Like many girls raised in the 1960s, I dreamed that I would marry and adopt my husband’s last name. I even practiced writing my first name followed by the last name of my latest crush in beautiful cursive handwriting.
It’s not that I didn’t like my name. My parents named me Diane Elizabeth Henrikson. I am the fifth generation of women named Elizabeth on my mom’s side of the family.
I am also proud of my Scandinavian heritage. Bernhardt Henriksen, my Norwegian great-grandfather, immigrated to America in 1853. In a rare action for a man in the 1800’s, Bernhardt changed the ending of his last name from “-sen” to “-son” to please his Swedish wife, Carolina Eugenia Oscaria Tillberg.
My last name was misspelled “Henrickson,” “Hendricksen,” and “Hendrixon.” Even Microsoft Word recommended that I spell it “Hendrickson.”
I did not know the last name of my future first husband right away. In October 1971, my sorority sister set us up on a blind date and only told me his first name. On our second date, I tricked him into telling me his last name. Coincidentally, his sister was called Diane, too. “What is your sister’s full name?” I asked. He quickly replied with her full name, so the mystery was solved.
I eagerly changed my name when we married in May 1975, despite my dad’s strong hints that legally I didn’t have to change my name at all. His motivation was that he did not have any sons to carry on the family name.
At last, my married name would be easy to pronounce and spell. I was wrong! My new last name also was misspelled frequently. My new sister-in-law and I now had the same name, so my in-laws referred to me as “Mrs. Diane” and my sister-in-law as “Miss Diane” until she married eight years later.
In December 1992, my spouse and I divorced. The letting-go process was difficult, and I initially decided to keep my married name. I was overwhelmed by developing an identity and goals as a single person.
In October 1993, I had an epiphany while participating in a six-week Divorce Recovery Workshop at the Hyde Park United Methodist Church. I spoke with other women who chose to take back their maiden names. The legal process was easy and inexpensive. They enthusiastically said that returning to their maiden names helped them to turn a corner in the grieving process. They set new goals and felt more confident as individuals.
A few weeks later, I drove down to the Hillsborough County Courthouse and completed the name change paperwork. The hardest part was remembering every address where I ever had lived! A year after my divorce, I sat before a judge and became Diane Henrikson again. I instantly felt that I had been reborn. The next day I went to the USF Card Center to get new staff and student USF ID Cards as Diane Henrikson. I was delighted to become reacquainted with the strong, independent person inside.
Of course, my dad was ecstatic. An added treat was that my parents, sister and I traveled together to Denmark, Sweden and Norway two years later. Ironically, there were sixty-three descendants of the Hendrikson family (different spelling) at a traveling family reunion on our flights to and from Denmark. At least our last name was recognized!
In the spring of 1999, Tom Russell and I made secret plans to elope to Las Vegas that summer after dating for four years. A 47-year-old bachelor, Tom thought his mom would try to control the planning of our wedding. Should I change my last name…again? I had been a Henrikson again for only five years. I said my possible new name over and over: “Diane Russell, Diane Russell, Diane Russell.” The Russell name was easy to pronounce and spell, and Tom admitted that he would like it if I did change my name. After a long deliberation, I changed my name to Diane Russell after our July 1999 wedding.
However, I now use Diane Henrikson Russell on social media and as a writer. I am determined that I will never lose my strong, independent identity as Diane Henrikson again.
Hey Boomer! Before you scroll down to Diane's Bio, here's a question that no Millennial can answer, but you probably can. Where would you see Bud Collyer, Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, and Kitty Carlisle together? That's right! On "To Tell the Truth!" We'll give you a chance to relive an episode in a moment, but first we have a challenge and an opportunity for you. We want you to tell us a brief story about something you did--or experienced--when you were, shall we say, even "younger" than you are now. High school, maybe. Or college. Or the military. Or your early career. We want you to tell your tale with a "straight face", but you actually have two choices. You can tell a true story, or you can make the entire thing up. You can recount that adventure you had in Hussong's Cantina in Baja California just as if you'd actually experienced it. Even if you've never been west of the Mississippi. Or you can truthfully tell us the tale of almost being trampled by the bulls in Pamplona. We'll publish these stories and ask our readers to guess--in the Comments--whether what they've just read is true or false. If your story fools our readers, you'll win a fabulous prize. For further contest details visit the official OLLI Connects To Tell the Truth Contest page. . Email it in whatever format works for you to firstname.lastname@example.org. And click here to relive an episode of the original "To Tell the Truth". --Editors
Diane Henrikson Russell joined OLLI in 2014. She has taken over 70 OLLI courses on leadership, radio, life story writing, Tai Chi, healthy aging, literature, science, politics, sociology, and humanities. Diane volunteers as a proofreader for the OLLI catalog and for OLLI Connects. Diane has been Co-chair of the Volunteer Management Committee since 2019.