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What’s in a name?

Ancestor’s desire to stand out proves common for grandchild

Staff writer

Because of his ancestry, Phil Smith’s name probably should be Phil Peterson.

Along with 15 or 16 other Peterson families, Phil’s Swedish great-grandfather settled in the Burdick community in the 1800s.

Phil’s grandfather, Axel Peterson, wanted to distinguish his family from the other Petersons, so he decided to change the family name to Smith.

Phil said his father, Percy Smith, got haircuts from Steve Winchester in Marion. Steve once asked him, “How do you get along with all of them old Swedes up there?”

“Well, I’m one of them,” Percy had replied, and told him the story of the family’s name change.

The new surname may have worked in the Burdick community, but not so much in the broader world.

When Percy and his wife, Lorene, had their first son, they named him John, a familiar name on his mother’s side.

John eventually lived in Wichita.

“There were two pages of John Smiths in the telephone directory,” Phil said.

So much for getting away from a common name.

Phil lives in the Flint Hills southeast of Lincolnville, just a couple of miles from the county line, on a homestead that was settled by his mother’s family in 1870.

He said even though there were many Petersons around Burdick, his family was not related to most of them.

The two people he claims as Peterson relatives are the late Galen Peterson and Gloria Peterson Martin.

Smith is not the only county resident to switch surnames, but Johnson’s is the legacy of a simple mistake.

Dale Johnson of Marion was born Dale Johnston, but because of a misspelling on his enlistment papers when he joined the army, his last name became Johnson and remains so to this day.

Last modified March 4, 2021

 

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