McGovern: Switch of last names makes life easierMatt McGovern is well aware of the legacy and impact his last name carries. But that’s not why it’s his last name, he said. McGovern, the state director of Repower South Dakota, was born in 1972 as Matthew McGovern-Rowen. It was the year his grandfather, longtime South Dakota representative and senator George McGovern, was the Democratic nominee for president.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Matt McGovern is well aware of the legacy and impact his last name carries. But that’s not why it’s his last name, he said.
McGovern, the state director of Repower South Dakota, was born in 1972 as Matthew McGovern-Rowen. It was the year his grandfather, longtime South Dakota representative and senator George McGovern, was the Democratic nominee for president.
Young Matt was on the cover of Life magazine during the campaign. “It was my 15 minutes of fame,” he said with a smile during an interview at The Daily Republic office recently.
Growing up in Wisconsin, “everybody always knew me as Matt McGovern,” he said. His parents, Susan McGovern and James Rowen, agreed on a hyphenated last name for their children.
He said he was called Matt McGovern because of the MM sound. In addition, a hyphenated name confused some people.
After graduating from law school, he served as a law clerk for U.S. District Chief Judge Karen Schreier in Rapid City. When he launched his legal career, he changed his name to Matt Rowen McGovern and received his parents’ blessing for the change.
“My dad is fine with it,” McGovern said.
As a young lawyer in South Dakota, the last name McGovern was an easy way to stand out. “When you’re practicing law, that’s kind of your brand — your last name,” he said.
There are other advantages to changing from a hyphenated last name to a single, recognizable name, McGovern said.
He used to lose his dry cleaning at times, and once almost had to have a second round of immunizations before going to law school because records were misplaced.
Now, as Matt McGovern, that’s been less of a problem. His name is recognized in South Dakota, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin, where he grew up. McGovern lived in Rapid City for four years before moving to Sioux Falls two years ago.
Sometimes, after hearing his name, people around the country ask him if he’s related to George McGovern.
“Usually positive, sometimes negative,” McGovern said. “You can’t please everybody.”
It does bother him when he hears people say all politicians are crooked. When he was a kid, that always got his attention, he said.
“I’d say, ‘That’s not right. Grandpa George’s not a crook,’ ” McGovern said.
While he’s taken some heat for the name change, he said his brother was criticized when he ran for office in Wisconsin under his real name, Sam McGovern-Rowen.
He has never sought elected office, although he’s been around politics, working in the Obama campaign in Iowa and South Dakota in 2008 and now serving as state director of the advocacy group.
He said he may run for office someday, but it’s not on the front burner right now. Promoting clean energy is his primary interest.
“I think it’s a chance for me to do something to help South Dakota,” McGovern said.