:

Mary Helen Clark
nee Anderson
formerly Brown

19XX-2014
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:23 PM on November 25, 2014 [16 favorites]


I would like my father's name "Brown", to be included

Did your mother use your father's name after she was divorced from your father?

The name she used in life is the name you should put on her headstone.
posted by headnsouth at 1:27 PM on November 25, 2014 [12 favorites]


I think the most respectful thing would be to respect her personal choices as to what her name is and what her name isn't and use that.

Concur with this and with your sibling. Unless you have any specific instructions to the contrary, the name she used is the name you should provide for her on her headstone. I am sorry for your loss.
posted by jessamyn at 1:28 PM on November 25, 2014 [8 favorites]


.

I was going to suggest nee. It is French and I believe means "born." You see it sometimes in articles about famous people, for example:

Jackie Kennedy Onassis nee Bouvier.
Though her Wikipedia page currently says:
Jacqueline Lee "Jackie" (Bouvier) Kennedy Onassis

So, one possibility is:

Dorothy Joan Brown Clark nee Anderson
posted by Michele in California at 1:29 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Did your mother use your father's name after she was divorced from your father?


My mother used the name "Brown" for 25 years after she and my father were divorced. (The whole time that she was the head of the household where she lived.)
posted by fries at 1:42 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: This also begs the question: "What is the purpose of the inscription on a gravestone?"
posted by fries at 1:44 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


If your father had died, and your mother had remarried as a widow, including his name on the headstone would absolutely make sense. As it is, however, she chose to legally extricate herself from her relationship with him, so it seems rather less likely that she would wish to honour that relationship on her headstone.

If she continued to use that last name after the divorce and especially if she retained it after the remarriage, even as a middle name, it would potentially be okay, but otherwise it strikes me that in attempting to respect your father, you would be disrespecting your mother and it's her headstone.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:45 PM on November 25, 2014


Best answer: Headstones are for the living. And historians.

Dorothy Joan Brown Clark
(below the name, in smaller letters) née Anderson


...is the way to go. There is zero actual reason to erase your mother's familiar tie to her descendants if it will make you, her children, unhappy.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:47 PM on November 25, 2014 [19 favorites]


My condolonces.

Graves and headstones etc are for the benefit of the living, not the dead. Unless she specifically said she did not want Brown on her gravestone then it's about what you and your sibling would prefer. Did your sibling just suggest Clark or would they prefer no mention of Brown?

Also, have you discussed this with your stepfather? He may totally understand your wish to include your father's name. But to be honest, and perhaps a little frank, you loved her for longer than he did and you will be visiting her resting place for longer than he will, so even if he was unhappy with it, if it's something you really want then I would still feel your wishes take precedent. However, as you seem to suggest you'll be including Clark either way he may well be ok with your decision.

I would have a conversation with your sibling and decide between you what you both want, and not what you think you should do. If you can come to an agreement then that's the way to go.
posted by billiebee at 1:48 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry for your loss.

Obviously this is not up to me and you should do what feels right for you and your family but on behalf of future genealogists, I'd respectfully request all the names (unless there is some bad blood between her and Mr. Brown.) It honors and records all her life.
posted by Beti at 1:48 PM on November 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


Tombstones are, as billiebee said for the living. I would check with her second husband that he would not mind, which as you say he plans to be buried with his first wife he most likely won't, and bury however gives you all the most comfort to do so. If she was like most mothers she would want you to do what ever gave you all the most comfort.

I have seen tombstones done as follows

Dorothy Joan Clark

Beloved mother of Jane brown etc
Beloved Grandmother of John & Jill Brown.

Which would still show her connection to you all and let her keep the name she chose.

My main feeling is though, if she expressed no preference & her second husband doesn't mind then whatever gives ALL her children & grandchildren the most comfort would be the way I would go.
posted by wwax at 1:54 PM on November 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


Response by poster: otherwise it strikes me that in attempting to respect your father, you would be disrespecting your mother and it's her headstone.

Just to clarify, on this particular issue, the concern is not with respecting my father: my parents were divorced and I don't think my father would have had a strong opinion either way.
My concern is in providing a sense of connection for my mother's descendants, without disrespecting the living. She loved being named "Clark" during life, but this always appeared to be pro-connection to her new husband, not anti-connection to her children with whom she maintained strong ties. My mother had made peace with Mr Brown towards the end of his life and I don't think she would object to having "Brown" included in her identify after her death, even though she was delighted to end up with the name "Clark". But her preferences with regard to having "Brown" on her tombstone are all speculation as she never expressed an opinion.

So, I don't actually think that the preferences of my father and my mother are the most important things here (especially as they never expressed them), but the feelings of my step-father and my siblings. I think my step-father and siblings would be OK with including "Brown" if it was done in a way that was dignified and respectful of her final identity as Mrs Clark.
posted by fries at 2:01 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Best answer: If it helps any:

I am divorced. I kept my ex-husband's last name in part to keep the name of my children. If I remarried, I would likely take my new husband's name. If I were the deceased, I would be perfectly fine with:

Dorothy Joan Brown Clark
(below the name, in smaller letters) née Anderson


My connection to my children matters to me. I am not bitter towards my ex. I would have no problem acknowledging that name on my headstone.

I think this may be a problem for you because, historically, divorce was extremely uncommon. So we have practices for widows who remarried that go way back. We are kind of still making up rules for how to handle divorcees who remarry. I know my dad was divorced three times in an era when that was simply scandalous. Divorce being a relatively socially acceptable phenomenon is still fairly new, new enough that we are kind of just now, kind of for the first time, dealing with relatively large numbers of folks dying who did the divorce thing and then remarried.
posted by Michele in California at 2:08 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think the most respectful thing would be to respect her personal choices as to what her name is and what her name isn't and use that.

Perhaps too late for this as a best answer has already been chosen but whose decision is this to make (most properly)? Are you the executor? Has her widower explicitly given you authority to make this decision? Women who have been divorced may choose to go by their ex-husband's name for the sake of ease of communication with their children's school district, for example, but be glad to be rid of it when that need disappears or when they remarry. Her consideration for your feelings may have prevented her from expressing her desires in this regard. Her widower would be, in my opinion, most likely to be privy to her intentions. Please be aware that the recently bereaved may, however, be unable to deal with this for a while and be patient.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by Morrigan at 3:45 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


My mother had made peace with Mr Brown towards the end of his life and I don't think she would object to having "Brown" included in her identify after her death, even though she was delighted to end up with the name "Clark".

Her name was Clark.
posted by headnsouth at 4:03 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: whose decision is this to make (most properly)? Are you the executor? Has her widower explicitly given you authority to make this decision?

We are working on this decision as a family. I happen to be an executor but this is about finding consensus not about wielding power.
posted by fries at 4:11 PM on November 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: Women who have been divorced may choose to go by their ex-husband's name for the sake of ease of communication with their children's school district, for example, but be glad to be rid of it when that need disappears or when they remarry.

Or they may be perfectly happy with the name but also be perfectly happy to change it, just as they were when they gave up their maiden names.
posted by fries at 4:55 PM on November 25, 2014


Since you said your mother would have probably been alright with the inclusion of the name, I'd go with Dorothy Joan Brown Clark or formerly Brown and the née Anderson.

Frankly, while I believe headstones are for the living, I also think it's good to respect the wishes of the dead. My two oldest kids are from a previous (two year) marriage. I've been married now to present husband for nearly 40 years. If someone wanted to include my ex's name in my name on my headstone, I'd be pissed. The two oldest were adopted by Mr. Present, and I doubt they care, but if they wanted to indicate Daughter: Name Ex Present Married and Son: Name Ex Present on the back, that would be fine.

As far as the record goes, list the whole famn dambly including kids and grandkids, but not the ex.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:20 PM on November 25, 2014


Depending on space and aesthetics, I would think any of the following:
Dorothy Joan (Brown) Clark
Dorothy Joan (Brown) Clark, née Anderson

I have seen brackets used for previous last names, usually maiden names, but since they are also used for a.k.a.s, I think the brackets communicate the fact that you are referencing Brown, but that the last name she used at the time of her passing was Clark. In an obit it would probably read:
Dorothy Joan Clark, formerly Brown, née Anderson, but that seems too long.
posted by sarahkeebs at 6:02 PM on November 28, 2014


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