Interesting story in USA Today about more men taking on their wives’ last names when they get married. Some newlyweds are no longer following the patriarchal tradition of taking the man’s last name. There are all kinds of alternatives from combos to hyphenations to taking the woman’s last name.
But I don’t understand the backlash people get for this over some kind of lack of manliness. How stupid is that? Apparently women should take the man’s name–along with his DNA–and stay in the kitchen.
What I do understand is the backlash for practical reasons. Say Joe Johnson and Patty Smith get married and become Joe and Patty Johnson-Smith. They have a kid, Bill Johnson-Smith. Then Bill Johnson-Smith marries another child of a hyphenation-name marriage, Sally Martin-Graham, and they become Bill and Sally Johnson-Smith-Martin Graham? Boy, their kids are screwed.
OK, that’s ridiculous. I know that.
While I’m not trying to justify the patriarchal tradition by saying anything else is ridiculous. I’m just saying I think a cultural standard is important. It should give direction (what will our name be?) and continuity (what are the relationships?) and meaning (why do we do it this way?). Perhaps the patriarchal standard has lost its meaning (I don’t think it signifies the submission of women anymore, even if it once may have meant that), though many of our cultural traditions have lost their original meaning and we still follow them.
I guess I’m trying to say that if you’re going to start a new naming tradition, more power to ya. But you should consider the direction and continuity and meaning behind it. How will it work for your children and their children (even if that solution is just every generation decides for themselves)? How does it help explain the relationships in your family (or is that not important?)? And what is the meaning behind it all–why did you do it that way?
And if you’re trying to overcome a long-standing tradition with something new there needs to be an element of education involved. Donna and Mike from the USA Today story seemed to think everyone would nod and smile at their tradition-bucking choice without a word of explanation. You’re trying to overcome hundreds of years worth of tradition–a little help please?
I thought it was cool to hear from a couple in college who basically made a new last name together, a powerful symbol of their marriage making them one. But if you just spring it on people, of course they’re going to scratch their heads. It doesn’t mean they’re sexist. It means they don’t understand.
Certainly the American patriarchal tradition is not the only one. Other cultures have other approaches. Somali children at my wife’s school take on their father’s first name as their last name (in which case I’d be Kevin Kerry, and would never again have to hear jokes about naming my child Jimi).
There’s nothing wrong with doing it differently and bucking the trend. But I think you need a solid rationale. That’s why we have traditions. You at least should have something better than “because I’m a big ole granola liberal and I wanted to tweak the tradition while showing my wife I love her.” The last part works, but I’m not so sure about that first part.
(link via kottke.org)