It’s a classic story.
Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy marries girl, has a baby and the couple has to come up with a fitting name for their brand new family.
It’s a conundrum many couples have to face eventually. But rather than going with the expected, a pair of Yellowknife couples bucked tradition and are using a blending of their last names as they set out in life.
That’s what the Van Overliw’s opted for. Maureen and Tim came up with their unique surname as an amalgam of their given family names — Maureen Harilyw and Tim Van Overbeek.
“It wasn’t an approach where we both said we wanted to blend,” Tim says. “We were both trying to contemplate, would we hyphenate? Would one take the other’s?”
After reading in the New York Times about a similar couple who blended names, the duo invited friends over for dinner to see what they could come up with.
"We had a lot of stuff like 'hairy-beak'," Maureen laughs, so they were quite happy to eventually settle on Van Overliw for a last name. “It just came naturally,” Tim says.
They aren’t alone. Byron and Susan Fitzky (née Fitzpatrick and Sawatzky) opted for a similar plan when they joined their lives together.
“We both had long last names, so hyphenating two- and three-syllable names makes for a long one.”
“Fitzpatrick-Sawatzky would have been impossible to put into boxes,” Susan says, “and Susan has a lisp so it becomes… really awkward,” Byron jokes.
Susan says she liked the compromise because the Fitz- maintains the nod to her Irish heritage, while the -zky suffix keeps that homage to her husband’s German Mennonite ancestry. “We just matched on the Z and went for it,” she says.
Which isn’t to say it was an easy decision to explain. Tim Van Overliw says friends were largely supportive, but he was most nervous about telling his father his family name wouldn’t be passed on.
Tim’s the oldest in the family, and his sister had already taken her husband’s name when she married. “My parents reaction was a little bit shock,” he recalls. “When I explained it, they were taken aback, but if I remember correctly, Dad said, ‘We don’t necessarily agree, but we support you’,” he says.
Susan Fitzky says her parents took the news a little better. “They really appreciated that we valued the continuity of family and that they’d have parents with the same name,” she says. “That was more important than the fact that we were messing up the structure of our name.”
'It just came naturally' - Tim Van Overliw, on his unique last name
Both couples say their motivation to make the unorthodox switch was born out of a desire to properly capture their new family dynamics. And as Byron Fitzky notes, both he and his wife still have their original names as middle names on legal documents, they’ve just added “Fitzky” to the end.
“When I go to a bank with Sawatzky on a cheque,” it’s still going to be recognized, he says.
Maureen and Tim say creating the Van Overliw name was the right choice for their family, but it’s not necessarily something they expect to be passed on through generations.
For her part, Susan says she wants to challenge her kids to get creative, if and when the time comes.
“Keep the Irish, keep the Mennonite,” she jokes. “Come on, kid, you‘ve got to do it.”