Believe it Ohr not, here’s a way to solve the name dilemma

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When I got married, my wife and I struggled over what to do about our last names. No arguing, mind you, just a wide-ranging exploration of possibilities — some of which drove our parents to the brink of disowning us.

For example, one idea we seriously explored was merging our last names into one. This not only seemed logical, at least to us, but it also gave us something fun to talk about.

You know how some couples play the what-if “Baby-name game”? C’mon, you’ve done it, probably even at a stage in your relationship that was way too early to be talking baby names.

Well, after we got engaged, we were constantly playing the “Last-name game.”

Her name: Stacey Roberts. Mine: Andy Altman. So any combination of our surnames was fair game. Robman … Altberts … Manerts … Altrobe … and our winner: Ertsman.

If all that almagamating sounds like something only a couple of young morons would engage in, let it be known that I was 32 at the time, my wife 30. Allegedly, we were one of those couples that sensibly had waited until a proper age to make marriage decisions.

But this whole Ertsman idea seemed to bring our maturity level into doubt, especially with Stacey’s mom. She was totally against the idea; and although I never got a full revelation of her reasons, what trickled down to me seemed to be that a) We were crazy and b) Ertsman sounded too Jewish.

This from someone whose maiden name was Schwartzberg!

I would have gone along with any of the most popular and obvious name options, such as Stacey simply taking my last name, or hyphenating our given last names (which is what some people think we have done, anyway).

I didn’t really care whether Stacey took my last name. At that time, we were 95 to 98 percent sure we were going to be a child-free-by-choice couple (11 1/2 years later, that number is now 100 percent), so I wasn’t concerned about having the Altman name live on. And even if we were going to have kids, while the name Altman is fine, I wasn’t hung up on needing it to continue through the generations. It’s just a name.

Nor was I so egotistical that I needed my wife to bow to taking my name. That tradition seemed archaic to me, and it didn’t bother me in the least that my bride-to-be didn’t want to become Stacey Altman.

We also discussed — very casually — the idea of me becoming Andy Roberts, but I wasn’t up for that. So much for being a feminist and a man of all things equitable. Maybe I was embarrassed by what I thought would be a perception that I had caved in, that I wouldn’t be the one wearing the pants in the family.

(Side note: Not helping matters was that Roberts was a name picked randomly by Stacey’s father, who as a young man decided, for business purposes, to change his last name from Ruzumna. I probably would have been more likely to take a family name such as Ruzumna.)

At this point, we reached popular option No. 2: hyphenating. Discussion started — and ended — with Roberts-Altman. Why did we eschew it? Stacey always tells the story that it sounded too much like the late, great film director Robert Altman.

All the while, I was constantly consternating on what we should do. Then one day — I can’t remember where I was or in what setting — it suddenly hit me: We should somehow find a name that has meaning to both of us, and then tack it on to each of our existing last names.

Bingo! Stacey loved the idea, and so did friends that we told. Quite quickly we picked “Ohr,” (“light” in Hebrew) … and short and snappy, to boot.

Not only was our marriage bringing a lot of “light” into our lives, but we were getting married on the winter solstice, and every day thereafter — as our rabbi said at our ceremony — a little bit more light would be entering our lives (at least for six months anyway, as the days continued to grow longer).

My wife would become Stacey Roberts-Ohr; I would be Andy Altman-Ohr.


After we got married, we went to court and legally changed our names, separately standing in front of a judge and stating our case. Aside from having to pay $500 each to some government entity I can’t remember, and list a petition in the “legals” section of the Oakland Tribune, the process was no big deal; the judge was pretty much rubber-stamping every name change that came before him.

Most of our friends loved our solution and began sharing with us tales of what other people did, such as the two newlyweds who dropped their own last names entirely and became the Spoons — because they loved, yes, spooning (Oy vey, gag me with a … oh, never mind).

Our families weren’t as hip to our idea as our friends, but they supported us 100 percent. Not that it didn’t lead to some confusion. Grandmas were never sure what to write on the checks they sent, and Stacey’s mom gave us an exaggerated version of her befuddlement by addressing mail and packages to “Stacey and Andy Whoever.”

Now, she sends things to “Stacey and Andy Ohr” — and that’s just fine with us.


Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.