Home > culture/society, gender issues > What’s in a Name? Part II-B

What’s in a Name? Part II-B

Thursday, July 26, 2012, 21:26 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

I have two previous blog entries entitled, “What’s in a Name?” The first one, from 2004, was prompted by the name change of a residence and nursing home for Connecticut veterans; the second, a 2009 post, addressed the issue of married women’s changing their names. Allow me to revisit the latter topic, with a twist.

Glenn Reynolds has a link today to this NPR article about what happens when people with hyphenated last names get married. Entitled “When Hyphen Boy Meets Hyphen Girl, Names Pile Up,” it looks at a few couples wrestling with their own surnames and, in one case, their children’s.

Hyphenating has waned since its peak in the ’80s and ’90s, in part, experts say, because it’s become less of a feminist statement and more of a bureaucratic nightmare.

But also — as most “hyphens” will now tell you — it wasn’t really sustainable anyway. Hyphenating was destined to hit a wall after one generation.

[ . . . ]

Growing up, he was always teased about his name, Ian [McKenna-Thomas] says. The big joke — what would he do if he married another hyphen? — was less humorous when it happened.

“So, sure enough, we had the potential of being the McKenna-Thomas Camera-Smith household,” Ian says. “Which sounded too much like a law firm, really.”

The article goes on to the next step: what surname to give children of a couple who each has a hyphenated last name.

As usual, the Den Mother has an opinion, along with a sensible and very egalitarian solution. Hyphenate the matrilineal name from the mother and the patrilineal name from the father. For example:

How to handle hyphenated surnamesJane Jones and Robert Doe have a daughter, Marie. Susan Smith and John Roe have a son, David. Marie and David have a baby, Terry. Rather than naming the baby Terry Jones-Doe-Smith-Roe, they give the baby the mother’s mother’s name and the father’s father’s name: Terry Jones-Roe. If Terry (a unisex name) is a boy, then he will pass on to his children the “Roe” part of his name; if a girl, she will pass on the “Jones” part.

But Den Mother, you protest, that completely ignores the mother’s father! But, I respond, the “traditional” way, where the baby gets only his or her father’s father’s surname, does the same thing. It also ignores the father’s mother and the mother’s mother. But not every family name can be preserved in every child. By tradition, a man passed along his family name through sons. My way, the mother has the same chance through daughters. If the father’s father’s surname is good enough to perpetuate, so is the mother’s mother’s surname.

Besides, if you go back far enough, the matrilineal name was once a patrilineal name, because Jane Jones and Susan Smith got their father’s surnames. Thus, my solution has something for feminists and sexists. Everybody wins!

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