Tuesday, January 30, 2007

On Feminism and names

Well, the honeymoon is over. I really tried to like Jewcy. I did. They were talking about interesting things, in interesting ways, but recently there have been a rash of articles that just make me uncomfortable. Too many in-jokes, unfunny/insulting jokes, it reads like a blog. Which is fine, but I expect a bit more professionalism from a for-profit endeavor. Not even my crush on the death-defying and ever crushworthy Tahl Raz can save it.

For instance, in Amy Odell's latest Dating Blogger entry she drops the f-bomb in the title, and again in the first line. It is jarring and unpleasant, and as I read on, somewhat unwarranted. My mother (who still castigates me if I use the word "butt" at the dinner table) used to tell me that profanity is a symptom of a limited vocabulary. I kind of agree.

But that isn't really what I meant to talk about. One of the bright lights of Jewcy is Tamar Fox who writes thoughtful pieces that I wish provoked more discussion. One of which is about the comparison between Queen Esther and Beauty Pagent winners today. It got me thinking about feminism and names. Tamar cites Betty Myerson (a Miss America winner) as a Jewish woman who refused to change her last name to something "less Jewish-sounding." Clearly a great deal is bound up in last names, and the identity that they provide.

While I was in college I had the discussion with some girl friends about what we would/will do when it comes time to get married and decide on last names. One friend said that she'd keep her last name, the roommate said that she'd make up a new name (ie Cohen and Goldberg would become Cohenberg, or Golden), and I said that I'd take my husband's name. Of course this generated calls of remonstrance against me for abandoning the feminist principles for which I "claim to stand." Here was my reasoning:

1) I want to have the same last name as my children. It is harder to travel internationally otherwise, and to prove parental status in cases of emergency.

2) I don't want my kids to have a hyphenated last name. CJ has a hyphenated last name, and it made me think. How on earth do the offspring of hyphenated families manage in the next generation? If I am Annie Smith, and I marry George Jones, my kids could be Smith-Jones. But what if my Smith-Jones kids fall in love with Harley's Cohen-Goldberg kids? And get married? Can my girls really become Smith-Jones-Cohen-Goldberg? Should they have to? What about their kids?

3) If I don't hyphenate, and instead combine, then it becomes more difficult to trace genealogy.

My mother (two mentions in one post! Clearly I'm a bit homesick) has a hyphenated last name, but didn't pass it on to her children.

In other words, you should pity poor Mischa or Lilit Smith-Jones.

Update 2/1/07: Dear Prudence has a question about hyphenation, and Jewcy talks about names for children


harley said...

Beware, injokes ahead...





dash said...

hyphenated names are a problem. my mother used a hyphenated last name, but it was only passed down to me as a middle name. sometimes i feel like i'm betraying her when i don't use her maiden name as part of my last name. but, then again, i wasn't raised with that as my last name.

to me, the only way hyphenated names work is if both parents take the hyphenated name and pass it on to the children.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion on names, but I take issue with your statement that cursing is a symptom of a limited vocabulary. My vocabulary is not limited by American standards, and I am King of the F-Bomb.

I think it is a versatile and effective word. There are no translations of "fuck you," "fucked," "fucked up," "motherfucker" or "fuck stick" that capture both the intended meaning and all the emotional connotations. "Motherfucker" is probably the single greatest word in the English language in terms of verbal economy. It can be an Oedipal insult, a pronoun, a term of endearment, an interjection, an innocent taunt, or a self-ascription (as in "I am the baddest motherfucker on the planet").

rokhl said...

Sadly, I am totally there with you on the train out of honeymoon-with-jewcy town. Too many of their articles start off with "I don't know anything about such and such... but I'm going to fill 500 wds of cyberspace with my rambling"

Further, their authors lurk and if you have some kind of beef with what they've written, they pounce, ready to snark at you in a very defensive way. It's creepy and cliquey and I don't like it.

what the fuck ever, right?? (sorry)

ps- ralph lauren's son may marry Lauren bush. Is the prospect of ending up Lauren Lauren worse than being Lauren Lifshits (RL's original name)?

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i pity anyone named Lilit anyway.

Aunt L. said...

The Spaniards have figured out how to deal with hyphenated names and have been doing it for centuries. I don't know the exact rules, but Jose Ortega y Gasset is the child of one parent whose name was both Ortega and something else and one parent whose name was Gasset and something else.

Shoshana said...

I've never had a problem with the idea of changing my last name, but only because I don't like the one I grew up with very much. Otherwise, I'd probably have a hard time with it.

Annie said...

Dash- but the problem still exists for the hyphenated children. Their choice is then to keep their name, or to take on their spouses' as hyphenation becomes increasingly silly.

Anon- there are few things as satisfying as dropping an f-bomb, but in some cases it is unwarranted, and can be the symptom of a limited vocabulary. There may even be a short video about the uses for the f-word.

Rokhl- Thanks for the report. And Lauren Lauren is awful. Lauren Lipshitz is pretty bad too though.

Steg- I am familiar with the name's provenance. However I wanted to use an L name (but not Leah, or Leora) and was thinking Lila, but I like Lilit. I also kind of like how it has been reclaimed as a feminist name (ie Lilith Magazine).

Aunt L- sadly only some members of our family can pass for Spanish/Hispanic, and I am not among them. Stupid light complexion.

Shoshana- I guess that that makes sense, but I like my last name. A lot. I'm not really ready to give it up yet. Or maybe ever.

Anonymous said...

I had every intention of hyphenating; but as much as I embrace my Jewish identity Greenbaum-Rosenbaum is a bit too much--even for me.

SaraK said...

The longer you are known by your last name, I think, the harder it is to change it. At least that is how I see it. I think when I was younger I would not have had as hard of a time changing to my husband's last name. Now, I feel like I would at least keep my maiden name professionally. I do want to have the same last name as my kids, though. Such problems to ponder...

Smeliana said...

I think changing last names also depends on how much you don't like your ex-husband and the last name he gave you. Sometimes a second husband's name is preferable, sometimes it's easier to keep the first husband's name if you've built your career/family that way. (See as reference: my mom and stepmom.)

LT said...

Heh, the whole hyphenation thing has also bothered me, for exactly the same reason - it only goes so far!

One of the things not really adressed, though, is "desire to pass on the family name". I have a brother, and he has sons... so my family name is set for at least another generation or two. If I married a girl, and she had no brothers or male cousins or anything else, then I could definitely understand if she wanted to either hyphenate or keep her maiden name, or even perhaps pass her maiden name on to the kids for the purposes of "keeping the family name alive".

SaraK also made a good point about the question of how long you've been with a name. If a woman doesn't get married until their thirties, then it might be much harder to change a name they've already become well-known by.

And then there's the whole divorce/remarriage issue. I'd hate to have to be a woman sorting out what name to go with.

This is all so confusing, and all of the options have drawbacks. Maybe the best plan if you're a girl is to make like Harley and never get married at all.

BZ said...

Hyphenation is not sustainable beyond one generation, and neither is making up a new name (unless the desired effect is to decouple last names completely from family continuity). Passing on only the father's name is unegalitarian (and doesn't work at all when both parents are of the same sex), and the Spanish system ultimately has the same problem, just with a one-generation delay.

The only system I'm aware of that avoids these problems is passing on one parent's last name to some kids and the other parent's last name to others (and choosing some metric to determine which kids get which last name). Yes, this means that the nuclear family will have two different last names, but that's common anyway these days (except it's much more common for the mother to have one last name and the father and all the kids to have another; this evens things out).

If there's another system that's both sustainable and egalitarian, I'd like to hear it.

Dakota said...

I found all this rambling out of concept. How a self-called feminist has not even think about his husband changing his last name? Feminism is not about talking dirty and refuse roses, ladies. Feminism is about identity and rights. But for defense any identity, personal identity, you have to build one first. Go ahead doing it before go into reproduccing like bunnies.

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