What name should the children get?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

Interesting:

As my belly grew, the comments got even stranger. I had secretly hoped for no reaction, for our choice to be as common as saying, “I went with the mustard instead of the ketchup.” No reaction would mean something good, right? That women in this country are, for example, no longer considered the property of men, even in name. That archaic systems are truly collapsing. That we can reclaim language that was formerly used to control us.

But it seemed, at least to me, that using a woman’s last name for a child threatened everyone. An older woman asked me if I was doing this to make a point. Why was all this doing perceived as mine, not my husband’s as well? At a party, a peer told me she was “diehard Obama” and then argued that her only real concern about using a woman’s last name is that you risk the ease of preserving lineage and historical records.

“Really?” I kept responding.

I always tried to be kind. But my outrage began to blossom.

Everyone has some sort of charge around this issue—including me. Everyone has to defend the decision they make about it. Over and over again, I watched women acquaintances hear me mention it and then, almost immediately, the mask of self-protection would slide over their faces. They probably saw me as a better-than-thou type. I tried hard not to be that. I didn’t want to shame anyone. I only told people when I was asked and purposely acted casual about it. Some of my married women friends said nothing; some smiled big smiles; my single friends told me either they were taking notes or they could never possibly. Men often looked unsure but pretended to be hip to it. One guy friend teased, “Of course you would.”

Everyone has some sort of charge around this issue—including me. Everyone has to defend the decision they make about it. Over and over again, I watched women acquaintances hear me mention it and then, almost immediately, the mask of self-protection would slide over their faces. They probably saw me as a better-than-thou type. I tried hard not to be that. I didn’t want to shame anyone. I only told people when I was asked and purposely acted casual about it. Some of my married women friends said nothing; some smiled big smiles; my single friends told me either they were taking notes or they could never possibly. Men often looked unsure but pretended to be hip to it. One guy friend teased, “Of course you would.”

Then, I took my pregnant, vomiting, exhausted self to New York to visit my cousin—a remarkable and fierce woman whose Facebook “political views” description reads I’m for doing drugs during an abortion while marrying a gay illegal immigrant. We drove around her neighborhood and she showed me the street art she photographs. At some point, I told her about my baby’s last name. She lifted her hands off the steering wheel and yelled, “What?!” as if in prayer, as if the earth had shuddered.

One short pause and then: “I want that. I really want that. But my man would never let that shit fly.”

That moment confirmed for me that the patriarchy is still deeply ingrained—in all of us. Surnames are one of the unseen limbs of the old world. Giving a child the father’s last name is still a given. And that given preserves the man’s place of power, from the Supreme Court on down to the everyday Joe. How can that still be the case? Why, I wonder, are we so slow on this one? It seems lazy of us.

Many people are coming up with new brave options: blended last names, siblings with different last names, hyphens. But when a couple decides to use both names as a last name, usually the woman’s last name gets tucked between her child’s and husband’s, and usually that’s the one that falls away around school age. Very rarely is the man tucked away. How come? It makes me uncomfortable to even ask, because it sounds accusatory of anyone or, especially, the people I dearly love who lined it up like so. I don’t mean it like this. We all contend with this history together. I’m starting to think that queer couples with children will lead the way. They’ll demonstrate how non-gendered a last name choice can be.

When I told my most public feminist friend about our last name decision, she made a fair point.

“But that seems uneven,” she said, “to just have your name as the last name, and not include Chris’ name as part of that.”

It was uneven, but it had been uneven the other way for millennia (though matriarchal societies did exist once upon a time) and sometimes the pendulum has to swing wildly before it can even out. I would never advocate for all children having their mother’s last names. But imagine if 50% them did. Imagine the social impact on our collective unconscious. It would be a movement requiring no money, no lobbying, no elbow grease. It’s a choice anyone of any background can make—harder for some, I know. And our naming system would actually be diverse. No one gender would occupy it.

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