Storlie – What’s With the Name?

800px-Norwegian_valleyPeople frequently ask me about my last name, “Storlie,” and my company name, “Storlietelling.” I guess it starts in grade school . . .

As I set off for school with my older sister, Cindy, I heard the neighborhood kids shouting, “There’s Cindy Big Meadow!” and chanting, “Jean Big Meadow!” I shrunk away, confused and embarrassed, while Cindy went off to figure out what was up. She came back to explain that our neighbors’ Norwegian grandma was visiting. Their grandma had told them that “stör” means “big,” and “li” is a valley or meadow. I learned that in Norway, the oldest son would inherit the family farm and the younger sons would be sent off to find a new home. Often, they would take the name of the new land they settled.This new understanding about my name transformed children’s taunts into pleasant images of my ancestors’ pastoral homeland.

I struggled about whether I would change my name when I got married. For a month or so after our wedding, I used Storlie in my professional world and my husband’s name in personal circles. But my two worlds were blurred, and soon it became evident that I needed to choose. After a colleague used my married name in a communication she sent to a large distribution list, I felt my Storlie identity slipping – that was when I decided that my name would continue to be Jean Storlie.

The day I got laid off from a corporate job, I started brainstorming names for the new business I planned to launch. I wanted a simple, clever name – yet, something that evokes who I am. My husband, a patent attorney, joined my brainstorming and searched the web to determine if our ideas were available. Everything I liked was taken. This process continued for several weeks as my friends and colleagues offered their ideas. One colleague’s feedback was that she views me as a builder/connector. Liz Gerlach, my friend in Brand Design, urged me to play off of Storlie, but I shrank away from her suggestion, thinking that she meant for me to put my last name in front of “consulting,” “strategies,” or “associates,” which I thought was  too ordinary.

Anxious to make a decision, so I could move on with the business start-up, I was pondering my naming challenge as my husband and I gathered with some friends for an evening boat cruise on Lake Minnetonka. I shared my challenge with our good friend and creative thinker, Doug Benson, while we carried gear onto the boat. He set his cooler down, looked at me, and asked, “Have you thought of something really simple, like ‘Storlietelling?’” In a flash, Doug had nailed it.

So let’s explore some bigger truths these stories might reveal about names, identity, and purpose.

  • Meaning in a Name – Since I was a young girl, I’ve imagined that my ancestors lived in a beautiful, big meadow surrounded with wooded hillsides. The adventurous journey of a young man finding his place in the world also intrigued me. I imagined that my Storlie ancestors, who immigrated to America in the 1800s, brought their “stor li” spirit of adventure to find peace and prosperity in new meadows and valleys in Minnesota and Wisconsin. My childhood fairytale omits the hardship, struggle, and loss that these stalwart settlers surely faced. But maybe that’s ok … because starry-eyed optimism propels us to face the unknown. Aspirational sentiments like this are the seeds of a moving brand story. When naming a business, a brand, a project, (or even your boat), explore the stories behind family names and perhaps you’ll find some inspiration.
  • Who You Are – In my three name crises, I learned the value of having clarity around my personal identity: Starting when the kids chanted “Jean Big Meadow” to my decision to keep my maiden name and, eventually, to finding my business name. When I embraced my name and my roots, I found resolution, insight, and purpose. According to Annette Simmons, a “who I am” story is one of six stories that can build your credibility and trust. Personal identity is often intertwined with your name … did you experience a moment of truth when your name and identity clicked?
  • Don’t Overthink It – Doug’s wise words, “Have you thought about something really simple, like …” laid out the solution that had been eluding me for weeks. I had taken Liz’s advice too literally. As I look back on the notes from our brainstorm, I see that she was connecting “Storlie” to “story” and the spirit of my brand. I didn’t see it because I was looking at my challenge too analytically. The right brain needs playfulness and freedom. Sometimes we need to go watch a sunset on the lake to find our answers.

Somewhere in the start-up of Storlietelling, I started my journey into storytelling: a course that has transformed my consulting work and taken my passion for stories to a new level. Finding the right company name gave me a new compass and meaning for my work.



  1. Anisa on February 22, 2016 at 6:55 am

    Barbara-Jean Blood Posted on Your a great inspiration, you have guts and your such a sonrtg person, I know where you came from, I know where your going, you can do anything you put your mind too, and I love you <3

  2. Georgia Kostas on November 4, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    Jean, another good “storlie” about names. You got me thinking about my own name. “Geo” means “earth” and “George” means “working the earth, as a farmer” and “gia” comes from a Greek word for “health” – “eyia” ( “ee-yee-a”) which is the root word of “hygiene”.
    I guess I was destined to “work in the field” of nutrition, loving that which grows from the earth ( food, plants, flowers, trees) and is good for our health. What’s in a name? As with you, maybe a vocation awaiting us.
    Georgia Kostas, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

    • Jean Storlie on November 5, 2015 at 12:46 pm

      Georgia — I love how you connected the meaning behind your name to your vocation. It really suits you! Thanks for the comment!
      Best, Jean

  3. Terry benson on October 2, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    faw kinn are don’t you just love that doug benson. I hear his sister made him the man he is today. You should really take her on your boat. I hear it’s really nice..

    • Jean Storlie on October 13, 2015 at 4:35 pm

      Terry — He owes it all to you! We’ll get you on the boat next summer. Cheers!

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