This Should Not Have Surprised Me

I admit I was taken a bit aback when my daughter said she wanted to take her (new) husband’s name, as I’ve been so comfortable living with my own (father’s) surname while married all these years.  But she’s something of a romantic and I understood her feelings about bonding with her husband’s family and it is her life.  And the day after the wedding she changed her facebook name to “firstname husbandssurname” which seemed weird, but then I thought, well, OK, she needs to live her own life.  Today she was running around getting name changes.  But it turns out that I did not understand her intentions.  You may (or may not) recall from prior posts about names that my childrens’ names have the pattern “firstname middlename fathersurname mothersurname” where their legal surname is “fathersurname mothersurname” — space no hyphen.  Turns out that her intention is to now have the three-name surname “fathersurname mothersurname husbandsurname.”  She ran into trouble at the social security office where there was not enough space to write in all the names, and is now researching her legal options. I realize most of you do not know my daughter, but as someone who does know her, I should not have been surprised.  It appears that the social security problem is a character limit.  We’ll see how this goes.  Years ago, when we were naming the children, we recognized the long-term problem of all these names.  My husband’s idea was that, after a few generations, you’d just generate an acronym and start over.

punctuating names

It took about an hour (most of it on hold) but the nice IRS man took care of fixing my son’s tax problem.  Although the person who keyed in his payment correctly used the first part of his two-name surname, although the layout on the return made it clear that the two names were one surname, and although his name has been correctly interpreted in past years, the person who keyed it in this time used his “last” name.  Thus generating two IRS letters, one for having a name mis-match for the social security number, and another for not paying the $10 tax bill.  The IRS man suggested that I tell my son to hyphenate his name or just use the first part of it to avoid future problems.  I pointed out that the two names with no hyphen are on his social security card. He did agree that this could be an issue.

We gave our children both surnames due to gender equality beliefs and adopted the Spanish system intentionally although we are not Spanish, as it seemed better to use a common system than to make one up.  At the time we named our children, hyphens were still giving computers fits, although it has turned out that the hyphen has been adopted by most systems as the way to avoid confusion.  These problems are at least as much about cultural dominance than gender roles.  The problem is calling them “first name” and “last name” and, in the worst case, having only one “name” field that is parsed positionally.  As the IRS man noted, Spanish-system people have this problem all the time.   But so do Asian people, who put the family name first.  And people of all cultures with two-name personal names.  Most of this confusion can be avoided by having two name boxes, one labeled “Family name(s)” and the other labeled “personal names(s)”.  I guess that would not entirely clear things up for the one-name cultures or patronymic systems, but it would go a long way.  The question is how long it will take to make relatively simple changes in bureaucratic procedures to accommodate diversity.

about names

There are some issues to consider about naming yourself in print, and a lot of these are not obvious at first. I’ve been talking with some of my students about this, because several are thinking about changing their names for a variety of reasons, including marriage and language.

If you are thinking about changing your name, you may as well think about what’s at stake in the options. And even if your name is staying the same, you still have some choice in exactly how you write it for publication. What matters in a publication name? Continue reading “about names”

race names 2: caucasian

I just went along with a major report that uses the word Caucasian throughout (along with African American). I personally hate the word Caucasian, I associate it with scientific racism*, it seems smarmy to me, it makes my skin crawl. But I know a lot of people use it if they think the color names (Black, White) are wrong, and I don’t want to get into dissing people about using a word in good faith just because I hate it. The proper parallel to African American is European American, which I also call myself, along with White. I did not say anything because we had way too many other things to worry about to bother with my dislike of this race name. So anyway, does anybody else care about this?

*Its origins are scientific racism, in the distinction between Caucasoid, Negroid and Mongoloid as the three main races. I’m not saying the people who use it today are racists, scientific or otherwise. They are just grasping for some word to use in uncertain terrain where the colors names are stigmatized and the continent names have not caught on for Whites. Why the name European American has not caught on tells you a lot about US race culture, but that is another story.

PS . This would be an example of why using a pseudonym is good, as I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the people who worked hard on the report using the race name I hate.

black vs african american

This may be the wrong network for this question, but here’s a try. In general, the terms “Black” and “African American” are considered non-derogatory among people in that group, with some preferring one and others the other and many people using them interchangeably. By contrast, many White young people are being taught that “African American” is the only acceptable term, and that “Black” is insulting. I am getting feedback from my students — few of whom are Black, some of whom have gone to integrated schools — that there are places where young AfAm/Black people take offense at the term Black, and other places where young AfAm/Black people laugh off or dislike African American and strongly prefer Black. So I’m pretty sure this is varying. My question is, does anybody know the parameters of how it is varying? What geographic areas or types of places go one way or the other? My hypothesis is that the only places where African American is preferred and Black is seen as derogatory is in White-dominated schools where the Black/AfAm kids are picking up what White kids are taught. But that could be wrong. Continue reading “black vs african american”