Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Name Game

Let me start with a disclaimer - I am not getting married any time in the near future (unless Tyson Beckford converts in the next few weeks, moves to New Jersey and develops an affection for mouthy, zaftig Jewish girls), but still this entire idea of name and identity fascinates me. So, why not blog about it?
For centuries of human existence we didn't even have last names. We were Dina bat Leah, Sadaam from Tikrit or Lothar of the Hill People. Somewhere along the line, there got to be too many of us so we started using last names to differeniate between all those Jennifers and Williams running around. And, the world being what it is somehow linked those names to men and assumed women would be more than pleased to take their chosen (or not-so-chosen) man's name upon marriage.
Rich people, being rich and all, didn't always think these rules applied to them and plenty wealthy broads kept using their "maiden" names, with or without their husband's names. Then the 1970s and women's lib brought Peggy Guggenheim's bright idea to the masses and 30 years later, young women across America struggle with what exactly to name themselves.
This past weekend, I had a conversation with my cousin, an Orthodox Jew since birth, whose serene ability to accept patriarchy and feel comfortable with her uniquely feminine role I both envy and fear. She said that when you get married, you naturally give up a bit of yourself (i.e. your name, sometimes your job and sometimes your hometown), and if it's the "right guy" it's a small sacrifice. My mother, who despite her attendance at Woodstock gladly changed her name to my father's, said that one's name is not the only mark of one's self. There's also the voices who say it's easier on the kids, on various bureaucratic forms and - as I know from professional experience - on socioreligious institutions whose databases and short-term memories cannot always comprehend multiple last names per household.
OK, these are valid reasons and if you're a married woman reading this post and you changed your name on one or more of these grounds, cool. It doesn't really offend me or raise my feminazi hackles, I just don't know if it jibes for me.
Truth be told, I've said many a time that I don't even like my last name. For those readers who happen not to be personal friends, my last name fits nicely in front of the word "toe" and after the words, "scud," "nuclear," or "heat-seeking." It wasn't a fun time in the fifth grade being chubby and having the first President Bush invade Iraq with explosive projectiles more popularly referred to by a word homophonic with my last name. However, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around changing it to someone else's. On that note, I have also blatantly refused to change my name to one worse than my own such as Lipschitz or Weiner.
The entire semantics buried into this issue even bothers me. Why say I'm loyal to my "maiden" name? At 27, I don't think my mother will blush at the notion that I'm no longer a maiden.
Further blurring the boundaries is the revelation that our name has only been in my family for about three or four generations. Like many Jews, neither side of my family tree has a last name that goes back further than a few branches and at Ellis, everything inevitatbly changed. So is there a sense of loyalty to my father at the root of this nomenclature problem? I guess not.
More than anything, I think it comes down to a sense of equality in marriage. Why should I be the one to go through the hassle of a new driver's license, passport, social security card and email address when he goes right along as if nothing happened? Why am I as the female expected to sacrifice a sense of my identity - risking envelopes addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jim Smith where I don't even get a first name?
I have plenty of friends who've gone the triple name route and some who have simply kept the names they were born with. My aunt, a well-known cardiologist, uses her name professionally, but doesn't mind the occasional letter using her husband's last name with her first name.
As for me, I like to think out of the box. Maybe we'll combine names - I always liked being an M in the middle of the alphabet. Or maybe we'll just pick a new one. I can just imagine the Seinfeldian response when my white, Jew-fro'd spouse and I arrive at a restaurant claiming the 8 p.m. reservation assigned to the Chang Family.


Shoshana said...

LOL. I have absolutely no problem with the idea of changing my last name, but that's only because I don't like my current one. If I did, I have a feeling my feminist leanings might spark at this debate.

SaraK said...

At this point in my life I don't think I can completely give up my maiden name. I will probably make it my middle name when I get married.