Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How many of me are there?

"What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." (Who can name that quote?)

When I married my love-a-dub husband, one of the many things we discussed was the changing of our last name. In English speaking cultures it is a societal norm to change one's last name to that of the husband's. Ironically, when we lived in Chile, a very macho-oriented culture, this was not the tradition. Rather, the children take both the mother and the father's last name. But the end by-product results very much the same. The mother's last name eventually is dropped when it is given to the next generation, as in our culture.

Can you imagine what their names would be like if they took each surname of both their mother and father, grandparents, great parents and so on. It would be like reading the first few pages of the Bible everyday; this is John Mike Smith, Johnson, Rogers, Baker, Pain, Peters, Torres, son of Cain..... Somewhere the chaos has to end, and someone's name has to make the cut or else insanity would ensue.

It was interesting when we would introduce ourselves as Kyle and Vanessa Rogers. A bewildered look would squirm across their faces. Despite the number of American movies brought to their country either through legitimate means or pirating, I gather that they still didn't make the connection as to how the transferring of last name works traditionally in the U.S.. We were often asked if we weren't brother and sister nearly everytime, and we would have to explain, "No, in the U.S. traditionally the wife takes the husbands last name." The response to this was often, "how machisto. How sexist" in a condescending manner, the irony blatantly oblivious to the founders of the machisto society.

But they have a point, it's true, our tradition of dropping the maiden name can be considered sexist as in our history it demonstrated the transferring from the father's control to the husband's control. Additionally, it implies that the woman has no surname of her own and her name is merely a reflection of her relationship to men.

Kyle and I discussed our options when planning our marriage. We could leave our names as is, but the problem with that is the lack of unity in the family unit. Eventually, we would like children, and felt it was important that our last names represented that we were a family. So the discussion continued to other options, taking my last name, hyphenating our last names, even creating a new last name out of our current names. Brogers was the most popular of our creative options. In the end, we went with the traditional method, and I changed my last name. The switch was both wistful and a joyous occasion all tied together in a messy ball of confusing and expensive paperwork. My maiden name had been mine, had represented me throughout my entire existence and now symbolized a past self, a pre-marriage self. In some ways it was hard to leave behind the name that in some way had helped to mold me into who I was, but in another, I was illustrating to the world that I was permanently attached to the man I loved and we were then and forever more family.

I mention this now because I recently came across a website called How many of me, which tells you how many people in the USA have your same name. There are a total of 21 people with Vanessa as their first name and my maiden last name as their last, however my current last name, which is by far the more widely used, has 186 of us roaming around the US of A. These statistics made me feel a uninspiring, and unoriginal. It also got me to thinking; who would I be today had I had a totally different name. Would a rose really smell so sweet if it had a different name. What if a rose was called gerg or scat, something that didn't roll off the tongue so sweetly. Would the disgust in our mouth from creating the unpleasant sound taint our image of the rose? How important is a name? Do people see me differently now that I have changed my last name? How many of you are in this world. How does that make you feel? How has your name shaped your life if at all?


Rachael said...

Vanessa that is a crazy site! Is it for real? It said that there is only ONE person with my name in the whole of the USA (presumably, me.) That's just-wow!

LadyFi said...

I'm pretty sure we're the only ones in the world as we have a double-barrelled surname with both my maiden name and my husband's name. Let's just say that a Swedish-English combo is pretty unusual...