No Use to Bother with Genealogical Research in This Family

It was late in August, 1957. My new husband-to-be, Bob, had called for a family meeting for 4:00 p.m. on that Sunday afternoon.

We all assembled at the assigned time. Sitting in the living room were Sue, his fourteen year old daughter, Larry, my thirteen year old son, Robbie, his twelve year old son, Lee, my eleven year old son, Carl my ten year old, and Holly my eight year old daughter, and of course, I was there in the role of mother/step-mother.

By this time, we were well on our way to becoming an integrated family. All of us had been active in our Unitarian church school for three years, and Bob and I had announced our engagement at the beginning of that summer.

As usual, Bob presided over the meeting. He announced, “Today the business of the meeting is to discuss a new name for ourselves. We will discuss the ideas today, and then take this coming week to get new suggestions and think about the ramifications, and next Sunday at this time we will vote for the new name.”

Bob told the story of why he was going to choose a new family name. His grandparents had come from Russia via Alexandria. They had had one or two children in Alexandria, and then settled in Philadelphia where his grandfather was the minister of a medium sized Lutheran church. In the ensuing years the family grew to seven children.

Shortly after they arrived in Philadelphia his grandfather picked a new family name. He picked the name from a family in his congregation. The name was Blumenkranz. At that time he swore all his children to secrecy about the original name from Russia, and they all adopted the name Blumenkranz.

Later, some of them changed their name to Garland, which is a translation of Blumenkranz into English from the German. But as far as we could ever find out, none of the family ever told the name from the “old country.”

Bob had lived with the name Blumenkranz all of his life. He disliked the name intensely. First it was long. Second no one could spell it without making a deal about its length and letters. Third, it is a Jewish name, and Bob made it plain that if he were Jewish he would use the name with pride, but he was not Jewish and to have a cumbersome name that also carried prejudice in the community, was an unwarranted burden.

It so happened that at that time he found himself making many life changes. He was changing careers from Electrician to Junior High School Electric Shop Teacher; he had left one wife and was marrying another; he was moving from one home to another. He figured that if there were a good time to change his name, this was it.

That afternoon we also set up the standards for the new name. It had to be easy to spell. It had to be one syllable. It had to start with “B.” My first husband’s name was Baldwin, and between Baldwin and Blumenkranz all the linens and silver were embossed with “B,” and besides, we all found it to be to our advantage to have a name near the beginning of the alphabet.

All that week we discussed names, looked up lists of names. Larry Jr., whose father was of good German background, was holding out for Brandt, although my four children would maintain their father’s name of Baldwin. Bob and Sue were given the choice of their old name or whatever the new one was to be.

Carolyn and Bob Brent dining at a folk dance conference
Carolyn and Bob Brent dining at a folk dance conference

That Friday night, after we had gone to bed, Bob was reading the Sears Roebuck Catalog. The back few pages were addressed to womens’ lingerie—and the trade name was Carol Brent.

He pointed and declared, “That’s going to be the new name.” I liked the name Brent, but I didn’t feel comfortable about naming us after a Sears Womens’ lingerie line.

When we gathered for the family meeting the following Sunday, again Bob took over running the meeting. He had been a strong union leader in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Engineers, and strong in church meetings. He knew how to run a meeting to get the results he wanted. The six children didn’t know at the time they were being maneuvered into voting for what he had already decided. Larry still held out for the name Brandt but of course he was going to maintain the name Baldwin anyway, so we overrode his objection. (He later got a library card, a social security card, and a DMV identification with the name Brandt, and fancied himself an undercover agent for a period.)

A few weeks later Bob went to court and legally changed his name to Robert Brent. Sue and Robbie went with him and had their names changed to Brent at the same time. I was told that a wife automatically assumes her husband’s name, and does not need to take any other legal steps.

Since then I have enjoyed the name Carolyn Brent. But I stay away from Sears Roebuck lingerie. Rather, I take my trade to Frederick’s or Victoria Secret.


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