Tuesday, January 19, 2010

End of an Era

A few weeks ago I found myself registering to vote in MA.

I have come to realize that I will never know as much about MA politics as I know about CA. That may not be true for most people, but I am not most people. I have lived and breathed state and local politics for my entire life. It was spoon-fed to me as a child along with my baby food. I knew aspiring city council and state assembly members before I could walk. Maybe that’s why I started talking so early. In any case, California politics is in my blood.

And yet, here I am. Living in MA. No longer in a position to argue that my permanent residence is in CA. I still hope to return there someday. Until then, I am obligated to learn more about the politics of the place I live. Which at the moment, is MA.

And so, today, for the first time I voted on a non-CA ballot, in a special election for the MA US Senate seat, and the whole country is watching. I don’t know what’s going to happen…we’ll find out soon enough. But for the moment, it’s nice to know that my vote matters.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sunkist Miss by any other name

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.” – Anne Shirley in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

So, then, what did Sunkist Miss decide to do about her hyphenated name when she got married, and why?

Short answer: I kept my name. My husband kept his name. We will give our kids hyphenated names. Don’t worry, they will only have one hyphen. It will be my_mom’s_name-his_dad’s_name.

Longer answer: I couldn’t see myself getting changing my name. My name is very tied into my identity. This is perhaps true for different people to different degrees. For me it is certainly the case.

That said, I really want to feel like the (hypothetical) kids have a family name, not just one of their parent’s names. Because of this desire to have an identifiable family-name it was also important to me to decide ahead of time what we would plan on naming our hypothetical children; after all, depending on the answer it might affect what I wanted to do with my name. This is because the answer that would be most unacceptable to me would be to keep my name but give my kids only my husband’s name.

I felt that the kids’ names should be identifiable (which is not to say identical) with the names of both parents. After all, that’s what my parents did and it worked well for us. We clearly had a family name, people could easily identify us with our parents by name, and yet they each kept their own name. As an added benefit, my cousins also had hyphenated names, so our names were also identifiable with theirs. I liked this idea in theory, although I would also have been fine with an option where we all chose to have the same hyphenated name as each other (but that didn’t make sense for us for a variety of reasons). Both of these answers (in contrast with the more traditional everyone, or everyone except mom, takes dad’s name) recognize that both parents are independent individuals with their own histories and identities coming together to make a new family identity. Neither of them is wholly subsumed by the other, nor do they remain completely independent.

Longer Still: Ask me in person. :)

PS. I was talking about this with a friend recently, who is also thinking about what to do with her name when she gets married. But there’s an added twist. She’s German, and apparently in Germany if you are not taking your husband's name you have to declare what your children’s last-name will be when you get your marriage-license. Now there’s some added pressure! I actually wanted to think about this up-front myself, because I felt that what I named my kids and what I did with my own name were not independent of each other, but it certainly wasn’t required by law!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Responding to hyphen-aversion

The most frequent reasoning I hear as to why hyphenated names are not viable, goes something like this:

Hyphenated names are impractical. Sure, it works for one generation; but what will your kids do? It doesn’t work after one generation! And, by the way, you think you’re being all cool and feminist, but really it’s still patriarchal cause the names obviously came from mom’s dad and dad’s dad. *Snicker*.

Ack. How aggravatingly naïve, condescending, and anti-feminist (anti-progress, really) to boot. Also, if I’m okay with the name I was given, why do you need to try to tear it down? It’s not your problem.

Anyways, with regard to point 1 (hyphenated names only work for 1 generation): Dude, trust your kids more than that! People are creative. A hyphenated name gives you more options to play with not less. I know people who grew up with the whole family having the father's name, people who grew up with only their mother having her name, people who grew up with hyphenated names, and some even more creative solutions. Now those same people are grown up and getting married. Some of them have kept their name, some have taken their husband's name, some have hyphenated, and some have created new / hybrid names. All of these are equally possibilities for people who start out with hyphenated names and those who do not. The difference is simply that those who grew up with hyphenated names generally thought more carefully about their choices, because they grew up knowing there was more than one possibility. Seriously, no matter what you name your kids, they'll figure out what to do with it when they grow up – whether or not you want them to.

Point 2 (mom’s name is really patriarchal too) really makes me want to yell. Set aside names for a moment -- is that really how you view the world? Is no progress possible on anything? So, what, because things were screwed up in the past I’m supposed to passively sit by and let that past dictate my future? I don’t think so! Yes, most last names are patriarchal. And yes, I can’t change the past. But I can change the future. And if my mother gave me her name, and if I pass it along, etc, that’s history in the making right there. The name doesn’t lose its past, but it does gain new layers of meaning and significance.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What's in a name?

What do you do with your name when you get married? It’s a very personal question, and yet it’s bigger than that. Do you hyphenate? If so, in what order, and do all of you hyphenate, or just your offspring? Do you keep your name, but give your kids another (an answer I’ve seen a lot among professional women)? Do you create a new name? Or go with the traditional patriarchal answer? If you pick any answer but the last, you can expect questions and judgments, and they don’t end.

Now, add a new layer to the question. Your parents were liberal feminists ready to change the world. They gave you a hyphenated name. Now you’re going-on-30 and getting married. What do you do? The world wants to know. Welcome to my life. For as long as I can remember people have been asking me what I’ll do with my name when I get married (and before that they asked my parents!!). Seriously, this has been going on since before I was born! It has always annoyed me that people think this is appropriate behavior when they wouldn’t ask that of an acquaintance of similar closeness who did not happen to have a hyphenated name.* So I coyly answered, “you’ll find out when I get married.” When I got engaged, I stuck to the same response I’d used since childhood.

As it turns out, one of the nice things about having a hyphenated name to start with is that fewer people simply assume that you changed your name when you get married -- they actually ask! After all, you were clearly raised in a weird multi-named feminist environment, and people have been asking for your whole life, so you've probably put some thought into it.

*(Yes, sometimes there was genuine curiosity, but frequently it was tinged with a “Ha! See you and your silly feminist parents – you’re stuck now!” sentiment.)