"What's in a Name?"

Women, their names, and the stories they tell

Family Names: Romney and Obama

Names reveal our history

Unless you are one hundred percent Native American, your family immigrated to the US. Family names lead us back through the generations to our origins. What do the presidential candidates' family names reveal about their family history?

Romney is first found in the Domesday (Old English spelling for Doomsday) Book, a record of England's assets, ordered by WIlliam the Conqueror, the French-Norman, who conquered England and decimated the ruling Anglo-Saxon class in 1066. In the Domesday Book, we discover that Robert, one of William's French vassals, is rewarded with the land grant of Romenel in Kent. Back then, family names were not yet in use. The family became known by the name of the village in their land grant, i.e., as Lords of, and eventually Earls of, Romenel. Because spelling was not standardized, the name was spelled many different ways—Romney, Rumney, Romnay, and Romeny to list a few. Romney is now known for its sheep. Romney is also the name of a village in France.

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Mitt Romney's maternal grandfather Harold La Fount was also French via Britain, and his maternal grandmother Alma Robinson claimed French family roots. Mitt spent two and a half years in France as a Mormon missionary. Mitt's wife Anne Davies Romney was a French major in college and studied in France at the University of Grenoble. Mitt has fond memories of visits to France and looks forward to more visits, especially to Paris.

Newt Gingrich ran an attack ad now called The French Connection, noting that as Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney asserted he was an independent during the Bush-Reagan era, he voted against the Contract for America and against George H. Bush, he raised taxes, instituted mandatory health care, and Gingrich then ended the ad by saying "...and he speaks French just like John Kerry." This video is now blocked and labeled "private" on some sites.

Mitt Romney also has ties to Mexico. His father George was born in Mexico because the Mormon Church was creating colonies there to escape increasing repression and condemnation of polygamy in the U.S. There are still two Mormon colonies in Mexico—Thomas C. Romney is the author of Mormon Colonies in Mexico:1938. A report by Fox News revealed that Romney's great-grandfather, Miles Park Romney, married his fifth wife in 1897, "more than six years after Mormon leaders banned polygamy, and more than three decades after a US federal law barred the practice." The Fox report continues: Romney's great-great grandfather, Parley Pratt, an apostle in the Mormon church, had 12 wives. In an 1852 sermon, Parley Pratt's brother and fellow apostle, Orson Pratt, became the first church official to publicly proclaim and defend polygamy as a direct revelation from God." Mitt's father George and his family did not leave until the Mexican Revolution in 1912 forced their return to the US. Mitt has strong family ties to two foreign countries—France and Mexico.

Obama is an African name, specifically of the Luo tribe in Kenya. Like Mitt's father, Obama's father was not born in the US. Obama's father was born in Kenya. He came to study in the US, met, and married Stanley Anne Dunham, an anthropology major from Kansas. Both of Obama's parents were academics. When Anne remarried, she lived with Obama in Indonesia where she developed microcredit programs to help poor women. Obama's mother eventually helped Bank Rakyat Indonesia develop one of the biggest microfinance programs in the world. Like Mitt, Obama has ties to two foreign countries.

Mitt's father, George Romney, was a self made man, who never graduated from college. He attributed his success in sales to his Mormon missionary work in Scotland and England. He was ahead of his time when he decried "the gas guzzling dinosaurs" of the big three US auto manufacturers. As Governor of Michigan, George Romney created Michigan's first personal and corporate state income tax, thereby balancing Michigan's budget. He also increased the role of state government, developed Michigan's higher education, increased benefits for the poor and the unemployed. As Secretary of Housing under Nixon, George Romeny increased US housing for the poor and tried harder "to achieve suburban integration than any prominent federal official from the 1970s through the 1990 to help integrate American suburbs."

Obama's grandfather was arrested and beaten by the British for his revolutionary efforts to gain independence for Kenya from the British Empire. After obtaining his degree from Harvard, Obama's father returned to Kenya to help the new country develop its government, and he was not afraid to criticize the government when he felt it fell short. Both Mitt and Obama have family ties to foreign nations and both had fathers who were dedicated to public service. Obama's mother was unusual for her time not only for her advanced degree, but also for her dedication to helping poor women all over the world.

Ancestry.com traced Romney's family tree to six different presidents, including both Bushes,which suggests that monied families travel in the same circles. Ancestry.com also revealed Obama's Irish roots, tracing his ancestry to a third generation great-grandfather who escaped the Irish Potato Famine and settled in Ohio in 1850. Like most of us, Obama also has European ancestry. Family names take us back to our origins and remind us, that like Romney and Obama, our roots lie outside of the US. What do you know about your family history?

 

Elisabeth Pearson Waugaman, Ph.D., teaches in the New Directions writing program of the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis. more...

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