I was thinking, as we were driving a tiresome stretch of Hwy 5 in Cali, that place names were interesting. From that, my bungee brain jumped to names, in general. Therefore the title of this post is on purpose. 98% of the time, when asked to select a salutation, I select “Ms.”
I have been happily married for 37 years. Yet I regret, often, not keeping my maiden name when I married. That was just starting to happen in the Sixties and Seventies. If you bothered to get married at all, you kept your maiden name or, starting a bit later (the eighties?) you hyphenated. We had a minster once with a hyphenated name. When he introduced his family to the congregation for the first time he remarked, “Please don’t ask what is going to happen when our daughter, Sara Smith-Jones marries Jack Brown-White. We don’t know. Not our problem!”
My solution was simply to use my maiden name unofficially as my middle name. Legally, I am Laura Rae Hulka, which is, actually a nice neat little name that goes together well and trips off the tongue with a lovely rightness. Professionally, and personally (i.e. on Facebook, on other websites…) I use my chosen maiden-name-as-middle name-moniker. And yet…
I love my husband, and I am proud of him, and the genealogy that we have discovered about his family. But Hulka blood doesn’t run in my veins, and Strathman is an honorable name. My father was an accomplished county administrator, once called “the Dean of County Administrators.” He was honest, hard-working, with a terrific sense of humor and a dedication to family that is with me to this day. As a feminist, with feminist roots, my mother’s family is also one of interesting history and important contributions. But in 1938 when she was married, very few women kept their maiden name. Even a marriage between equals, which my parents strived to achieve, was one in which the wife left her past behind, and assumed a role as a sidebar to her husband.
As of now, my children don’t seem to much care about family history, and the genealogy that Ed and I find so fascinating. My daughter couldn’t wait to leave her maiden name behind, and while I don’t think that any perversity or dislike of “Hulka” motivated her, I also don’t think she ever even thought of NOT taking her husband’s name. Does that say something about me as a feminist mother? Or are there some things that transcend our efforts to be equal?
Names are important. Our parents thought long and hard about the names they bestowed on us, matched, supposedly, to work with our last name. In the case of my sisters and I, first and middle names all had family significance – my mother’s best friend, a sister-in-law, a parent… and we discussed the names as we got older. My own children were only partly named for family, but I did think long and hard about rhythm and pattern. Might I have chosen differently if we were Strathman-Hulka? Does our choice (my husband would have gone to a hyphenated name had I wanted to – we just never talked about it then.) change how my children see or might have seen) family, and their identity in the past and the future?
In all likelihood, I am assuming that many kids with hyphenated surnames names drop one of them when they marry, if not both. Avoids unnecessary complications. Which means that if we DO hyphenate, any importance of that name becomes moot, unless we make the name famous, (or infamous) and memorable in some way, since the next generation will negate the hyphenated years anyhow!
OH, and I haven’t even begun discussing melded names, or totally new last names upon marriage. Strulka? Hulman? Groundhog? (We were married on Groundhog’s Day). Oh my. Imagine the new layer of confusion that would add to genealogical research in another 100 years if that became a common practice? Sigh. And commonly, when a couple doesn’t marry at all, but practice some form of common-law marriage, the children take the father’s name. Why is that?
It all depresses me, thinking about names. I know, fully, what Shakespeare said about names and roses. I know that a name isn’t a portrayal of who we are, really. Numerologists might disagree, and those who search out the history and meanings of names. Remember, Native Americans often had, in the past, several stages where different first names were given, or honored, based on personal traits and accomplishments. Last names were not bestowed at all in many cultures. Or your name came to mean what your father did (you become Tom’s son = Thompson, or Baker was because he was renowned as a baker.) or the name of your owner, if you were a slave.
AND I know that there are others out there with “my” name. So it’s uniqueness does not have anything to do with originality or time or place. It’s distinctiveness is my own value, and the use I have made of my name. I still wish it wasn’t so complicated, and that names would be something that we bear from cradle to grave, as men usually do. I just wonder…