Monday, June 8, 2015

Would I take my wife's family name?

Ancestry.com's revenue last year was over $600,000,000.  People obviously care about their ancestry.  We care a great deal about our past.  About our family.  About our legacy.  Often all we have to connect us to our past is a name.  The name is very very important.  And when you switch names, against tradition, you can steal your future descendents' their legacy.

A man does not own his name.  He is borrowing it from his ancestors so he can give it to his son.  And his son has a responsibility to carry it on to HIS son.  If a man takes his wife's name, it is effectively the end of his family line.  Furthermore the family name gives a man a connection to the past, to his ancestors.  He feels a part of the greater family, as long as he keeps the name.

I for example, know that my family was a family of shoemakers.  That is what Schamenek means.  although in Houston, Texas, the name is quite uncommon, in a section of Pennsylvania, the Schamenek family takes up an entire page in the phone book.  When my grandfather (Charles Joseph Schamenek II) died, my father (Charles Joseph Schamenek III) was shocked at how many other men at the funeral were also named Charles Schamenek.  This was a very moving moment for my father, and if I'd have been named Charles Joseph Schamenek IV, it probably would have been moving for me too.

Family names are important to men.

I know what you're thinking.  "That's not fair.  What about the woman?  Is her family name not important to her too?  Women have been expected to carry on their husband's family name for thousands of years."

First, fairness is impossible here because there can only be one family name.  Someone will have to give up the last name, so we absolutely have to approach this rationally.

But why?  Why do we have to have a single common family name?

When you marry you create a new family.  Families have a common last name, especially immediate families.  It would be strange for an immediate family to be made up of father John Tailor, son Bobby Tailor, daughter Sally Tailor, and wife Jane Goldstein.  When someone meets Jane absent her husband and she tells them her name is Jane Goldstein, they will have no idea whose wife she is. But if she says Jane Tailor, they know right away, especially in the past when the town only had one tailor.

See?  Taking the family name is about the family.  It creates unity and harmony.  In times past there was a lot more practical advantage for the wife to take her husband's name than to keep her own.

Why is the wife STILL expected to be the one to give up her last name?

It would be easy to say "tradition" and end it there.  In the past it made a lot of sense because the husband had business relationships that we're dependent on the recognition of his name.  He was often recognized already in the community when he took a wife.  The wife probably had a social life but the thing about a social life is that gossip, or news, spreads quickly.  If she gets married and takes her husband's name, everyone hears it quickly.  Adjustment is much faster and easier if a well-connected woman takes her husband's name.  And if she isn't connected that well, then it doesn't matter if adjustment is slow.  If the husband takes the wife's name, adjustment is slower.  And it could affect the family's livelihood.

So that's tradition.  But it doesn't make as much sense these days, does it?  These days the wife has just as much opportunity to be well-recognized in the business world.  She might even be more recognized and respected.  Should she still abandon her last name when she gets married?  Should she take her husband's name when her name is so widely recognized?  Of course this does to a certain extent depend on the individual.  Angelina Jolie kept her name when she married Billy Bob Thornton.  Pamela Anderson hyphenated when she married Tommy Lee.  And Jacky Kennedy (wife of JFK) changed her last name when she married Aristotle Onassis.  But we really should not look at these people as examples.  Not everyone is famous.  This question is really about your average Joe and Josephine.

So, let's go to go back to the legacy of the family name.  If tradition is not relevant anymore, then why should the wife still take her husband's name?

I must ask you this question, how important is it really for women today to carry on their father's last name?  Will it be important to women to carry on their mother's name in the future?  I would wager that it is not all that important and that it has never been personally important for most women to carry on the family name, especially since the family name is carried through the male line.  Yes, naturally there will be individual exceptions to this, but I think the family line is more important for the man, specifically because he CAN see a clear lineage.  I think it's unlikely to become as important to women in the future.  At least in the immediate future.  And if it's going to become personally important for women to carry on the family name in the distant future, if they are going to care to carry on the family name, the first thing that will necessarily happen is that society will have to change its perception on the importance of the family name.  Men will have to stop caring about the family name for a long enough period of time (2-3 generations minimum) for women to start to be the name-bearer.  Individual couples might experiment with their last names but it's highly unlikely for society itself to go through that intermediary step.

I think if we are honest, we'll acknowledge that a big reason to ask her husband to take her name is to undo thousands of years of male oppression.  I'm going to explain why this is irrational in a moment.

But first, let's discuss hyphenation.  Why not hyphenate?  Some women hyphenate.  Why doesn't the man hyphenate too?  Once again we return to the legacy of the family name.  What happens when the kids get married?  Does the daughter hyphenate?  Does she hyphenate both of her parents' names?  What if her name has been Sally Goldstein-Tailor all of her life and she marries Michael Shoemaker-Bookman.  What is her name now?  Sally Goldstein-Tailor-Shoemaker-Bookman?  What about her kids?  Will her son's name be Jimmy Anderson-Smith-Harris-Jefferson-Goldstein-Tailor-Shoemaker-Bookman?  See?  It gets ridiculous REAL fast.  If we adopted this naming convention, when we address people we wouldn't ever use the whole name.  We would abridge the name.  We would STILL leave out names.  The decision as to which name to choose will STILL be there!  You might for example, take the hyphenation of the father's name and the mother's name.  But THEIR names are hyphenated.  So the parents will have to choose which Grandparents' names the children will bear.  It becomes a HUGE mess real quick.  It doesn't solve any problem.  It just postpones it.  And it adds more problems.

So hyphenation is ridiculous.  Now, let me explain why it's irrational to try to use the last name to rid yourself of the shackles of male oppression.

When a couple gets married, there are 5 options.

• Take the husband's name.
• Take the wife's name.
• Hyphenate.
• Take an ancestor's last name (EG: the wife's mother's maiden name.)
• Make up a name.

If your intention is to undo millennia of male oppression then the only option you would have would be to abandon both of the family names and make up a new family name.  You see, the wife's mother's maiden name is actually the wife's grandfather's name.  It was his name first, decades before it became the wife's mother's maiden name.  So as you can see, it is impossible to avoid the male dominated naming convention if you want to maintain a connection with the past, with your family, and your ancestors and in fact the rest of humanity.

So, no matter what, the woman is taking on a man's name.  It's either her father's name, her male ancestor's name or her husband's name.  Either that or the couple chooses a completely different name, in which case, they create fragmentation in their family tree.  They lose a connection to their past.

So, because this issue is related to feminism, let's examine it from the wife's perspective.  Here are her choices:

• Keep her father's name.  (It's the name she has known all of her life but she is lying to herself if she thinks she is undoing male oppression.)
• Hyphenate her father's name with her husband's name.  (Putting off the name choice and making that choice even more difficult for her children.)
• Take one of her male ancestor's name. (Again, lying if she thinks she is undoing male oppression.)
• Make up a new name.  (Remove herself from her family tree and reject her husband's family tree.)
• Take her husband's name.  (If she has to choose one man's name, it might as well be the name belonging to the man she adores, respects and loves above everyone else, right?  She gets to receive all of the advantages and benefits that go along with tradition.  She embraces a new loving family, and they embrace her.  She remains connected to generations in the past and the future.)

The choice should be clear.  The reasons a wife chooses a man's name and not the other way around, although not immediately obvious, are clear.

Men feel the desire to carry on the family name.  So a woman who doesn't want to take her husband's name decides not to because she wants to undo male oppression.  But, as I indicated above, keeping her own name doesn't undo anything.  Her name is still her father's name.  Plus she likely does not care about the legacy of her father's name, especially if her reasons for keeping his name for herself after marriage is because she wants to undo the male domination.

See?  No matter how you slice it, rationally speaking, it makes the most sense for a woman to take her husband's name.  No other choice is as rational.

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