Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Women, don't give UP your surnames; give them PRIMACY נשים, תנו שמותכן זכות קדימה

Please welcome guest blogger Mark Tyler, who recently took his wife's surname:


The following explains why I believe the woman's last name should be given primacy rather than given up. In the ongoing discourse about last names, marriage, and children, nearly all of the focus is on the choices that women face upon marriage, i.e., whether to keep their birth names, take their husbands’ surnames, hyphenate, use one name at home and another at work, etc. I propose a totally new approach: On marriage, the woman keeps her surname, the man formally takes his wife's surname, and the children of the couple are given that surname. Further, if an unmarried couple has a child, it is given the mother's surname, while the father retains his surname.

This solution is superior to our (Western) traditional one. One advantage thereof is that with both divorce and single parenthood so prevalent, yet with divorced mothers still obtaining custody nearly 100% of the time, having kids bear their mother’s name simply makes sense. For example, under our current system, Miss Salt marries Mr. Pepper, becomes Mrs. Pepper, and their children are named Pepper. If, as happens about 50% of the time, the Peppers divorce, Mrs. Pepper will likely retain custody of the Pepper children. If she later marries Mr. Marjoram, she becomes Mrs. Marjoram, as will any offspring of that new marriage, resulting in Peppers and Marjorams living at the same address; whereas under my proposal, when Miss Salt first marries, the couple is Mr. and Mrs. Salt, and their children are Salts. After their divorce and Mrs. Salt’s remarriage, the new family – the couple and the kids from both marriages – remain Salts. Far less confusion, I’d say. And radical, too, I admit — yet it makes more sense than the present system.

It becomes even more logical when applied to out-of-wedlock children. Today, it's not uncommon for a single mom to be living with 2 or 3 kids under her roof, each of whom bear a last name other than hers (and each others'). My proposal eliminates that confusion, if not the attendant social dysfunction.

As long as we're being “radical”, let's go a step further and put men and women on equal footing when it comes to identifying their personal statuses, which should be irrelevant to everyone except the IRS and Social Security. Under our current system, men retain their privacy, i.e., they are all "Mr.", whereas women are still marked as "Miss" and “Mrs." despite the fact that "Ms." has uncomfortably coexisted with them for more than 30 years. I therefore propose using “Ms.” for all women and “Mr.” for men - totally equal.

So, to go back to our example with this refinement, Ms. Salt marries Mr. Pepper, he becomes Mr. Salt, she remains Ms. Salt, and their children are named Salt. If, as happens about 50% of the time, the Salts divorce, Ms. Salt will likely retain custody of the Salt children. If she later marries Mr. Marjoram, he becomes Mr. Salt, as will the offspring of that new marriage. So everyone living at that address will be a Salt. While the system is female-centric, it makes profound sense given our societal structure, and it is as even as can be made possible: All men and all women are treated equally when it comes to title. The only difference is that men change names upon marriage, and deal with that issue should there be a divorce.

Should a divorce occur, the man has the option of reclaiming his original surname. Some will, so our first Mr. Salt will revert to being Mr. Pepper; some won't, probably wishing to retain a naming connection to their kids, so our first Mr. Salt will remain Mr. Salt. Either way, from a naming standpoint, the man's decision is irrelevant. Take our Mr. Salt / Mr. Pepper: If he meets Ms. Nutmeg and marries her, he becomes Mr. Nutmeg and their children will be Nutmegs. If they have a child outside marriage, s/he will also be a Nutmeg. Since each child derives her last name solely from her mother, regardless of marriage, the man's naming decision does not matter.

To make one further point, men of course have the option of using their birth surnames in business or whatever other aspect they wish; just their official surname changes upon marriage.If society were to go in this direction, I'm confident we’d all adjust, and women would even have a good laugh or two: Wedding announcements stating, “the groom will retain his name professionally”; men bitching and moaning about all the paperwork involved in a name change. High school reunions will never be the same: The guys will wear the nametags that read “Bill (Clinton) Rodham” and “Tim (Robbins) Sarandon.” And not a few women would look at their daughters proudly and reflect that they will “carry on the family name”.

Mark Tyler

Mark, I congratulate you. Just one note regarding “Ms.” It’s been suggested that “Ms.” largely failed because someone(s) tried to reinvent the wheel, i.e., if instead those women had simply declared that all women, whether married or not, are now “permitted” to use “Mrs.”, “Miss” would’ve dropped off the horizon, along with all the ambivalence associated with “Ms.” So I’ll take this opportunity to re-propose it: Let’s all us women adopt “Mrs.”.

But hold on: Why not take titles to their logical conclusion? In keeping with my claim that gender is a social construct, why not both genders just adopt “Mr.”? If you think about it, in all cases outside of formal business correspondence, any title is superfluous. Why does my magazine address label even need one? As long as they get my name (and address) correct, who cares what my gender is? In cases where gender matters, such as research, the researcher can certainly ask the respondent to indicate it. Otherwise, I can’t think of a single instance wherein an individual seeking to correspond with me needs to know whether I’m a man or a woman. Anyone ready to jump?

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