I always wanted a name that I loved. My maiden name, Palmer, never fit me. Maybe because I knew it was chosen by random, and we didn’t know what our real name was. After they landed in New York, my great-grandfather Morris and one of his brothers Samuel settled in Middletown, CT where there was a big factory called “I.E. Palmer Company.” Morris and Samuel adopted the name “Palmer,” and after being peddlers for a while, built their own business—Palmer Bros.—which sold men’s clothing. You could change your name with ease back then—no fussy paperwork or money involved.
I never met Morris. I did know my Gram, my great grandmother Sarah, Morris’s wife. She had an open-door policy for her six children, their spouses, her fifteen grandchildren (my dad was her first) and too many great-grandchildren to count. There was always a pot of soup or stew on the stove, and a freshly baked pie on the counter for anyone who stopped by.
Sarah’s last name, which my father has traced back 5 generations so far, was Wolfe. In the old country (now part of Poland) and on various documents, Gram’s family name was spelled umpteen different ways—Wolf, Wolff, Wolfe, Woolf, and even Volf. In those days, you could make anything up—from the spelling of your name to your age. (Did I mention I’m 29?) I think I liked Gram’s last name because I liked Gram. And it seemed like everyone else liked her too. With a house full of family and pies, what more could you ask for?
Names fascinate me. In 1991, I got married and my name became Rachel Schaeffer. In Hebrew, Rachel means ewe, a female sheep. Schaeffer, depending on your source, means “manager/steward of the head of household” or I was told “shepherd”—someone who tends sheep or steers them in a direction.
I had never liked the idea of taking one’s husband’s name. But somehow during my engagement, I decided I would, since I did like the idea of a family sharing a name. When I divorced 16 years later, I kept the name Schaeffer to keep things stable and make things easier for my son and myself.
I never felt like a Palmer or a Schaeffer. When I began writing novels, my best friend and I began discussing under what name I would publish. Another friend suggested I make up a name. My immediate reaction was, “Of course not. That’s weird.” But as the years moved on and my son grew older, I began to acknowledge how much I had changed. I worked hard to transform old limiting beliefs and patterns. I asked my son how he would feel if we had different last names and he was fine with it, understanding that love’s connection is not bound by anything, certainly not a name. I researched our family history, and kept coming back to the name of my great-grandmother, Wolfe.
I loved the name and the animal symbolism. Wolves are intuitive, fierce, committed to their pack, intelligent, brilliant communicators, wild and free. Their power and presence is known to affect ecological processes—and although they kill many animals for food, they give life to many others. It has been discovered that wolves don’t just transform the ecosystem, they also impact the physical geography—changing the behavior of the rivers, for instance.
Re-naming myself feels at once strange but also like coming home. Being a Palmer was a gift of family love, while Schaeffer brought me my son. I wasn’t always a Wolfe, but that’s who I’ve developed into, and who I’m becoming. Now is the time for being a Wolfe.