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Celebrate A Season of Weddings — Wedding Special Section Archives
The Altamont Enterprise, March 26, 2009

Byrd flies to Burks’ nest

’Tis but thy name that is my enemy. Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, and for that name which is no part of thee take all myself.

— Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

By Forest Byrd

My sister was the first of my immediate family to marry. She moved from California to Virginia with the man of her life, a Burk, to his hometown. While the phonetic difference between Byrd and Burks is minimal, to say the least, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that somehow I was losing a sister.

Our birth name can be the start of many a tragic story. We build the status of our name in society so we can die knowing that, if nothing else, our name will carry on through the ages. We fight wars over our names, our identities. Even to this day, the man traditionally takes this torch, this burden, and the woman gives it away.

For my sister and me, the Byrd name has represented many generations of hard working honest people, split between the cotton plantations in the South and the political and legal arenas in the North.

As some of the First Families of Virginia, we Byrds have been the owners of slaves as well as sharecroppers who worked hard for every dollar we earned. Our family even explored the far reaches of the Southern Ocean to see the icy region of Antarctica. Went a second time because Richard E. Byrd probably thought the penguins were cute. 

I have great uncles who fought and survived famous battles like the one at Omaha Beach or the Battle of the Bulge while others were powerful lawyers and judges who ruled with integrity that can only manifest through the wisdom of life experience.

While there are many strong men in our family, there are, of course, many women as well, most of whom were not Byrds to begin with. These women raised huge families, keeping rule and law under their roof while instilling values that carried the children way beyond the dining room table.

Now don’t get me wrong, my new brother-in-law probably has a very proud tradition as well. Full of brave families overcoming great odds, finding glory in a strange land. People toiling only to make sure that the life for their children was a little better than their own. Who really knows? These are personal stories. Stories for each of us, in our own space to tell.

Now, my sister embraces new challenges and adventures. She’s moving forward, like an explorer, able to accomplish her dreams with a man I know she loves with all her heart.

I guess all I’m really trying to say is that the Byrd side of the family won’t get credit for any of her adventures.

I love the idea of coming from a proud line of descendants. To be part of a strong family creates a strong story and we are born into a host of stories. These stories shape who we are and who our heroes are.

In reality, though, these stories have nothing to do with me. I have yet to seriously work a farm or have enough money to become a senator. I never fought in the Battle of the Bulge, or wrestled a penguin on the icy plains of Antarctica, though that does sound quite enjoyable. I do, however, like to draw or paint little pictures every week.

Yet my family history does inspire me and that is possibly the main point. Being closer in blood, family blends, or marries, with new history making life seem a little, or in some cases a lot, bigger.

I choose my own path that steps outside my name. This path includes, not only my family, but everyone around me as well.

History is only here to help illuminate where I am now. My experience helps guide me on the path of decisions and understanding. To be open to my history means that I am open to my future and all the details that come along with that.

My sister may have a new name and her lineage changed the moment she married Brian. At first, I thought it was ridiculous how fast and easily she made the decision to give it up. But maybe she has the right idea. Maybe it’s not that big of a deal.

My sister is a wonderful human being. She has a good heart and a fiery spirit. Brian complements her with a great sense of humor and natural honesty combined with kindness that plays well beside her. Together they seem to fill the bill. The name should be the last thing on their mind.

Love and devotion should be first. Being together should never be a burden. And it really shouldn’t be on my mind at all. It’s none of my business.

We all know the story. Two lovers divided by nothing more than their name and family pride, ultimately die fighting to be together. Identity blinds them from their own happiness and takes away their freedom. Romeo and Juliet’s dilemma is a strong metaphor for our life, and by stepping back we can see that the details are taken a little too seriously, sometimes.

Seeing the good in the other and appreciating our faults as stepping stones to walk upon puts everything and everyone in a good light. There are times to fight but first we must gain perspective and that is why we are surrounded by so many stories.

When you are lucky enough to find someone whose story complements yours, appreciate it with all your heart. You will then take your own story in a new direction, towards a little happiness and peace.

So in that sense I will always benefit from the actions my sister decides to take no matter her name, because pulling the positive out of life makes everyone’s life a little bit better.

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