MY LAST NAME: Story Behind the Song
My name is Emily. My last name is Daniels. But it wasn’t always Daniels. That's right, I used to have a different legal last name. No, I’m not married. No, I'm not divorced. The truth is, my past is not pretty. The reason I changed my last name is because of my father.
Let me start at the beginning...
Growing up, I thought my life was pretty normal. On the outside, things looked picture-perfect actually. I’m the youngest of 3 kids, and my parents raised us up on Southern charm and Sunday school. They loved to host friends and family, and everyone thought we had it all together. However, inside that beautiful house when no one else was around, things looked a lot different and scary. My biological father wasn’t a nice man; he was mentally and emotionally abusive. You see, I thought it was “normal” for my father to not allow anyone else to speak during dinner because what he had to say was always more important. Or that it was “normal” for him to call me an idiot if I brought home a test that I’d only received a 98% on. It was “normal” for him to cut us, his family, down daily and make us believe we were worthless. It was even “normal” for him to scream at me when I rocked back in forth in the fetal position on the floor, crying and terrified while I watched him yell and throw things at my mom. I thought his behavior was normal father behavior, that all fathers were secretly like that behind closed doors.
When I was 16, my parents got divorced, and secrets he had been hiding throughout my whole life finally came out, which absolutely infuriated him; he has never owned up to his mistakes and instead claimed that we were all brainwashed and crazy. I was left deeply hurt and confused because I realized I never knew who this man truly was. People ask me if I think he changed, but truthfully, I think he’d been that way all along and had just been masking it. When the mask was finally taken off, I was terrified with the person I then saw because I didn’t know him at all. It's been 10 years since my biological father left and I haven’t seen or spoken to him since 2012.
It was a while until my mom started dating again. It was the summer before I went to college when she started dating Daniel, and I’ll admit that I was hesitant to trust him in the beginning because of the hurt caused by my own biological father, so why would this man be any different? Over time, he proved himself though, and I saw just how genuine he was and how well he treated and cared for my mom and I. Daniel may not be my father, but he's the father I never had. I lovingly call him my Faux Pa, and that’s so much better. They’ve been married for 7 years now, and he and I have grown close and bonded over a shared love of music.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve had time to reflect and grow as a person, artist, and writer. After all the years of being silenced, I decided it was finally time for me to speak my truth boldly. It’s not pretty, and it’s far from picture-perfect. But I believe sharing your story is powerful. You never know what people are going through and you don’t know how being vulnerable and open with your own messy story can help empower others who need it. I wrote “My Last Name” with Kelly Seidel and Hailey Verhaalen two years ago and began playing it out at live shows. Strangers would come up to me and share how they could personally relate to it. While that still breaks my heart because I would never wish that pain upon anyone, I’m so humbled and grateful that it’s helped even one person out there feel known and understood and, maybe, heal a little.
For the record, I don’t think all fathers are bad; in fact, quite the opposite. I see so many good ones out there, and I used to ask God why mine hadn’t been more like them. I can’t change the past, but I can decide how I will let it shape my life. I was able to take a stand and reclaim my name because my former last name had so many painful memories attached to it. I wanted to properly honor my stepdad Daniel and the role he’s played in my life, so I went to the courthouse in April 2019 and legally changed my last name to Daniels.
Nowadays, I smile when I introduce myself to people, “Hey, I’m Emily Daniels. It’s nice to meet you!”