Feminism and Family Names

By Albert Weisbord
(From the magazine "La Parola del Popolo" November/December 1976)

IT IS A WELL known fact that for centuries in civilized places all over the world, the family, clan, or kindred name recognized only the male strain which dominated. Later, when the female side of the family was generally allowed to appear, it was only through the name of the paternal side of the family from which the female originated. The maternal side of the family was entirely submerged. It was only the male side representing force and military might, the seizure of land and real property, the seizure of slaves and the reduction of women to slavery, the ownership of the means of production and circulation of wealth, etc., that furnished the married names.

In the United States the situation today is generally as follows: The family name is that of the father; the wife takes the name of the family she marries into. If she also keeps her maiden name that name is the name of her father. If Mary Smith (whose fathers name is Smith) marries Henry Jones, she drops the name of Smith and takes her husband's family name, Jones. But Mary ought to keep her maiden name, not as formerly to reveal the power and property of the alliance of the two families Smith and Jones, but for the scientific reason of revealing the biological and genetic history of father, mother, and children.

Should Mary Smith become now Mary Smith-Jones, we know the genetic sources of the children of the union between Mary Smith and Henry Jones and this knowledge may be of considerable importance biologically, psychologically, and sociologically. Henry Jones, however, has no need to take the name Smith-Jones, since Smith was never part of the genealogy of Jones. If there are no children to the union of Smith and Jones there is no scientific need for Smith to take on the name of Jones and Jones has no need to take on the name Smith.

When children are born, however, both parents should have the same name, Smith-Jones, and become Mary Smith-Jones and Henry Smith-Jones, respectively, having two children, as an example, Anne Smith Jones and John Smith Jones. Should the male child John Smith Jones marry Sarah Roe, then their child Robert would have the name Robert Roe Jones and the parents John Jones and Sarah Roe would take names of Roe-Jones.

When Anne is born, the child of Mary Smith and Henry Jones, she should be known as Anne Smith Jones (without hyphens). Should Anne Smith Jones marry John Doe, her name could become Anne Smith Jones-Doe, but such a string would soon become intolerable. There must be some cut-off point and the best solution would be to drop the Smith, now second-removed and Anne's name become Anne Jones-Doe, with her husband's name John Jones-Doe.

Here feminists might object: why should the order for Robert be Roe-Jones and not Jones-Roe, and why should the order for Anne be Jones-Doe and not Doe-Jones? This is because we have decided the female side of the union be mentioned first and this is really of no importance since in both cases it is a male name that has been carried on due to historical causes lasting hundreds of years and due to the fact that there has never been family names representing females only.

The disappearance of the monogramous family, as such, would not change the basic situation so long as the origin of the child is known. If no record is ever kept of the origin of offspring and there is continual copulation of one with many, then the family name has no reason to be remembered since both family and records will have disappeared. Tribalism and nationalism will have vanished. In that case, perhaps, serial numbers and/or letters may replace names.

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