Friday, September 5, 2008

what's in a name?

I was watching the Republican convention last night (I'm a political junkie--have been all my life) and was providing scintillating commentary to my dog--he thought I was very insightful, by the way. I could tell by the rapt expression on his face---when the proceedings arrived to the point of the vice-presidential nomination. Then the tone of my voice changed considerably, and the dog fled to the relative safety of another room.

What aroused my ire? Sarah Palin was being formally nominated. The speaker referred to her as "Sarah Palin" exactly once and then, for the rest of the speech and through an uncomfortable awkward chant, referred to her as "Sarah."

What happened to her last name? Why are we uncomfortable referring to women by their last names? Why isn't the press calling her "Palin?" (And, why, for god's sake, did Campbell Brown of CNN ask a McCain (not John) spokesperson if "Sarah" could focus on the campaign while parenting an infant with Down's syndrome, a son leaving for war, a pregnant teenage daughter, and two other children? I do NOT believe that she would have asked that question of a male candidate, but I digress.)

This name thing has been troubling to me for many many years. At the top of the stairs in house where I grew up, there were two framed wedding invitations--my mother's and my grandmother's. On both, in lovely engraved script, the bride was mentioned by her first two names only. The parents "gave" their daughter Marie Therese. Her name was obliterated entirely in the invitation to my mother's wedding, and Mr and Mrs Oswald C. "gave" their daughter Sherrill Ann.

No last names of their own. Just first names adrift in a sea of temporary last names. It seemed so sad to me. The names seemed to be without an anchor, without a home of their own. At a young age I promised myself that I would claim the name I was born with as my own, and never change it. My name, my full name, is not a temporary way-station. It is me. Strip away all else, but leave me my name.

Names are important. They have power. I don't know how I will vote in November. I am "in play" as politicos like to say. I do know, however, that if I find myself in a crowd chanting Sarah Palin's name, I will say "Palin."


Andrea Rusin said...

Well, I'm not at all in favor of you voting for John McCain, in case you were wondering ;) But I totally support your view of names. Now. Soon enough we'll have the same name again. I even notice that it sounds weird when professors refer to female scholars by their last name only. Then I take myself to task because of COURSE that's how they refer to male scholars. Our ears have to be trained, apparently.

Nina said...

Our ears do have to be trained. We have so absorbed that last names belong to men, not women, that we try to pass off our use of women's first names as a compliment of some sort--an indication of closeness and friendship.

Hillary Clinton, for example, ran as "hillary" not as "clinton." Parly to avoid confusion and over-identification with her husband, but partly, I suspect, because her strategists knew that people are uncomfortable identifying women by thier last names only. If they have a male partner with whom they share that name, it's even harder to use it to apply to the female.

I still take occassional grief for not sharing a last name with my husband and my son, but I have never regretted holding on to my own name.