What’s In A Name?

Skipped Sex Ed.

A few days ago, at the peak of the hype about our latest village idiot, Congressman Todd Akin, I found myself wondering: who would marry such a person?  \No, seriously, I really wondered!

So a bit of Googling, and I found Todd Akin’s wife. Here she is, listed as “Mrs Todd Akin” on this page of Eagle Forum Fulltime Homemakers. Which led to an excursion into a very weird alternate universe, but anyway…

Other “Fulltime Homemakers” on this page include “Mrs Pat Boone,” “Mrs Rick Santorum,” “Mrs. James Dobson,” and “Mrs. Mike Huckabee.” Need I go on?  Yes, there are a couple who use their own first names, but really, this looks like a church directory from 1956. Shouldn’t it be gathering dust in a public library basement?

Lulli Akin, who is a Hollins College graduate and former IBM systems engineer, fer chrissakes, is nevertheless primarily defined as “…a premier example of a Christian who holds family values dear and is involved in preserving America as the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Well, OK, then.

In short, I highly recommend reading this page. It’s very educational. Apparently, all this time-warped Mad Men stuff is not new. It’s been going on under the radar (or on talk radio) for years.  Who knew?

So, what’s the big deal about the names? I got to thinking about that.

I am, in fact, a “Fulltime Homemaker” (though I seriously doubt Phyllis Schlafly will be inviting me to send in a profile and photo anytime soon). I’ve worked part-time from home since my first child was born. I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for nearly 25 years. We are basically a one-income, very traditional family. It’s almost embarrassingly wholesome sometimes.

I even use my husband’s last name.

I held off on that for a while. I didn’t have a particularly special last name, but it was mine, after all. My husband didn’t have an opinion one way or another until we briefly debated the possibility of both taking both names. He ruled that out because “that would just be weird.  It’s not my name.”

Well, yeah…

But, then we had kids, and even I couldn’t honestly see saddling them with some incredibly awkward hyphenated surname. And, we were posted to a country with lots of illegal adoptions. I had heard about problems with traveling with kids when the passport names were different from the mother’s name. So, I caved compromised, took my husband’s last name, and replaced my middle name (which I never really liked anyway) with my “maiden” name. Plus, my first name is my mother’s maiden name (it’s a Southern thing), so I held on to a family connection that way.

In retrospect, I kind of wish I hadn’t made the change. My current surname doesn’t reflect my ethnic or regional background at all. It’s kind of weird, and no one knows what to do with it. And as much as I like my in-laws, they are clearly not from the same gene pool. OK, let’s just put it out there: this is a Polish name stuck awkwardly on a Scots-Irish face. I don’t put photos of myself on the blog, but trust me, there ain’t no Slav in the mix. Slap on some plaid and I could have been an extra in “Braveheart.”

In short, this name just isn’t me. Any more than I am a Foreign Service Officer because my husband happens to be one. I mean, we are separate people and both real clear on that. Officer and Family CEO. Not Officer and Mrs Officer.

If anything, my own name becomes even more important in the FS context. Imagine, for example, that my legal share of my husband’s pension and retirement fund was designated for “Mrs Officer.” That could be anyone! Or that the permission form to let me access my own household goods (I am not making this up) was written out to “Mrs Officer” rather than to ME by NAME.

Never mind the critical importance of having your own bank accounts, credit cards, and credit rating when you have chosen to forgo a traditional career and professional income in favor of being a one-income family. I mean, jeez, just because I’m a “Fulltime Homemaker” doesn’t mean I left my brains at the altar. I know it’s important to put my name on lots of stuff. Lots.

To tell you the truth, it bothers me a little not to put my name on this blog. I have good reasons for doing so, but now I’m rethinking them. Maybe I’ll use my “maiden” name just to spare my husband some potential hassles. I am pretty sure, though, that it will never be signed “Mrs Officer!”

Who are these women who, despite all their brains and accomplishments (among which I include the ability to homeschool dozens of children—my hat’s off to anyone who can do that) insist on defining themselves as “Adam’s Rib?”

I know that this is such a complex topic that I can’t possibly do it justice on a blog. But, my personal feeling that is that something is definitely wrong with this picture. If these are the women behind the men who think rape can’t cause pregnancy, or that birth control isn’t absolutely basic health care, then this is about more than just ignorance.  I can buy that the men are just flat-out stupid about female bodies, but not the women.

There’s an agenda here that goes way beyond ovaries and their apparently miraculous powers to tell the good guys from the bad guys. It’s about some weird subservience thing that we are supposed to get into just because these particular women do. It’s really creepy. The more I know about it, the less I like it.

“A common concept in history is that knowing the name of something or someone gives one power over that thing or person. This concept occurs in many different forms, in numerous cultures—in ancient and primitive tribes, as well as in Islamic, Jewish, Egyptian, Vedic, Hindu, and Christian traditions. The strength of this belief varies, and there are certainly exceptions to it. Nonetheless, the persistence and historical continuity of the linking of naming and power are unmistakable. Some scholars find it embedded in the first verses of Genesis, probably written over three thousand years ago; others believe it to be an intrinsic characteristic of classical Greek religion; still others find it a central feature in magic and folklore; and modern feminists often see it as the reason that a woman in marriage is traditionally asked to take the name of her new husband. In all these cases, naming something or someone is seen as the exertion of dominion over that thing or person.” —The Philoctetes Center website.

Names are historically and culturally very powerful. A person who surrenders their name is making a statement—and probably not in a good way.

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10 responses to “What’s In A Name?

  1. Hear what you are saying. I willingly took my “houseband’s” name, but if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t have (and hubby wouldn’t have minded). I was a young and in love and traditional gal. ;)

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  2. Dear Not Mrs. FSO, you’re a damn good writer! But Adam’s short Ribs online with their nice hairdos are giving me terrific nightmares. Please stop scaring me, I caaaaan’t take it anymore!

    Oh, but don’t let that stop you from writing some more. You’re a joy to read!

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  3. Really thought-provoking post. I had to laugh when you wrote that your current surname doesn’t reflect your ethnic or regional background. I’m in the same boat. I am a pale blonde with an Arabic last name and am always a big surprise to repairman/movers/post office folks when they meet me at the door. I took my husband’s last name, not because he really cared or wanted me to, but more as a statement, I think. I thought long and hard because carrying an Arabic name in today’s America isn’t necessarily a good thing. But I guess in my only small way I wanted people to take note that an all-American Christian gal and all-Egyptian Muslim boy could happily live together in peace and harmony, so why couldn’t everyone else just settle down and get along?

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    • What an interesting perspective! It didn’t occur to me that taking a last name could be a positive statement like that. Doesn’t work in my case, though: just changing one ordinary white person name for another that doesn’t fit as well…anyway, thanks for commenting!

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  4. Very interesting – thanks for sharing your thoughts. I didn’t take my husband’s name, but we agreed that our kids would have his surname. I feel bad for him when movers or delivery guys refer to him as Mr. Draper, but hopefully as we move to a new post and meet people as a married couple (not as two people who just got married, so maybe my paperwork hasn’t been processed yet) it’ll be less weird for people. I wanted to keep my name because it’s _my_ name, and I like it. Even though I have no contact with the paternal side of my family who gave it to me, I’ve made it my own name. Taking on my husband’s name would be Not Me. (I totally hear you on the Southern name thing – both my first and middle name are my grandmothers’ maiden names. Yay culture!)

    I think you’re absolutely on to something about ownership, power, and names. From pop culture references (He Who Must Not Be Named) to superstitions (think of how many times someone has told you to bite your tongue to keep something from happening) to the sacred (not writing out the full name of the lord in Jewish culture), names are powerful things. Taking on someone else’s name is an intensely symbolic act, and even if it doesn’t connote the same level of property and personal ownership as it used to in English/American society, that’s the origin of it. It’s worth noting, though, that in some cultures women don’t take their husband’s name – in many Arab countries the surname is a tribal or geographic indicator, and it’s something that can’t be changed – how could you change the village in which you grew up? It has caused problems for some Arab families travelling across international borders for exactly the reasons you mentioned, if the immigration officials aren’t familiar with this tradition.

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  5. Loved, loved, loved this, and will look for more writing from this author. So many things rang true, events in my own life. When I first heard those statements out of Akin’s mouth, I too wondered, “Who the hell is this man, and who would be insane enough to be married to him?” Same thought process went with Sandusky, except that I would like to send his wife to prison, too (“No, I never heard the screams for help.” Seriously?!). Great, entertaining writing.

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  6. Very good post. The Eagle Forum Fulltime Honor Roll, or whatever it was, freaked me out. Only three bios did not mention children, and the rest had 2+, with the threshold being 3. One of them could have been the first female black astronaut in 1954 but chose to stay home instead. I think that’s sad! Yes, taking care of the children you produce is a responsibility, but setting such rigid impositions on how you do that is stultifying and stifling. ::shiver::

    I agree with you on the difficulties of name-taking. Steck to Zvirzdin is quite the shift, and I’m definitely not Lithuanian. Upside: I win on search engine optimization! Meh heh heh.

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