I was listening to some podcast a few months ago and something the speaker said made me think that I never really examined how the loss of my name affected my sense of identity. By this, I’m referring to my last name, the one I was born with.
See, being female in this culture means I don’t really have a name. I borrow my dad’s name until I get married and then I borrow my husband’s name. It’s not mine, I don’t have a name of my own. Indeed, a quick dip of the toe into the field of genealogy reveals instantly that the females of the line are superfluous. So much so that most lines don’t even bother to track the daughters. Being female, I was a bit incensed by this and did a heck of a lot to fill in all of those missing branches. Knowing a bit about genetics means that I think that women should track their genealogy through their mothers, and men through their father’s. Men get the Y chromosome direct, in an unbroken chain that stretches back for eons. Women get 2 Xs, and exactly where that X came from is a bit of a toss of the dice – but women do get the mitochondrial DNA direct from mothers in an unbroken line that stretches back eons.
It would be awesome if all names were hyphenated – a child inheriting the mother’s line name and the father’s line name. So little Johnnie and Suzie both get Smith from mom and Jones from dad, so that they are Smith-Jones. But when little Suzie has a child, her mother’s name is still Smith but the dad adds his name so all of Suzie’s kids are Smith-Dad. Little Johnnie’s kids become Mom-Jones. So Johnnie is of the Jones genetic Y heritage and all his boys will likewise be Joneses, while Suzie is of the Smith mitochondrial DNA lineage and all her girls will likewise be Smiths. See, that makes sense and is fair. I like it!
In Spain it was a tradition to have this hugely long name but that was literally a genealogical record of 4 generations – including the mothers. AWESOME! Modern hyphenated names are an attempt to do just this.
So I REALLY identified with my birth name. I know my genealogical lineage back for literally 200 years, every SINGLE person. Many lines can be reliably traced back to the 1600 and 1700s. A few more even go back to the turn of the first millennium (that’s 1000). I knew all of that. I can pretty reasonably guess at exactly what a DNA profile will reveal, and I’m saving up the money to do just that. I am intimately familiar with just how much a mutt everyone really is.
Then I got married, and eventually filed to change my name. New social security card, new driver’s license, new passport, the works. New identity. I never once stopped to consider what emotional connection I had to this new identity, what impact the loss of the old would have. What was my anchor? Who was I within that new context? Did I really want to change my name? If not, why did I? Those questions never crossed my mind, but in talking with a few other women I learn I’m pretty typical in that it was never questioned, not really. I have no idea how the name change impacted those other women, but in my case … I think I got lost. There was a whole lot going on at the time, and I really needed a solid anchor. My most solid anchor, I threw out the door.
It’s taken about 5 years of being lost in the dark to start to find myself again. Ohotto mentioned in an episode of his that sometimes a person can be lost in the Dark Night for years. *points to self* A total crisis, but (voice of Monty Python) I’m getting better. I’m reconnecting to my genealogy, looking to pick that back up. A fellow came into work for something and the moment I saw his name I knew he was relative – every single person in the U.S. with that name IS a relative, however distant. It got me excited and re-initiated the thought process of “what’s in a name?” and “who am I?” and the rest of it.
I’m still very disgruntled that genealogists don’t bother to track the daughters because they aren’t “really” (surname). Like waving a red flag at a bull, that comment. But at least I have a better understanding of why I made the choices I did, the true depth of the impact those choices had, and what I can do about them. Conscious living means going back to examine why we did things and made the choices we did. Sometimes it’s good … but usually it’s just sobering.