Monday, August 28, 2006

What's in a Name?


One of my hobbies is genealogy. I spend a lot of time trying to trace my family tree and I can get quite obsessive about it. As a consequence, one of the things that I think about often is the way that women disappear into history because very often we don't have and keep our own names.

I married in 1988 and lost my name. It didn't occur to me that I could keep the name I had been given at birth. It certainly didn't occur to me that my birth name obscured the existence of hundreds of women in my ancestry. When I took my degree I reverted to using my original surname. I wanted my degree to have MY name on it and not the name of my father-in-law and that family who wanted to so wholly own and control me.

Now I am ready to find another name. I have reached such a point in my feminist journey that it no longer seems acceptable to have this name that has been passed down through the male line, laying waste to the sacrifice, hardship and determination of so many women who go on to be forgotten or unidentifiable. But how do I make this enormous choice? I would love to hear your suggestions!

6 comments:

pippi said...

What a coincidence. I dediced to change my surname two weeks ago. Like you, I'll also need to decide what to change it to. Let's not both change it to Långstrump though! ;)

modestyrocks said...

The Spanish and Portugese have a much better system and the names of both parents are generally used.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iberian_naming_customs

It doesn't really solve your current problem though. Perhaps to restore the historic female line you could use the female surname which you can trace back furthest.

pippi said...

The Spanish simply skip a generation. When a child is named, its first surname is the same as the dad's first surname and the child's second surname is the same as the mother's first surname. Because the father's surname is always placed first, it is only men's names that are passed down - from the two grandfathers to the child.

v said...

I'm also thinking a lot about this, and am considering naming myself after my children. I gave my son one of his sister's names, and now I'm thinking of taking it too, as my surname.

My children do not share a name with me at all. I gave my daughter her father's surname when i was being indecisive about it then gave my son the same name so he would be the same as his sister.

I would like to change all of our names. For them this would be simply discarding their last name, and for me it would be changing mine.

Sage said...

This kind of talk gets me really excited!! (I'm being neither flip nor perverted.) I think naming is a crucial part of claiming our own selves. The only thing I cared about in separating from my kids' dad is that they all get my last name. I get shit support payments and don't give a damn! Now, of course, my name is my dad's, but he's pretty cool, and his dad changed the name when he came to Canada as a way of rebelling against his abusive parents and the whole German race during WWI all in one fell swoop, so it's a keeper for sure.

As for what name to choose, try to brainstorm what gives you strength or energy in your life. What can you not live without. What's integral to your very existence. For me, I'd choose something from nature.

Does that help narrow it down any??

(As a kid I really wished for a French surname. French is just so darn sexy! You could go that way too, just focusing on the asthetics of the name as it rolls off your tongue.)

V, naming yourself after your kids sounds really cool!

Cruella said...

My grandma's maiden name was Streeter which we were told derives from the term street-walker. Grandma was mildly amused and a little embarrassed but it occurred to me that the one thing you can be sure of is that though it has been passed down by men for many generations, it originated with a woman!