Introducing Lamoishe and Hezbollah Schoenfeld
July 28, 2019 12:31 PM   Subscribe

“My grandparents’ unconditional love became abruptly very conditional when my grandfather and I had the biggest fight he’d ever had with anyone, on the birth of his great-grandchildren, my twin daughters.
I nearly got disowned over my decision not to pass on the family name.” Essay by Nato Green.
posted by Kattullus (73 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
I didn't change my name on marriage and people get *very concerned* about the last names of our future children. I've frankly never thought of it and it doesn't seem to me like it matters all that much. I recently told my MIL (who is a lovely woman) that parents can give babies any last name they want (except in Louisiana), and she was insistent it's not true.
posted by muddgirl at 12:56 PM on July 28 [8 favorites]


This essay is hilarious. thanks!
posted by Fraxas at 1:05 PM on July 28 [9 favorites]


So many people warned me that not having the same last name as my son would cause all sorts of problems. In 12 years not one single person has even blinked an eye.

I’m not sure how I feel about their solution. Lying seems like not the best way to go about things.
posted by lyssabee at 1:06 PM on July 28 [11 favorites]


Delightful essay.

The Peach offspring has a hyphenated name with Mr. Peach's name first, which caused all kinds of persistent misnaming by family and non-family alike, to all our mild annoyance; said offspring is planning to bear a child and give it--wait for it--the same hyphenated name. We will see how the offspring's partner's intense Italian-American family takes that.

It is none of my business and I don't really care. I have my mother's maiden name as my middle name and that's all I care about.
posted by Peach at 1:08 PM on July 28 [4 favorites]


in 9 years, there has not been a single moment of confusion about the members of our family having different last names. Except that, occasionally, I will get mail addressed to Mr. [Wife's-last-name] and her to Mrs. [My-last-name]. Which we find amusing.

We've had more bureaucratic difficulty with the fact that our oldest daughter is an American citizen while none of my wife, myself, nor our other daughter are.
posted by 256 at 1:11 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Wow. I'm having something of a reaction to this essay, you guys! It's well written, sure, but OH MY GOD. I fucking hate that he lied to the grandfather. It was so disrespectful to his wife and a literal erasure of his children's identity.

And - this is a thousand times worse - he made his kids lie too! Like holy fuck, is nothing sacred, not even the innocence of toddlers who are just learning how to speak, to take pride in saying their own names?

This essay hit me in a bunch of sore spots. I'm from a very conservative, misogynistic culture. Wasn't allowed to date, expected to have an arranged marriage with someone from my own sub-sub-caste, blah blah blah. I made the hardchoices in my life and I PAID THE GODDAMN PRICE.

- Got thrown out of my home and disowned when I married for love. Price paid: lost my parents, lost their financial support, lost any hope of a way out from what turned out to be an abusive relationship.

- Had to stare down my husband and his parents in order to keep my own name after we got married. Price paid: - Got branded the family bitch for that ... never recovered.

- When we had children, my husband bullied me in the delivery room to renege on his prior agreement and pass on only his last name to our firstborn. Price paid: my first kid does not share my last name.

- When time came to name our second, I told him to fuck off and divorce me if he pleases, but the child was getting my last name only. Price paid: husband never forgave me for sticking to my guns and using my legal right to name the second kid; in-laws stopped speaking with me except for politeness' sake.

- When my son wanted to wear pretty dresses just like mommy, I stood up for him against in-laws and husband - went to war, basically. I would not allow any one of them to breathe a single homophobic or transphobic word when he was in the room. I would not let my son see them cringe and turn away, embarrassed. Price paid: hypervigilance, stress, and panic attacks for several years.

- When my sister stopped speaking to my parents, and did not want my parents to know that she had eloped, I kept her secret, but refused to force my children to lie. I would not put that burden on my kids. Children deserve better than to cover up for shitty adults who cannot handle their own lives. Price paid: my sister does not speak to me anymore.

- Eventually I got divorced, breaking about twenty jillion deep cultural taboos in the process. Price paid: I'm the black sheep of my whole extended family, the one they whisper about to the young ones as a cautionary tale. I lost my family all over again in whole new ways.

Why did I do all this? Because I know what the cost of a lie is... the cost of a lie in any of these areas is the erasure of oneself, one's identity, one's self esteem. THIS IS THE ESSENCE OF OPPRESSION.

This guy... fuck this guy. He's all talk. He's the epitome of fake San Francisco straight white dude performative woke-ness. When push came to shove, he failed to stand up for what was right. Everyone has a 95 year old grandfather who is angry and threatening to cut them out of the will. Only the white dudes lose nothing by lying to them about their children's last name.
posted by MiraK at 1:24 PM on July 28 [104 favorites]


My husband and I both changed our last names when we got married to a third name - my husband’s middle name and which happened to also be a family name on his side. The decision did not go over well with his parents and they have basically no contact with us now, so yeah. They took it as a rejection of them personally. Sucks for them because 11 years later, they don’t know their grandchildren at all.
posted by fancyoats at 1:28 PM on July 28 [9 favorites]


It's funny because Alan Green's parents were most likely not Greens in the old country.
Actually, I'm thinking if there is something else to this. My girls (with two different fathers) have their fathers' surnames. I don't have big feelings about that. But they both have Jewish given names. My grandparents objected to that at first. They were scared that it would somehow expose the girls to anti-semitism. With the first, we also gave her a Christian middle name to pacify them, and for a while my gran tried using that, but had to give up because no-one else did. Then she tried some rather absurd nicknames and it kind of worked. With the second I told them that she was named after my two best friends who were both gentile and that other people can use traditional Jewish names, indeed my second daughter's name is maybe one of the most common in her generation here, so there was no problem.
All this after that same gran tried to style me as an Israeli kibbutznik girl my whole childhood.
Fear does strange things to your brain, I think.
posted by mumimor at 1:28 PM on July 28 [8 favorites]


And after all that she felt kind of embarrassed about ranting like that over a relatively harmless and lighthearted essay on the random internet.

Ahem, sorry for the outburst, folks, carry on.
posted by MiraK at 1:48 PM on July 28 [47 favorites]


There were several kids from a certain family attending the school I work at who gave their daughters the same last name as their mother and their sons the same last name of their father. They were more than eager to explain why they and sibling had different last names.

But that only really pays off if, like that family, you have 5 kids.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 1:54 PM on July 28 [4 favorites]


> But that only really pays off if, like that family, you have 5 kids

That's the deal my kids have, but they don't explain it to anyone because nobody cares and there are only two of them. Unlike the author Mr Corpse does, in fact, have a family tartan to pass along -- but nobody cares about that either (it's sort of ugly).
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:00 PM on July 28 [5 favorites]


(license plate “IXMNU,” because he was a doctor, get it?)

no :(
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 2:05 PM on July 28 [8 favorites]


So many people warned me that not having the same last name as my son would cause all sorts of problems. In 12 years not one single person has even blinked an eye.

Are are you a father?
posted by sideshow at 2:07 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


IXMNU = I examine you
posted by J.K. Seazer at 2:17 PM on July 28 [8 favorites]


I sympathise with the grandfather.
posted by alasdair at 2:23 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


It's funny because Alan Green's parents were most likely not Greens in the old country.

Also I'm pretty sure Schoenfeld means beautiful field (please correct me if I'm wrong), and thus carries Green within it; plus Green-Schoenfeld would be the only order that makes sense.

I've noticed a tendency for this kind of explosive, unpredictable rage in some older people, and while sometimes it's a symptom of dementia (which the author doesn't mention) I also wonder whether, side from the existential effects of getting old and facing death, it's also related to the stress of increased physical pain, increased difficulty of doing things, and increased indignities involved in getting through the day. Sometimes I notice that kind of feeling in me during difficult times, and I try very hard to not succumb to it partly because it's unpleasant for me and others in the present, and partly because, with an eye to the future, I think I'd better make it a point to learn to deal with these things with grace, because the need for that skill is only going to increase. It's not easy, though.
posted by trig at 2:30 PM on July 28 [25 favorites]


Trig, you make a really good point. I personally am much more likely to snap at my kids or (er) explode at petty stuff on the internet when I'm feeling some kind of pain - anything from chronic pain flaring up to feeling like a failure.

However, no matter how much pain I'm dealing with, I've never gone on a sexist, racist, etc. rant, nor am I ever likely to. This grandfather might have an excuse for his temper but he has no excuse for his misogyny. There's no papering over that.
posted by MiraK at 3:37 PM on July 28 [6 favorites]


MiraK, given their under the table lo-five, there is no reason to believe that his wife was not a full partner in this decision. They considered the options and chose what they valued most, that is their children having time with a very elderly and loved family member while maintaining the name decision they had made. You don't get to tell other people what they value, even if you resent them for avoiding the same alienations as you experienced.
posted by tavella at 3:39 PM on July 28 [38 favorites]


I never considered just how contentious this topic can be until my first marriage. I added my then-spouse's last name to my own, and she added mine to hers, such that our respective last names were X-Y and Y-X. Added to this was the fact that her culture's naming conventions dictated a suffix change based on gender (in this case, -ova for women and -ov for men). Later, I shortened my last name to just her last name conversationally (legally, I still had the hyphenated name) but she retained the hyphen.

So when it was time to register a legal name for our child, we were presented with a bit of a logistical problem. Relatives on both sides of the family were very keen to see their respective family names-and that name alone-as our child's family name.

In the end, though, we decided that since we're the ones actually raising the child we should do what we like. We gave her her mother's hyphenated name. That said, it could have been more complicated than that; being foreign-born, we were not subject to the naming laws and so we could do as we pleased.

Our child still has that name, but I've ended up dropping the name I added at marriage and changed my first name after coming out as trans.

Through none of this, in her entire 13 years so far, has anyone expressed confusion as to who either of her parents are.

Exec summary: naming conventions are weird.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 3:40 PM on July 28 [11 favorites]


> Ahem, sorry for the outburst, folks, carry on.
posted by MiraK at 1:48 PM on July 28 [9 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


more outbursts please. because that was such a good outburst.

i wish my relatives were more like you and less like your relatives.

i'm increasingly of the opinion that most families are, deep down, nothing more than a conspiracy of silence designed to protect abusers.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:06 PM on July 28 [31 favorites]


I changed my last name when I got married, which is unusual for a guy, I suppose. The only person who has ever had a problem with this is a cousin of my father, who kept her name (my old name) when she got married, and who (with her husband) conspicuously elected to remain childless by choice. She was very upset that the family name wouldn't be passed on to my children, and wrote a nasty letter to my mother about it (never had the guts to say anything to me.) Pfft.
posted by davejay at 4:31 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


> So many people warned me that not having the same last name as my son would cause all sorts of problems. In 12 years not one single person has even blinked an eye.

I think one significant generational difference in the US between Gen-X and younger, in contrast to Baby Boomer and older, is that we (the Gen-X and younger) were far more likely to have grown up as, or among, kids whose parents were divorced and possibly remarried, leading to parents with different last names from each other or their kids. So this is completely normal and unremarkable for us.
posted by at by at 4:32 PM on July 28 [16 favorites]


Oh and then there was the couple (no longer any part of my life, and that was intentional on my part), the husband and wife different races, where the wife insisted on the kids taking her (boring although slightly odd white) name because -- and she wasn't ashamed of saying this -- otherwise nobody would know she was their mother.
posted by davejay at 4:33 PM on July 28


there is no reason to believe that his wife was not a full partner in this decision. They considered the options and chose what they valued most ...

IDK, I think we are all complicit in all the oppressions, including our own... but that doesn't make oppression disappear. Doesn't make oppression just.

I do get it. We all make a million oppressive choices every day, because nobody can fight every battle that comes their way. That's what it means to live in an oppressive system: it is impossible to fully opt out, no matter our intentions. It makes no sense to judge everyone's every little (or big!) decision. You're right - I don't get to tell people what to value in their personal lives. You are also right that my tirade against this guy was driven by personal resentment that he has never been forced to make the choices that I've had to.

But there is a level on which we can talk about these things without getting down into personal attacks (like I did before - which was wrong). I think it's fair to analyze this in the context of how larger forces of structural oppression are kept alive.

Sometimes a worker at McDonald's gets a hard-earned raise of 75 cents above federal minimum wage, and the worker is super thrilled about it -- but we can still note McDonald's is exploiting that worker (plus millions of others) and that the worker's joy in itself is a grotesque manifestation of the strength of that exploitation. Similarly here, even though the wife is thrilled to participate in the charade, we can still note that the charade demeans, insults, and oppresses her, and that her eager participation is in itself a manifestation of how strong the force of this particular oppression still is.
posted by MiraK at 4:36 PM on July 28 [18 favorites]


Tamar Schoenfeld never has the option to pretend to be a regular white person whose family knows how to fix cars and eats casserole and doesn’t live in a house that’s all bookshelves.

Not that there isn't plenty of grist on sexism and family relations to go around with this one, but I do get what he means when he calls this a very Jewish story...my family lore includes a naming argument, quite different in the details and dynamics, but ultimately similar enough at the core to give me a sort of wince of amused recognition when I figured out where this one was headed. Every generation has to find their own way how to recalibrate what it's going to mean to carry a name.

Although no one can tell me kugel isn't a damn casserole.
posted by eponym at 5:03 PM on July 28 [8 favorites]


I loved:
Tragically for my abuelo, no one in our family is Cuban.
I was very touched at how deeply he dug to try to understand and sympathize with his grandfather's point of view.

I've felt kind of weird most of my life having my father's name, even though he and his entire family completely removed themselves from my life when I was a child. My sister and I wanted to take our mother's maiden name when she did during the divorce, but the judge said no. Even though our father was emphatically not seeking any kind of custody or visitation. And, I've always had lots more pressing uses for the $400 it would cost to change it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:06 PM on July 28 [9 favorites]


There are hundreds of cases litigated by feuding parents about children's names - nice to see some of the older generations getting in to the action.

My children have minimal/no contact with their father and a strong relationship with my mother and aunt, who both kept their married names after divorcing their respective husbands. So the children are working through the maternal line looking for possible surnames that they might like to change to that are workable in length and sufficiently phonetic to survive cross-language barriers.

The whole names thing - it would be good if a bit of logic occasionally intruded, eg. each of my 6 children has a different first initial - makes the laundry marking much easier.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 5:32 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I wanted to do this, but my husband really wanted to share the kids' last name, which I will grudgingly admit is fair and normal. I told him he was welcome to change to my last name, but he didn't go for it. So the kids have a hyphenated last name, MyName-HisName.
Sometimes, people, family, refer to the kids, or send mail to FirstName HisName.
Every time this happens, I experience the most intense sensation. I can only describe it as a white-out of rage. I have never actually struck another person in my life, but when this happens I am sorely tempted. I believe I would not regret it until ten full minutes later.
There is a volcano that lives in my chest, and whenever someone drops my last name from my children's names, and then simpers out a resentful apology when I sharply correct them, the crust on the volcano cracks a little. One day it will erupt, and I will finally tell them that if they think fourteen letters is too much to remember, I will go down to City Hall and chop six letters off RIGHT FUCKING NOW. You're not going to like the name I drop, but that's your own problem. Come on, assholes, I got my keys and the birth certificates right here. Names are too long? I'll shorten them, all right.
posted by Adridne at 6:03 PM on July 28 [44 favorites]


My husband, to his credit, will correct people if he is present. In fact, he is almost always the one who corrects them, while I am still in the grip of fury, before I have regained the power of speech.
posted by Adridne at 6:04 PM on July 28 [10 favorites]


I’m intentionally misnamed constantly by people who really aren’t happy at my choice so I just say “Fuck em” and move along.
posted by tilde at 6:05 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


I had a surprising name experience. My wife and I got married and we decided to both pick a new surname for ourselves and future children, since it seemed like a cute symbolism for our new family to have the same surname. None of our families cared to get on our case about this, except for my wife's grandfather, who was quite bothered that my wife didn't take my last name. Go figure.
posted by value of information at 6:08 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


My kids have my last name. There was a great deal of angst about this expressed by both sets of parents and my grandmothers but that was the only trouble it ever caused - not with schools, friends or anyone else. Said kids are adults now and none of us regrets. And yes - they all have Jewish first names - I suppose this might remove them from using husband's exceedingly ugly tartan but given how hideous it is no-one cares. And while all of those family members were incensed and horrified we ended up saying this is how it is and we're done talking about it - and that was the end of the issue.
posted by leslies at 6:10 PM on July 28 [7 favorites]


OH MY GOD. I fucking hate that he lied to the grandfather. It was so disrespectful to his wife and a literal erasure of his children's identity.

The author indicates that that was pretty much a family tradition. His grandfather carried the scars of his childhood, growing up in the antisemitic culture of the USA. He then went to fight in WW2 and he saw emaciated Jewish survivors and corpses stacked like cordwood. I know of many, many Jews who struggled to remove every last bit of their Jewish identity in the hope that they wouldn't be victims next time.

The idea that Alan Green (né Avraham, né Grünfeld or whatever) was solely motivated by old-fashioned patriarchal motives doesn't really make sense: as the author says, girls in a patriarchal society only keep their surnames until they're married. Take his motives at face value: he wanted his granddaughters to fit in. It was something burned into his very essence: people who stick out are vulnerable. Alan loved his great-granddaughters and wanted to protect them, which to him, meant being a Green rather than a Schoenfeld. His grandson recognised that love, and that fear; and in conjunction with his wife (whose opinion surely counts here!) chose to honour them. Consequently, his daughters had seven precious, precious years shared with their great-grandfather, and I bet that they're grateful for every moment. Even one day lost to a stupid fight over nomenclature would have been a shame.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:16 PM on July 28 [59 favorites]


When I lived in Peoria, the fact that I kept my maiden name, and my kids have a different name, was never an issue, I suppose because there were a lot of single mothers. Now that we're in suburbia, I get called Mrs. Him all the time even though SO MANY MARRIED WOMEN up here kept their own last names.

But now it's ceaselessly amusing to me because we're back in my hometown, so all the time I'll go to pick up my kid, and my third grade orchestra teacher is like, "EYEBROWS MCGEE? What are you doing here?" and I'm like "This one is mine," because his name isn't McGee on the list so they're constantly shocked. And my kids are mortified because their math specialist is bear-hugging their mother because I used to babysit their math specialist's kids when they were tiny and they're supposed to be getting picked up but instead we're catching up on 20 years of gossip, and they're like "MOOOOM, let's go!" and I'm like, "Why didn't you tell your sub today you were my son? She's been friends with your grandmother for forty years, she changed your diapers when you were newborn and we were in town for Christmas and I got the flu!" "MOOOOOOOM!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:18 PM on July 28 [19 favorites]


One measure of the power of patriarchy is who gets the luxury of having their history honored and their generational journey recognized. The wife is also Jewish, is she not? What trauma did her ancestors go through? Why does this writer's grandfather become so incensed at the idea of honoring her history and lineage? What makes us more sympathetic to his history than to hers?

A measure of the tragedy of patriarchy is the terrible bargain that women (and only women) are constantly confronted with: we can either have our full human rights OR we can have the richness of being accepted by family, culture, society, and heritage. We must choose. Men need not.

Yeah, it's very touching that those little girls spent time with their grandfather. The price that he demanded in exchange for that time was unconscionable.
posted by MiraK at 6:34 PM on July 28 [31 favorites]


Well, this just confirmed what I used to tell the middle schoolers when I was teaching: “Don’t you DARE call someone out of their name. That’s one of the worst things you can do to a person. Call them by the name they want you to call them.” That stuff caused a lot of terrible fights.

I myself was called in school a nickname I hated until my senior year in high school when I forced everyone to call me by my real name. They HATED the change. They thought they had the right to misname me.
posted by Peach at 6:44 PM on July 28 [14 favorites]


Tamar Schoenfeld never has the option to pretend to be a regular white person whose family knows how to fix cars and eats casserole and doesn’t live in a house that’s all bookshelves.

This sentence, and the sentiment behind it, actually bothered me a little. I'm Jewish, my grandfather drove a bus and my dad was the first in his family to go to college.
posted by killdevil at 6:57 PM on July 28 [16 favorites]


Yeah, I think I'd mentally glossed over the undercurrent of sort of...off-handed classism behind the details chosen to make that point, but that's a totally fair point.
posted by eponym at 7:17 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


One measure of the power of patriarchy is who gets the luxury of having their history honored and their generational journey recognized. The wife is also Jewish, is she not? What trauma did her ancestors go through? Why does this writer's grandfather become so incensed at the idea of honoring her history and lineage? What makes us more sympathetic to his history than to hers?

A measure of the tragedy of patriarchy is the terrible bargain that women (and only women) are constantly confronted with: we can either have our full human rights OR we can have the richness of being accepted by family, culture, society, and heritage. We must choose. Men need not.


Y'know, I get that he wrote the essay and she didn't, so we have only his version of events. But again, as given the under-the-table high five tavella emphasized before, it certainly suggests that Tamar Schoenfield was at least a full and enthusiastic partner in this decision.

For all the emphasis you place on her own history and her own trauma, please, allow the woman her own agency in this as well?
posted by kafziel at 7:25 PM on July 28 [12 favorites]


Take his motives at face value: he wanted his granddaughters to fit in.

If we take the grandfather's motives at face value we have his very own words to go by, none of which place any emphasis on fitting in. A lot about "fraternal ties" and the importance of his own family name, yes, but not really anything you're ascribing to his motives.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:29 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


The grandfather’s motives were more than any one thing. In addition to the lethal anti-semitism he saw first-hand, he was also proud of building up his own family name to mean something through his medical practice and he was pretty conspicuously sexist in his letter, telling his grandson that the girls would just end up changing their names to their future husbands’ names anyway.

We taught the children to lie to hold the family together.

This hit me hard. A lot of the cheerfulness in my family gatherings depends on pretending and it eats away at you.

I find it wrong that they made the children lie to sustain this fiction, but it still may have been the less worse choice than allowing their grandfather to angry himself out of their lives. None of us knew Dr. Green, but his grandson and granddaughter-in-law did, and that’s the choice they made.
posted by sallybrown at 7:35 PM on July 28 [18 favorites]


I think I'd mentally glossed over the undercurrent of sort of...off-handed classism behind the details chosen to make that point, but that's a totally fair point.

Yes, totally fair. My default assumptions are like the author's, but I have a bunch of Jewish friends who aren't bookshelf people, so it's obviously an inaccurate stereotype. I think this might be because in much of Europe, social status (i.e., a title or even being considered a "gentleman") was reserved for non-Jews. There were two paths that led to a sort of pseudo-status: being rich, or having a professional title. Most people can't get rich, but if you read a lot you might get into university so people will call you Herr Doktor and not openly treat you like crap.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:35 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Traditionally, Chinese women don't change their family names on marriage. However, this was still patriarchally driven, since:
A married woman continues to be identified by her father’s lineage... That kept her an outsider in her husband’s family.
The random internet commenter cited later in the piece is kinda overstating it, though. Most Chinese women today are happy to keep their family names. I don't think many people are even aware of the patriarchal explanation.

(For the longest time as a kid, I was very confused by the "mother's maiden name" security questions.)
posted by airmail at 7:38 PM on July 28 [6 favorites]


I can't speak for the uniquely Jewish parts of this story, but in terms of the more universal "do we accommodate our family's rules for staying in the fold, spoken or unspoken, as best we can; or do we refuse and sever the tie" - this hits hard. There's no right answer, there's just the answer that works for you. Probably any answer comes with its price. I think most people with this kind of estrangement or threatened estrangement know this binding feeling, caught between trying to honor your identity in the family and your self-identity, too.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:07 PM on July 28 [11 favorites]


Tamar Schoenfeld never has the option to pretend to be a regular white person whose family knows how to fix cars and eats casserole and doesn’t live in a house that’s all bookshelves.

To me this isn't saying that Jews don't do those things - eating casseroles and fixing cars are fairly mundane -- it's that by giving the kids names that are clearly marked as Jewish, they are taking away the kids' ability to pass. They can be the thing, or they can not be the thing, but they can't pretend to it. Even in a purported melting pot, they'll never seamlessly blend. Which is at the heart of what it sounds like the grandfather objects to.
posted by Mchelly at 8:12 PM on July 28 [10 favorites]


On a lighter note, I knew a couple where the wife was "Dr. HerName" and the husband was Mr. HisName and they constantly got mail addressed to "Dr and Mrs Hername". A double pack of patriarchy!
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:12 PM on July 28 [13 favorites]


This is a really interesting article. I loved reading it. The only bad things about it is that the author made different choices than I would have.
posted by great_radio at 8:48 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


I find it wrong that they made the children lie to sustain this fiction, but it still may have been the less worse choice than allowing their grandfather to angry himself out of their lives. None of us knew Dr. Green, but his grandson and granddaughter-in-law did, and that’s the choice they made.

Fuck it, I'd rather lie to Grandpa about something this dumb than be myself* and cause a fucking war and break up the family just for me being me and wanting to do me things like name kids what I want. But that's me. This seems like the least harmful choice to all under the circumstances, or at least that's how it played out. YMMV and all that.

* disclaimer: most of mine doesn't like me anyway because I'm me, so not sure what the practical difference would be really in my case.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:32 PM on July 28 [9 favorites]


On a lighter note, I knew a couple where the wife was "Dr. HerName" and the husband was Mr. HisName and they constantly got mail addressed to "Dr and Mrs Hername". A double pack of patriarchy!
When I was studying in New York, I brought an au pair with me to take care of my daughter (I had recently divorced). A lot of people were more ready to believe that the 17 year old with barely a beard to his face was the graduate student and I was the au pair, or his wife, or something. I can't even guess how they imagined he could have a 4 year old daughter...
posted by mumimor at 12:59 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


My partner and I kept our names, and gave our kids our names hyphenated (hers-mine). There's one upside that no one here's mentioned yet - there are literally more than 1000 people with my first/surname combination on the internet (used to just be me) .... but my kids' surname is unique, they are the only people with their surname, they are the only people in this much larger world that we've created in the past couple of decades with their names
posted by mbo at 3:26 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


This was a delight to read, humorous and heartfelt at the same time. I read it in the same spirit as Joe in Australia wrrote above. I understand why others are focusing on the "patriarchal" aspect of lying about using the mother’s name, but I think by doing so you are ignoring the "this is a very Jewish story" part and it simply cannot be ignored. The grandfather had his own personal reasons that have some historical weight and the fact the author sympathizes and understands them makes the lie seem a lot less problematic to me than others are making it. I read it as a form of respect for a man who only had a few years left with his grandchildren. It seems clear to me the author’s wife was in full agreement and I would assume they will have explained to the girls why they lied to grandpa and that the girls will understand this even better once they grow up and appreciate having spent some time with a happy proud non-resentful grandpa. Win-win. (Still, I almost wish they’d gone with Green-Schoenfeld as that’s such a nice mix of words in different languages! green beautiful field?)
posted by bitteschoen at 4:11 AM on July 29 [11 favorites]


the wife was "Dr. HerName" and the husband was Mr. HisName
Same here, and that's a whole nother clear plastic bag full of squirm for everyone. Even 12-year-olds wanted to call me "Mrs. HisLastName" instead of "Dr. MyLastName," and I had a colleague once ask me why I wanted people to call me "Dr." (I was not even the only faculty member at the K-12 school with a doctorate, one of whom, an art teacher, was even referred to as "Doc.")*

Heck, my own mother was "Dr. His#2LastName" after she remarried and dropped the "Dr. His#1LastName." My sister changed her name when she got married, but only her first name. *

*I will be handing out a reading with key to the complex tree of renamings after class for those who want to retrace the effects of the nomenclature of the patriarchy on our family in a new age of divorce, professional achievement, and widowhood.

posted by Peach at 6:16 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


My wife and I don't have kids, but I didn't want her to change her name when we got married because her father passed away when she was very young and so her last name is a tangible link to him and his side of her family. Also, her last name rhymes with a billion different words, which lends itself to lots of cute nicknames and/or bad puns.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:33 AM on July 29 [2 favorites]


In Latin America - as in Italy and Spain and Portugal - a woman does not change her name after marriage. And the children get both the parents names. Thus Gabriel Garcia Marquez's last name is really 'Garcia Marquez' and not just Garcia or Marquez.

The names of his parents were Gabriel Eligio García and Luisa Santiaga Márquez Iguarán.

His son is Rodrigo García Barcha who, similarly, is grabbing his dad's paternal name and his mom's paternal name.

Of course when you have to fill out forms in the US for example you have to choose. Is it "Garcia Marquez"? The forms often prefer one word. So do you add a hyphen? Or use one word? it is often the paternal name "Garcia" that gets used, if so.

It is difficult here to 'smash the patriarchy' so to speak. If you take your mother's surname as your own, well, she just got it from her father so you are back on the paternal line. I'm not aware of cultures with maternal surnames though there are of course matrilineal hierarchies.
posted by vacapinta at 6:58 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


My unpopular opinion is that lying is good, actually. If someone is being unreasonable and you don't want to cut that person out of your life, but you also don't want to keep visiting the same subject, definitely consider a convenient lie! It seems like it worked out well for them.
posted by grandiloquiet at 7:02 AM on July 29 [14 favorites]


I think one of the reasons why lying bothers me so much is that it reminds me of how often lying is used in other, much worse circumstances too.

I have relatives who were asked to lie about their caste when they married into the family in order to keep the peace. Heck, I have relatives who went through a sham name-changing ceremony before the wedding to give them a Hindu name that they were to supposedly use forevermore.

How many people have been forced to lie about their sexual orientation to keep the peace in the family?

I was personally asked to keep my divorce a secret to avoid upsetting (or causing gossip?) among extended family.

It's so difficult to see lying as harmless when it seems like lying is the very mechanism through which people are kept oppressed.

There's a way to stick to the truth in a kind way. "Grandpa, we love you. This decision is made. Would you like to see pictures?" And keep reaching out to him while also refusing to engage on the name issue.
posted by MiraK at 7:20 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


We thought about Israeli names (I like Tal, Gal, Tali, Gali, etc.) but I decided that since I no longer have any connection to Israel that it would be slightly presumptuous of me.

Our small has Hername (+ 2 Middlenames) Partnername Myname (no hyphen) and while it doesn't come up much lots of people default to Hername Partnername and it bugs me. My partner's family are of course the worst offenders (we get a lot of cards addressed to Mr and Mrs. Partnername although I know he's had the conversation with his whole family over the years, severally and as a group.) Since they are generally sweet to me and pay attention to who we are I try not to worry about changing their habits more than I have the energy for in the moment. In person I'm happy to correct them on both her name and mine.

The jewish aspect of this piece is familiar to me in all its parts, although every family story is different. My jewish family never bothered passing, but they are largely New York based, and probably felt embedded in a big enough community that despite the holocaust (which killed most of my bubbe & zaydeh's family both close and extended) they never hid themselves in new names.

The tone of this article bothered me, it was jokey in a way that made me uncomfortable and flippant about stuff I have trouble being flippant about. I'm going to say that standup comedy is by and large awful to me, so that's probably it. And it is obviously provoking thought for us all, here are a bunch of impassioned comments about naming practice. So, useful in that way.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:22 AM on July 29 [6 favorites]


When my son was born we had a bit of a to-and-fro about what name he would have because we are not married. We agreed on both names, and i'm a bit snobby about hyphens, so we went with HerSurname MySurname with a space instead.

Pretty quickly people started just using my surname when referring to our son, and that understandably upset my partner. She quickly started inserting a hyphen whenever we registered him for anything, including school. His birth certificate and passport are with a space, but pretty much everywhere else is with a hyphen. Same with my second child.

It's a weird thing, and there is a large degree of just wanting to be easily related to your children, for both of us.
posted by trif at 7:25 AM on July 29


Lawn Beaver, I had assumed that because my name was the last name that the confusion occurred, but that would suggest that your name would be used in your example; interesting to see that it does not.
posted by trif at 7:29 AM on July 29


trif, yeah I think it's weird too. Patriarchy!
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:35 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]


My maternal grandmother is the only one of my grandparents who lived long enough to have a relationship with me. To this day, I can only think of her as generous and reflexively tolerant -- though that mustn't be entirely true, because of course she grew up with the biases you would expect of someone born in 1930. If she'd lived long enough to take issue with any of my choices, I'd probably be as blindsided as the author. I'd try to explain my choice to her; if that failed, I would suggest that we simply agree to disagree. (Note: it's hard to imagine that not working. My grandmother was a white Southern Democrat who had the great misfortune to watch half her children grow up to be Republicans. She was very used to changing the subject at family gatherings.)

There are things I wouldn't lie about. There are people in my life, and family, I wouldn't lie for. (The assholes.) But a small fib, told for 5-10 years, that immediately made everyone happier than they were before? I'd do it in a heartbeat. But I understand that the particulars of my family and personal experiences aren't the same for everyone. And I think there's a difference between asking a 10 year old to fib about their name versus, say asking a young adult to lie about a more fundamental part of their identity.
posted by grandiloquiet at 7:40 AM on July 29 [6 favorites]


> "I'm not aware of cultures with maternal surnames though there are of course matrilineal hierarchies."

Interestingly, there were times and places where Jews took maternal or maternally-based surnames, I believe particularly in 18th century Russia. Last names that can be identified as originally deriving from the name of a mother or grandmother include Soros, Edels, Richles, and Zipres; names ending in "kin" as Sorotskin, Rivkin, Laikin, Haikin, Mirkin, and Zipkin; variants such as Rivlin, Beilin, Shprinzak, and Shprinze; and names ending in "man" or "mann" such as Esterman and Perlman (literally "husband of Ester" and "husband of Perl").
posted by kyrademon at 8:03 AM on July 29 [10 favorites]


Naming is such a complicated thing. There is just this fundamental tension between, on the one hand, honoring the names and histories of our parents and not succumbing to the patriarchy, and, on the other hand, having a manageable name.

My mother kept her name when she married and my parents gave my brother and me hyphenated last names. And my wife's parents did the same. And my wife kept her name when we got married. So we had the option of either continuing to hyphenate and saddling our kids with four last names and three hyphens or dropping some names. We ended up going with MyFather'sName-HerMother'sName when our first child was born. When the second was born we briefly entertained the idea of going with HerFather'sName-MyMother'sName, but decided that (a) it would be nice for at least the kids to have the same last name, and (b) if we ended up having another we'd have no clear choice left.

My point is, there's no real way to avoid losing history. There's a book called Naming Ourselves, Naming Our Children: Resolving the Last Name Dilemma (hilariously given to my wife and me by my parents, silently placed on the stairs to my room on a visit home, similar to how I was given sex ed books as a teenager) that talks about all the different ways people have solved this problem.

Anyway, if I was coming in here to make a point at all, it must be something like this: no matter what happens, under any system other than just keeping all the names forever (exponential growth), names are going to get lost, and I'm ok with whatever each family decides is the right way for their family. If naming the kids "Schoenfeld" and lying to grandpa about it works for that family, who are we to tell them they're wrong?

Personally, I'm all for hyphenating, but I WISH TO FUCKING GOD that the internet would get up to speed on this. So many web forms will not accept a hyphen in a name field, including airline reservations, where I'm helpfully told both that there's an illegal character in the name field and that the name field must match my ID exactly or they won't let me through. And different forms resolve it in different ways -- sometimes they'll just strip the hyphen entirely, leaving me with Lastname1LastName2, sometimes they'll convert the hyphen to a space... ok, I'm starting to get annoyed and I didn't even need to fill my name into a form.
posted by number9dream at 8:28 AM on July 29 [14 favorites]


I have lots of feelings about my own rejection of my Jewish heritage, but my strongest reaction to this piece was that even joking that you are naming a daughter Hezbollah in an email to your WWII-era Jewish family members is profoundly tone-deaf.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:41 AM on July 29 [10 favorites]


If you take your mother's surname as your own, well, she just got it from her father so you are back on the paternal line.

If we're disclosing moments of fury, few things make me madder than the notion that a woman's last name is her father's name. Yes, it may have come from my father, because really, how else was it done back then, but I would like to this we evolved on that somewhere. My name is my name and through all my years and experiences lived, I have earned that ownership and respect. Family names don't always have weight of a couple generations back; they can have what I, as a woman, have... imbued it with.
posted by CPAGirl at 9:53 AM on July 29 [26 favorites]


A) I have many, many times fantasized about abandoning my over-complicated last-name, which happens to be Jewish, in favor of something simple to spell and pronounce that won't get me 'oh wow, how do you pronounce that???? that's so hard' and stupid little jokes that I've heard at least 17,520 times (literally(literally)). I've discussed it with my dad and brother, they're all for it. They plus my son, 2 nephews and 1 cousin are the only people with this surname in the known Universe. We should do it all at the same time.

B) I considered giving my son a new name, but it's not really done in Chile to give your children anything but Name1 (maybe) Name2 Father's Last-name Mother's Last-name, and giving my son anything else would have opened up a whole new fountain of well meaning dumb comments, so pass.

C) Women in Chile do not change their name when they get married, which kind of puts a small vulnerability in the super-safe-impossible-to-crack security question about your mother's maiden-name.

D) The civil servant at Manhattan City Hall was very uncivil about my wife keeping her name intact, she basically said something along the lines of if she wasn't willing to commit, why where we getting married? Nice.
posted by signal at 10:23 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


There is just this fundamental tension between, on the one hand, honoring the names and histories of our parents and not succumbing to the patriarchy, and, on the other hand, having a manageable name.

Funnily enough, this tension only seems to emerge and matter when someone wants to buck patriarchal tradition. Utterly unmanageable names are passed on without a second thought 99% of the time when it belongs to the father, but suddenly "manageability" (or some other never-before-considered line of reasoning) becomes a rip roaring question of life-or-death importance whenever the mother's last name is involved.

e.g.:

- My last name is unmanageable vs.
- His name is unique and unmanageable, which makes a fitting tribute to his heritage

- I hate my abusive dad/family vs.
- He will redeem his shitty family history by passing on his name to the child that we will raise with love

- My last name is too ordinary vs.
- His last name is nice and ordinary

- My last name is too ethnic vs.
- His last name honors his ethnicity

- My name would make the baby's initials a well known acronym, ew, no vs.
- His name would make the baby's initials a well known acronym, how cool

- What do names even matter, a rose by any other name.... vs.
- If you don't pass on the father's name, or at least pretend to, grandpa will disown you and it will be YOUR FAULT!!!111!!!

- My last name came to me from my dad anyway, so it doesn't really belong to me, a mere woman with no claim over names vs.
- His last name came to him from his dad, which makes his name legitimately his, and therefore worthy of passing on

- My name just sounds weird with baby's first/middle name vs.
(- His name sounds weird with the baby's first/middle name therefore we will change baby's first/middle name)

- I just don't care about my last name vs.
(- He just doesn't care about his last name either but it gets passed on by default)

There are isolated examples of people using these reasons occasionally to go the anti-patriarchal way in naming their children (this very OP, obviously). But the larger trend in naming still remains, and it is worth asking why all our reasons not to pass on mothers' names to children only seem to matter when they apply to the mother's name.
posted by MiraK at 10:36 AM on July 29 [14 favorites]


I liked the essay a lot, but these lines left a sour taste:

I tried to understand why my grandfather got so unhinged. His generation never had therapy, so he could only consider the question as one of absolute right and wrong. He never had insight into himself, so I had to piece it together on my own.

Every generation thinks it invented  sex  self-reflection, apparently.
posted by aws17576 at 11:41 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]


My SO and I agreed years ago that if we are blessed with children, they will have his last name. I might have objected except for a good reason also linked to being Jewish: his last name is extremely rare due to the Holocaust. Mine is in no danger of dying out, in comparison.

Also, it doesn't hurt that his last name has cool spelling, while mine just inspires mispronunciation (despite being 100% English) and rude puns.
posted by jb at 1:20 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


We decided not to combine our surnames for our little girl since we figured we were just passing the buck to her to choose which one she passed if she has kids. My SO chose the first name, and I passed the surname.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 3:00 PM on July 29


The civil servant at Manhattan City Hall was very uncivil about my wife keeping her name intact, she basically said something along the lines of if she wasn't willing to commit, why where we getting married? Nice.

Wow, civil servants at Manhattan City Hall are not good with names, are they?

My wife and I had some long conversations because her family is totally Americanized and has their women take their husbands' names, whereas mine expects women to keep their maiden names.

As airmail mentioned above, my family's practice is hardly feminist in origin, although nowadays it's a lot more consistent with American feminist practice. Still, changing her name felt super icky, and, on a more practical level, I still struggle to break the last five years' habit of know my wife by her maiden name.

Ultimately, though, her constraint was that she should have the same family name as her children, and my constraint was that my children should have the same family name as my grandfather (of whom I am the last male descendant), so there wasn't much I could say. :-/
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 9:03 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Then one year at Thanksgiving, when the twins were about three, we were sitting around the table with the entire family and his second wife tried to start some shit. She was forever making outlandish provocations, like the time she asked my grandpa in all seriousness if “the New Testament was out yet when we were kids.”

I like this lady.

I guess I don't really have a problem with the kids lying though I favorited several comments that feel the opposite. I think the experience was actually a really concrete and knowable thing about a family and a person. Paired with this essay, as a kid who grows into an adult, I think it is good to know how things were, how irrational some people can be even when they are people you love and care for. Secrets and lying are objectively bad things which can erode trust and do real harm. In this case, where all parties know exactly why they are lying and if they take care to fix things and answer questions (being open and honest about the lying!) then there is likely no harm done and there's a lesson there that is not unimportant.
posted by amanda at 6:21 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]


meaty shoe puppet: "Wow, civil servants at Manhattan City Hall are not good with names, are they?"

Wow. No, they're not. Makes me wonder if it was the same person.
posted by signal at 7:38 AM on August 4


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