Friday, August 14, 2009

What's in a (woman's) name?

This Feministing post talks about how 70% of American women think wives should take their husbands' names and 50% think it should be a legal obligation. I was surprised to read that the law has intervened in cases where the husband wanted to take the wife's last name, where the parents wanted to give their child the mother's last name, and even where the parents wanted the child to have a hyphenated last name.

While I'm not sure I trust these numbers, I have been surprised how the people I went to school with who get married take their husband's last name. My one friend explained to me that she thought it was a nice way to express her love. I'm not sure how I feel about this--it would be if she told me she thought staying home with the kids would be a nice way to express her love. While it is nice that she loves her spouse so much, I would hope that she considers more than just her desire to please him when making such a decision. Especially since changing one's name often has more permanent effects than exiting the workforce for one to n years, it is a pretty big sacrifice to take someone else's last name.

Maybe in second grade I thought for two minutes it might be cool to be Mrs. So-and-So, but the idea of changing my name doesn't make too much sense to me anymore. Also, while I see how deciding on a single name (rather than a hyphenated name) for the children in a family might make their lives easier, in this day and age the choice of propagating the man's name seems fairly arbitrary.

6 comments:

Yang said...

+1 for keeping your last name 'yang'

Joe said...

Hyphenated names don't scale. See, e.g., the classic paper by Dijkstra and Smith-Johnson-Williams-Taylor-Anderson...

Eiriq said...

Having both spouses keep their own name, or combining childrens' names into a hypenathed surname, is only postponing the problem, though. Sooner or later, as names are passed down generations, one name must be picked over the other, or they will grow arbitrarily long.

The only "fair" naming algorithm I can come up with that doesn't depend on coin flips would be to have all sons take their mother's surname and all daughters take their father's surname. (We could do it the opposite way as well, but that would eventually lead to primarily male vs. female surnames.)

Though I'd say there's some merit to having the entire family share one name. In that case coin flip would be the only solution (though there could just be one big national coin flip to settle the case...)

Eiriq said...

-1 for spelling errors, me.

Claire said...

Having been raised in a family wherein the members possess a multitude of (mostly arbitrary) last names, I can assure the universe that failing to share a common last name affects family unity and happiness not one whit.

Eiriq said...

Actually, the Icelenders figured it out. Daughters are called
"${DAUGHTERS_GIVEN_NAME} ${MOTHERS_GIVEN_NAME}daughter" while sons are called "${SONS_GIVEN_NAME} ${FATHERS_GIVEN_NAME}son". So if a couple named John and Mary had a son and a daughter they might be called Bill Johnson and Alice Marydaughter.

Since there are thus no tradition for family names on Iceland, phone directories are sorted by first name, and families often keep intricate genealogies going hundreds of years back in time to keep track of who belongs to which family.