Monday, April 02, 2007

Where in the World is the Baby?

I have a different last name than my husband. Our daughter is going to have my last name. If we had a son, he’d be getting glenn’s last name. It seems an equitable decision, and one that saves a generation of hyphenated-named people marrying each other a lot of grief.

Glenn’s last name is Scottish. His family talks about their clan and its history. His dad recently wore a kilt at a family wedding.

Thus he was musing the other day about the possible end of his last name in his family line, and how he once visited the part of Scotland his family name is from and the clan museum. He noted the name in itself meant nothing, and that he’s actually more Sicilian and probably more German, but still had an air of nostalgia.

The funny, totally American story unraveling here that made me laugh is that our daughter will actually be more Scottish than anyone currently alive in his family, especially him.

Mostly my family talks about how bad my dad’s mother’s cooking was in relation to our Scots heritage, however. Because the family watched the landscape that they thought of as home get fairly altered by bombs during WWII after moving here, perhaps the geographic identification is still altered as well as a result, too recent to romanticize. I’m not sure. I lug around carefully packed postcards and picture books and albums and tiny tartan-clad dolls from Aberdeen each time I move.

However, my dad’s mother took his father’s name and that’s what my dad got, so our daughter will have a Swedish last name. Oddly, most of what we have to lug around from the Swedish side are mystical looking intricate Freemasons certificates earned here, most of which are now framed on my brother’s wall as a curiosity. And the Swedish name has had a number of letters removed from it during the transition to the States presumably because they wanted to seem more American.

It’s always so fascinating what we feel connected to or interested in or find easiest to romanticize of our genetics. (At least it’s actually factually true to say the grass is almost always greener in Scotland.)

If anything, given the qualities and locations of her eight nationalities, we could expect our kid to be oddly drawn to the sea. However, since the end result of this is some fairly solid United Statesian-ness, perhaps she’ll be a great capitalist or a super polluter or a warmonger. Or perhaps it’s time for these young generations to identify more with their more regional subgroups. She’ll mainly be of New England stock.

Or perhaps she could have a more global mindset, freed of all this baggage. She’ll need it to help fight some of the global environmental issues her generation will live or die by. We tried to aid in her work options and did research before even getting pregnant where we could give birth to our child and get her EU citizenship, but Europeans were already sick of others who had this idea before us and had already made it impossible.

But we can still look to the stars: she is supposed to have great financial luck, according to our Chinese neighbor, as she’ll be born in the Year of the Golden Pig, an unusual occurrence that apparently made wedding rates shoot up in China and Korea last year for those hoping to have golden piglets.

And thanks to Mike for sending the following Marilyn vos Savant, resident genius columnist at Parade, quote. This week’s question to her was from someone in our situation who needs to explain the name decision to the people who are confused by it (tho’ Marilyn’s explanation still puts a lot of identity emphasis on a last name – because really…someone’s heritage is always missing in a single last name). Here’s her response:

Tell them you’re in the vanguard of a social revolution that someday will better the lives of all women. Men have long had the psychological advantage of unbroken identities. By contrast, women usually change their surnames when they get married. This practice deals a subtle—yet tremendous— blow to their sense of self. And even when women do keep their names, they seldom pass them on to their daughters. So the female heritage disappears.

When enough women keep their surnames throughout life and pass them on to their daughters for life, we will witness an improvement in the stature and independence of women the likes of which has not been seen since women got the vote.



At 8:15 AM, Blogger squid said...

Profound! SInce most of us here are descended from immigrants, many of our names were altered. To sign into this comment field, blogger asks me to "Choose an Identity." In Cruddy, Lynda Barry says when you're offered something new, take it, even if it's a new identity.

I thought I could lighten my syllable load by taking my fiance's shorter name when we get married in June. Yet I feel a loss, some slippage at giving up my father's last name. It means "from the red hills." My mother's Norwegian last name means "place of the running fox." Most European names seem to be derived from places or occupations that are no longer relevant. And there's some Ojibwe content in me too, but indigenous Turtle Islanders did not have last names.

How far back to you have to go to find your female ancestors' true name? Unless you're Icelandic, you go back to no last names at all. Spinny.

At 9:57 AM, Blogger bethany said...

Yeah and my daughter is getting passed along a maternal name that ends in SON. lol And the technical explanation of how much of any one nationality one is via percentages of which generation back, etc. gets very confusing when you think about it too! Maybe we'll go back to no last names. I mean what does it ever do for you -- you always have to give some number or some other piece of information to verify who you are anyway already. And I noticed a large number of the most popular girls names currently are Euro last names taken from one's profession: Taylor, etc. Another very popular name is MacKenzie, which is my grandmother's Scotish last name. Could name her that as a first name and cover one side of her family for real, lol.

At 3:18 PM, Blogger Andi said...

When my husband and I got married, he considered taking my last name. I decided to hyphenate, an option that he just would not consider for himself. (Why go from difficult to simple hyphen difficult?) At the time, I thought that my original surname had some intrinsic value for my future as an artist because I had been using it throughout school, etc... What's strange is, even though my name is legally hyphenated, I ended up only using my husband's surname for most of my artistic/public life. It's so much more distinctive.

When we decided that we wanted a child, we also made the decision that a girl would be given my original surname and a boy would be given his father's... Unfortunately, the decision was less clearly communicated than we had thought and as a result my in-laws were unpleasantly surprised by our unconventional naming decision.

When we named her 2 1/2 years ago, I believed, and still do, that she can choose to change her name when she is older if that is what she wishes. We intend to maintain open dialog on this and many other subjects.


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