November 15, 2010

What is in a name?

I would like to apologize for the random late manner that this article has been written. I have been having really strange computer problems that have just been wholly dealt with this week. I promise my articles will be posted in a more timely fashion. Also—I have sent out mental cupcakes to all of you (vegan and gluten-free are available).

I was stumped. After weeks of computer problems (broken power cords, messed up batteries and shipping mishaps) I turned on my computer for the first time only to realize that the three articles I had written previously were erased, gone into the void of the computer’s motherboard.

I spent a few days trying to figure out a witty and decent thing to write about and found myself…blocked. I was getting pretty frustrated with the whole ordeal when I received a message on Facebook from my dear and talented friend Alysa.  She said that she had been driving to work when a brilliant idea for an article popped into her head and she wanted to share. Interested and dying for inspiration, I asked her what it was.  Names, she told me, hyphenating and changing surnames after marriage and what I think about the whole debacle.  My mind poked at the idea for a bit and then decided to dive in.

“Hey,” I asked my friend Jamie, “If we were to get married and I wanted to keep my name would you let me?”

“That’s a dumb question.”

“No, really. If I wanted to change my name, or keep it or even make you have my surname…what would you think?”

He looked at me for a moment as if I had completely lost my mind, “Is this really a question? It’s just a name. I would take yours, mine, or a mixture of the both. Heck! Let’s just make up our own last name!”

(Which we preceded to do—Odinson was the name we eventually came up with.)

Right away I found myself having no opinion on this subject. I suppose it was something I never thought about—I mean a name is just letters in a specific placement, right? I don’t exactly plan on walking down that marriage aisle, so this whole idea of changing my name never came up. I guess it is easy to ignore something when you never plan on dealing with it. My mind is more obsessed with the current state of Doctor Who (Curses on Matt Smith!) and crocheting than it is about marriage.

Yeah, I know—I am a nerd.

I still found this idea interesting, but I wanted to have some input on it, so I created a small survey and asked my friends to take it and as I went through the answers over the weekend I found myself learning a thing or two…and having to calm myself down at times.  Out of the people who were surveyed men were more open to hyphenating the names, or letting her retain her surname than women were. Most of the men explained it in the same way Jamie did—it is just a name, get over it.

Women, in general, explained that they liked the idea of tradition and giving up their name out of love for him. Some (women) explained that they felt their religion called them to change their surname as “two become one.”  My father, being a pastor for 20 something years, had to help me understand that one. We went through the Bible together and found nothing on name changes and marriage. We found verses and chapters on marriage, of course, but nothing like I expected to find. I asked him when we were done, if God ordains that the woman shall take the man’s last name. He laughed at me and said “Did you read that anywhere in that book? It’s just some tradition someone at some time made up. I doubt God thinks it is a sin to keep your original last name.”

I was still pretty unconvinced about this whole thing. It seemed like people had the answers they wanted and they were sticking to them, which didn’t bother me at all. Then there were the answers that made me accidentally knock over my coffee when I read. There were only two answers, one male and one female, that caused this reaction of violent and messy proportions. One man claimed that any man willing to change or hyphen his last name was not a man at all and was in fact gay and a woman disclosed she felt that any woman unwilling to give up her maiden name was being selfish. And then came the kicker, the answer I didn’t think would happen, but I expected—the gender card.  (Is anyone else rolling their eyes with me?) Women are supposed to take the man’s name and men are supposed to take in the woman. No one knows why exactly.

It’s like that answer I hated so often when I was young, “Because I said so, that’s why.”

That’s not really an answer, by the way. That is an excuse one uses when they want to sound wholly correct to a whiney 7 year old who keeps asking questions that no one can answer, or in this case, a probing 21 year old who keeps asking questions that no one thinks about.

Well, I had my answers from people who had thought about this, but that wasn’t good enough for me so I did some additional research on the internet and in a few books. I thought that everywhere in the world was the same- all women took their husband’s surname after marriage- I was completely and utterly wrong. It is pretty centralized to English speaking countries, and even then some of them do not do it. Most of Asia, Middle East, South America and parts of the Europe women (either by tradition or legal standards) are expected to keep their surname. In some places it is even common for the mother’s surname to be passed along through the family, instead of the father’s.  I also found that it is common in many English speaking countries for the woman to retain her surname but to also tack on the husband’s surname, sometimes this is done by making the wife’s surname into her middle name and other times it is just done by hyphenating the two names.

“So, wait a minute,” I thought as I was munching on a banana, “If this isn’t even a worldwide phenomena, then what is the big deal here? Since when did tradition become truth?”

Ah, and there it was- my bright, shining moment of understanding. Suddenly the girl who had nothing to say on this subject has much to say.  I remembered Christmas and how worked up people get during the holiday seasons-it is almost like war where I live!  I tend to say “Happy Holidays” up until a week before Christmas because, heck, there is more than one holiday in the winter season. When it is near Christmas I say “Merry Christmas” to people. Also, I celebrate three holidays during the holiday seasons- St. Nicolas Day ( Dec. 6) ,Yule/Solstice (Dec. 21), and Christmas (Dec. 25). I don’t run around screaming at people on the 6th or 21st if they say “Merry Christmas “ to me instead of the actually holiday it is, but that is mainly because I don’t care.  It is only a holiday…Only tradition, but some people do care! I find houses with signs sticking out of them proclaiming Baby Jesus is upset that you took away his birthday, and then there are other people who glare at me if I so much as whisper “Happy Holidays”.

Now, I know you are probably wondering what this has to do with names, so I shall stop wishing it was the Holiday season all ready and just explain. Most of these people who get worked up do so not because they feel like you are trying to ruin a silly tradition; they do it because they feel like you are trying to tear apart their truth. Somehow, over time, traditions morphed from something fun and slightly meaningless to a huge deal with hidden meanings and a big slice of the truth nestled in it. I’m not trying to say that traditions don’t have their nuggets of truth, I am sure they do, but when you replace tradition with truth you are ultimately saying that anyone who doesn’t do as your tradition does is wrong or weird…and that’s just not kosher.

Listen, I don’t care if you want to keep your surname, change it, mash it up, hyphen it, or get a new one all together. If a woman wants to keep her surname that does not make her selfish and if she wants to take on the man’s that doesn’t make her stupid. If a man wants to give up his for his wife that does not make him any less and if he wants to keep his that certainly does not make him dominating. If a man wants to take his wife’s last name how in the world does that make him less of a man?  Most of the guys who answered my quiz said that they felt if they did change their last name they would get mocked by people. That is something that blows my mind.  That is completely and utterly you and your partner’s choice and no one has any right to decide that they know what is better for you. Just remember that any time you do break tradition you will have those who gawk at you for long periods of time and it is a bit creepy.  While no one in the whole world as the right to judge you for something as small as a name change, it won’t stop petty people from doing it.

When we take tradition and mold it in the “The Truth” we are sorely misguided.  When we mock, look down on, or sneer at people who decide to go outside of that tradition I think we need to examine ourselves.  Tradition definitely has a place, and while I am not a fan of many traditions there are some I adore and would be sad if they all but disappeared.  We need to realize that our traditions are not everyone else’s and that those who follow a different path are not wrong or weird. It’s just a name, and it is only a tradition- not the universal truth. You shall not blow up into a million pieces of awkwardly shaped confetti if you decide to do something different.

What about me? Well, if I do get married I think I may hyphen my name, I like the idea of sharing names, or I just may keep my own name. This could make me a Lucy Stoner… Hell, I could just change it to something awesome like Gallifrey. Yeah, I went there.

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