Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Last Names

There's been some talk of late concerning the potential for empowerment in "keeping one's own name" after marriage or hyphenating or whatever. All of this sounds suspicious for the usual reasons which I won't bother too much about--the fact that the name a woman would "keep" was her father's name, which her mother took; the fact that being "empowered" in name is not necessarily the same as being empowered in reality, etc--but there are a few new ones I'd like to discuss.

The first one relates to the use of last names as first names--Walker, Hunter, Harper, Braden, Bradley, Apple, etc. While not a part of modern feminist chic, per sé, it seems useful to lump them together under the common heading of "name fads," the better to connect them to a third practice: the Spanish last-name-bonanza.

While studying literature over the summer, I was introduced to a writer named "Perez Galdós." Now, I wasn't paying very close attention that day, so I came away thinking what a stupid name "Perez Galdós" is. Wrong. The full name is "Benito Perez Galdos"--matronymic and patronymic. Of course, the "matronymic" comes from the father of the mother, but that doesn't stop most people nowadays, and it certainly didn't stop people back then. Furthermore, inherent in the name is a further tribute to the father: "Perez" basically means "Son of Pedro" the way "Benitez" means "Son of Benito" and "Mikhalovna" means "daughter of Michael" and so on.

I admit that, to a large extent we have lost the fight regarding the last-name-as-first-name. Hunter S. Thompson is here to stay. But I do believe there is some grit left in us to resist the substitution of a name that comes from one's father with a name that comes from one's grandfather.

After all, last names are fairly new things. In a small village it was enough to say "Andrew, son of Edmund, Cooper" or something similar. And everyone would know who you were because there weren't many coopers in town. Well, now we live in large villages and the burden of proof is on you to make yourself identifiable. So take a Jameson if your father's name is James. Take an Ericasdaughter if your mother's name is Erica. And keep your father's last name and come up with a new one. Mine would be Adam Stephen Robertson Katz (Katz, a Hebrew word, is, for reasons I don't wanna go into now, close enough to my current occupation I don't feel I need a new one).

The problem with "keeping your own name" is that it doesn't involve change or reassessment. It doesn't come from a new conception of yourself. If you want to be modern and do something modern with your name, ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING WITH YOURSELF, AND TAKE A NAME TO REFLECT THAT.

1 comment:

Samantha said...

There's something to be said for the idea that you identify with your name, first middle and last, from birth. Every time your name is called at the doctor's office or you're picked last at sports or whatever else, that's your name. YOUR name, which your father and mother chose to give you, regardless of its origins. In asking someone else to change their name, you're asking them to change who they are. Young Mr. Shoemaker was called shoemaker from birth because it was assumed that he would go into his father's profession. Given our vocational freedom, at what point do we choose to change our path?

It's interesting how your argument aligns with the marital standard. But does marrying a man constitute doing something with yourself sufficient for a name change, overriding any other identity? That's dangerous.

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