Sunday, November 12, 2006

Surnames Part 4 (of 4): Names and Identity

My friend Melyngoch, who is the recurring motif of this series, intends to keep her last name when and if she gets married. Another friend, Jessica Benet, kept her last name when she got married (but honestly, who'd want to be called Jessicawill?), and if I'm not mistaken, Marcia kept hers too. (Lauryn Hill, who is the recurring motif of this blog and my life, doesn't count because she and Rohan Marley were never legally married. Or maybe she counts even more because that's how much she scoffs at patriarchal society.) No doubt there are several other women I know and respect who chose not to take their husbands' last names or don't intend to do so if they get married. This is not one of those "I respect them despite the fact that..." things; the truth is that I am secretly envious of them. I find the practice quite sound and indeed very cool. Part of me wishes I could be a woman who kept my last name when I got married. As fate and chromosomes would have it, though, I am stuck being a man who kept his last name when he got married, which isn't nearly as cool.

I would not call myself a feminist, as I am not educated enough in the history and theories of the movement(s) to deserve the title, but I would not hesitate to call myself a wannabe feminist, insofar as feminism strives for gender equality. In the name of gender equality, then, I'm all for women and men having their own last names.

At the same time, though, I see the practical and symbolic advantage of two married partners sharing the same last name. On the practical side, you have the ease of only having to remember one name for the entire family, and the space-saving considerations on post cards. And let's not forget the children: if the first generation has to deal with two last names (Fob-J), the second will have to deal with four (Fob-J-Steed-Thmazing) and the third with eight, and so on. As for the symbolic advantage of having a single name, there's something to be said for family unity, for two individuals becoming one flesh.

The problem is that tradition asks that the one flesh represented by that single last name be that of the husband's, which is clearly unfair. Perhaps the solution is to take the wife's name as the family name. But how is that any better? Replacing one unfair binary (male over female) with another (female over male) is not progress; it's revenge.

I like the course taken by Silly Marie's brother and sister-in-law, who have each taken the other's last name, making a hyphenated family name. But then this takes us back to the problem of that great-great-grandkid with sixteen last names (thirty-two when she marries).

There's always the example of Theric and Lady Steed, who have merged their blogonyms to create a single fictional surname, Thteed, but that is not always practical in reality, and then there's the issue of genealogical continuity and extended family unity. On the other hand, it's not like I feel any less connected to my sisters who have a different last name, either by birth or marriage, than to my brother who shares my last name.

Ultimately, a name is a name is a name. I care less about what you call yourself than about who you are. Which, I believe, is what FoxyJ was thinking when she decided to take my last name. If you're concerned about her identity being consumed in mine, take a look at her blog, where she has talked about being the wife of a gay man in maybe eight to ten posts out of 276, compared to my blog, where I talk about being a married gay man in about one out of every eight posts. FoxyJ's identity is defined not by her husband's identity but by her interest in books, current events, and social criticism; her struggle with the conflicting demands of academia and motherhood; by a capacity for strong emotion and the intellectual capability to step back from those emotions and analyze them critically; and by the love she has for the people in her life. Call her FoxyJ Fob, Jessie Christensen, or Faye Frome; she's the same person. If either of our identities has been radically altered by our marriage, it's mine, and it's for the better.

And it's nice to know that, should we ever decide that it was a bad idea to put our name out on the internet and on Fox13 News and in the Salt Lake Tribune, we can always fall back on hers. So if Master Fob mysteriously drops off the map some day, don't dismay; just look for Master J at the Jcave.

13 comments:

Th. said...

.

Not Found

The requested URL was not found on this server. Please visit the Blogger homepage or the Blogger Knowledge Base for further assistance.

Anonymous said...

This post is amazing because your line of reasoning parallels almost exactly our conversation when we got married. We thought about me taking her name, we thought about hyphenating, we thought about just leaving her name alone and giving our kids alternating last names (one hers, then one mine, etc.. Twins with different last names... awesome)

Ultimately I persuaded her to see things my sexist way. For the sake of avoiding 32 hyphenated last names (and the lifetimes of bubble-sheeted chaos) and the sake of family solidarity, we would choose one last name and give each of our children a name that had significance from the other side of the family to have a literal heritage from both sides. I don't remember how we decided on my last name for the family, but it was ultimately her choice. I think there's value to compromise between conventional and conscientious and that's where we found it. There's probably more to the story than that, but you get the idea.

Silly Marie said...

My neices actually don't have hyphenated names as far as I know. Just the parents. The girls both go by Waterman but have Smith as a second middle name.

Anonymous said...

Miki has fairly demanded at times that I take her former surname, something I'm actually considering ... for some point, later on, down the road.

The Ugly Swan said...

Sometimes, it's nice to think that there are some decisions you will never have to make.

Melyngoch said...

I'm certainly flattered to be your recurring motif, even if it is in the context of being called to repentance.

And I have given serious thought to the possiblity that both Mr. Melyngoch and I will simply adopt a third last name, native to neither of us. Skarstedt or Rimeheaf, for instance.

Master Fob said...

When did I call you to repentance?

I like Skarstedt. You and Mr. Melyngoch could, of course, both legally change your last name to Fob, which is not a bad idea for all who profess friendship to me.

Melyngoch said...

http://fobcave.blogspot.com/2006/11/surnames-part-2-of-4-i-am-not-my-hair.html

Earth Sign Mama said...

Well, then!! It turns out that, I, old-fashioned farm girl, am the most forwardthinking of all!! Or just a complete ditz...you can't imagine the envelopes I've had to tear up that got addressed to FOBBIE and FOXYJ {maiden name) because I wrote it through habit...doh!! I started putting FoxyJ first so that the pencil didn't just write what sounded natural after her name.

Master Fob said...

Mel--Well sure, there's that, but goodness, that was days ago. Stop living in the past, woman!

skyeJ said...

I've always secretly wanted to marry a man who was a HUGE Star Wars fan, and who's last name was Walker. Then, I could be his DREAM WIFE. Skye Walker. That would be SO fun for the rest of my life! I think whatever my last name is, it will always be overshadowed by my first name. That will always define who I really am. Not some boring old weird word that sounds like an elephant fart.

skyeJ said...

aak! Whose. Whose last name was Walker. Aakk!! I'm forgetting how to speak English!!! Darn this Tashelheit stuff. Darn this stuff.

JB said...

You know, Lunkwill was going to take my name when we got married. Not for revenge, but because we're weird like that. However, he was getting his PhD at the time and had published with his last name several times, so we figured that'd be a terrible idea. So I thought about taking his name. And then I just never did and it really suited me not to. . . In case you were wondering. . .