Sunday, March 1, 2015

Two Names Is Enough

Going way back, women, especially in the South, with famous, i.e. important, maiden names, used three names as a way of making themselves seem more important. Ostensibly it was to keep alive or bring attention to their prominent family, but in practice it was a way to do what psychologists would call furthering our ideal image of ourselves -- making us seem more important.

There was a substantial increase in the use of three names particularly by academics and working class feminists  in the 1960s and 70s who were objecting to the symbolism, and onorous practical aspects, of renaming themselves using their husband's last name. It's one very obvious hallmark of our patriarchal society. (Although as my ex pointed out to me once, her "maiden" name is still a man's last name.)

The use of three names has now mushroomed out of control, in my view, and no longer has much feminist symbolism. Go on Facebook sometime and find a Southern, Republican woman, especially a Texan, who uses three names and you can spend the rest of the day clicking on friends and associates of hers who use three names. They are obviously women who would not identify themselves as feminists or at best as "first wave" feminists, which is Republican Christianity code for saying women should have the right to vote but should still submit to their husbands.

I think these women use three names primarily as a way to increase their own sense of their own importance. When we're deciding what to call ourselves we try different names out and settle on one way for a variety of reasons. How it sounds. How we imagine people think it sounds. How it makes us feel. For a feminist I would assume that the political statement they are making goes into that mental accounting. I admire their courage. Having only ever been a white male I've only ever had white male privilege. That may amount to more of an absence of barriers than a proactive advantage and I probably would never be consciously aware of either but I imagine people who don't have it are made aware they don't sometimes.

But as I say, the symbolic aspect of three names has been corrupted by self important Republican women, and I think if three name women were honest with themselves they'd admit that their decision to use three names had more to do with self promotion than feminist ideology.

I don't expect anyone who hasn't thought about it to agree with my take on feminism as it's played out in the public sphere, but to me, feminism isn't about equality but about women's empowerment. Those are not the same thing. I understand the argument, that women need to increase their power so they have as much as men do. But equality isn't really the goal of feminism.

"Women's empowerment' is an often heard phrase. Look at the kinds of memes people who identify as feminists post on social media and you'll find that they have more to do with the will to power than the concept of equality. The lines that appeal to the will to power are the ones that elicit the throaty roars from the crowd and the repostings.

This kind of feminism seeks to address a valid wrong, but not by creating a more equal world, one where you don't need power to get what you need. It simply seeks to rearrange the power hierarchy. It's the approach all advocacy groups take, in my assessment, and it's the wrong one. It will put you higher up on the power totem pole but it will just mean someone else has to go lower.

So let us all agree to be equal in all ways. Take two names you like and go with those.


  1. Names have different meanings to different folks and for different reasons. Some meaning is cultural, some names are how we look at ourselves and some are how we want others to look at us. I am named after my paternal grandfather who I never knew. That being the case, I am still very proud of it regardless of how different it is.

    Others are not so proud of their names, my wife's people were all given names by the Indian agents assigned to her Native American maternal ancestors. The names chosen by the Indian agent were the surnames of presidents or other local important persons, most presidents names prior to 1880 are represented as surnames in the group now. African Americans have similar situations with surnames, hence the unique first names we see amongst that group today. Women have names of their own when they married and if they want to keep them and/or add a second is not a problem with me.

    My maternal grandmother's maiden name was Archuleta, she was a very proud woman and even though she married in 1898 she would never take my grandfathers name. She insisted that Archuleta had always been her name and saw no reason to change it. It was an old custom in New Mexico prior to the American occupation and annexation of the area and my grandmother was born Archuleta in 1876 and died an Archuleta in 1972.

    No offence meant but not all of us are or want to be "Bubbas" or Jose's or Baker's etc.

  2. That's an interesting comment, NM, thank you. I would have liked to have met your grandmother. She'd be a window into a world I know next to nothing about but would like to.

    I'm guessing there'd be feminists who'd be fascinated by a woman of that era keeping her maiden name and might turn her into a feminist icon. An eastern woman of that era who did something like that would have caused a scandal, yet you say it was a tradition here. That's pretty interesting. Your grandmother is a reminder, too, of how ignorant most Americans are. I am and I try, and most people don't even try.

    On a related matter, this reminds me about a theory I have. It's a generalization but I think it has some truth to it. American feminists, who tend to be middle to upper middle class anglos, think you have to make a choice between being strong and being feminine. Latinas think you don't have to decide. You can be both.