Peter J.

Family secrets, mysteries, untold stories. These can be like catnip to a curious mind. They drive us crazy until we can puzzle them out to our satisfaction. They can also be great motivators for digging into family history.

My father was given the name Peter Jakobus at birth–Peter, after his father, and Jakobus, after his grandfather. However, he always went by Pete, or Peter, or Peter J. I learned my father’s middle name when I was a child. I believe my mother told me. The first time he heard “Peter Jakobus” come off my lips, however, I was told, in no uncertain terms, calling him by his middle name was strictly forbidden. He told me it was his dad’s father’s name and never wanted to hear it mentioned in his house. What Dad said was law, but I always wondered why he held such a grudge against his grandfather.

In fact, he held a grudge against his father’s whole family. He never spoke of them. We grew up, my sisters and I, never knowing the Brinkmans of Sibley, Iowa. He often said that he felt abandoned by them, but I never understood why. The question lingers with me even today.

I am discovering more and more of the truth behind this tale, however, through my own research efforts. Will I ever know the whole story? Probably not, since they are all gone. One thing is for sure, though. Just like the many thought-provoking puzzles Dad would challenge me with as a little girl, I am determined to puzzle this one out, too.



We are often defined by the perception of others. Friends, family, and sometimes foes, give us nicknames throughout our lives. Sometimes we choose one for ourselves. I don’t know of too many people who haven’t been christened with one nickname or another in their lifetime.

Nicknames come in a variety of sizes and shapes. They may be derivations of our given names, like “Johnny” for someone named Johnathan, for instance. Sometimes, our nicknames come from things we do, or ways we act around others, or how we look. Nicknames can range from sweet and endearing to downright cruel and rude. Many of them are given to us in our youth. Happily, most go by the wayside, but some remain with us into adulthood. If we consider the various nicknames we have had in our lifetime, perhaps we will see new tales to be told.

I can think of seven nicknames I have been given, only two of which continue to this day. My father had two nicknames for me–“Punkin” and “#3.” The first was probably because I was such a roly-poly baby, but the second was simply for his own ease, as he also would refer to my older sisters as, “#1” and “#2.” In elementary school, classmates shortened my name to “Mars,” but then turned it into a sing-song nickname, “Mars Candy Bars.” (I guess I was a chocolate lover even then.) I had two nicknames in middle school–“Pinky,” because I wore pink almost every day (my signature color), and “Hairy,” a name given to me by my teachers and principal because I often wore my bangs so long they couldn’t see my eyes. (It was 1964. Think, the Beatles.) In fact, the principal called me into his office for a lecture on my hair, the one and only time I was ever sent to the principal’s office!

The other two nicknames remain with me to this day. The first is a  sweet name my big sister gave me, “Marilee,” a blend of my first and middle names. The other nickname, “Mare,” a derivation of the first syllable of my name, was first used by my husband-to-be when we were dating. It has been used by friends and family members ever since.

What tales do your nicknames tell about you?



Family Names

Do you know why your parents named you as they did? Are you the namesake of one of your ancestors? Or, maybe a dear friend of the family? Is your name unique or unusual in some way? I didn’t find out about my name until just a few years before my father died (2004).

As I have researched my ancestry over the past 30+ years, I have seen how children in my family were often named for grandparents, aunts, uncles, and sometimes for a deceased sibling. My father, for instance, was named after both his father and his paternal grandfather, the latter being a point of bitter disdain throughout his adult life, but that’s another story altogether.  My mother was named for a maternal aunt and her maternal grandmother.

Where did my name, Marilyn, come from? I have not found it among the names of my ancestors, nor among those of their children. So, one day I finally asked my father for the story behind my name. He said that he named me after Marilyn Monroe.

I was born in November, 1952. At the time, my father was a mechanic in Hollywood. He often encountered celebrities at the local diner where he would take his lunch break or grab a cup of coffee. He told many tales of interacting with celebrities, either at the auto shop, or in the diner.  Marilyn Monroe was a big name in Hollywood in 1952, even gaining superstar status, thanks to the photo essay by Philippe Halsman for Life magazine that April. (You can read more about this at, So, I am sure her name came up in their conversations often.

Naming me after Marilyn Monroe does make sense to me, in light of the times and my dad’s experiences. It also makes sense, knowing that he named his first daughter (I am #3 and the baby), after Bonita Granville, another Hollywood actress of the 1930s and 1940s. Not sure what happened with naming my middle sister Carol, though. I was always told she was named after one of my father’s friends (first name Carl) hoping for a son. Maybe she was named after Clark Gable’s wife, Carol Lombard, though. Possible. Dad did have a connection with Clark Gable, but that’s another tale.



First Family Tree

Baby books are great sources of information about how one’s life began. Sure, there are dates and statistics galore, but there are also subtle tidbits. When we read the notes on the baby cards a young mother may have saved, we learn about relationships–friends and family–important people in our parents’ lives when we were born. A baby book often contains photos of us in our early days and provides us with glimpses into a time of our lives mostly hidden from our memory. Beyond all that, we may find our first family tree, complete with basic genealogical information of our near ancestors, perhaps to our great-grandparents, or beyond.

I was about eight when I first came across the family tree in my baby book. It was incomplete and raised questions in my young mind. For instance, my mother filled in names, dates, and places for my father’s side of the tree back to my great-grandparents, but she didn’t give any information for my great-grandparents on her side of the tree. Didn’t she know her own grandparents? Who were they? Then, there was the question of my paternal grandfather’s surname. It was different than my father’s. What did that mean? Didn’t children usually have the same last name as their father? I did. According to the family tree, my mother did. What happened in my father’s case?

This was my first experience with family history. The more I searched for answers, the more questions I would have for my parents. Some things, I learned, were not to be asked. Some questions may never be answered. But, that baby book lit a fire in my heart for knowing my ancestors. It showed the beginning of my tale and gave me a peek into how and where that tale began.

I encourage you to show your tale to your descendants. Give them the gift of heritage. Share it through baby books, photo albums, family trees, cookbooks, oral histories, journals, music, and more.