11.03.2005

from the "unsent post" list, some comments that didn't make it to WOMPO

I kept my surname, always intended to, but I picked the more usual of my familial nicknames after entering first grade in my hilljack hometown, and the more unusual of my familial nicknames when kicking the dust of that place away, because asking people to call me "Catherine" has always been to me an exercise in finding evil men who refuse not to call women by a diminutive (in my case, as I would usually have it, K/Cathy/ie, neither of my nicknames); of the very few friends I have who changed their names (most did not) most have regretted it.

My sister has more closely divided experience, and will probably change her name, but her problem is both her maiden name and her married name are names of fairly well-known actresses. This was a problem when she was acting.

My husband found out in graduate school that his name is from an unrelated guy he thought was his grandfather. His maternal grandparents changed the spelling of their Italian name. Not that this was a factor in my decision. Some of my maternal Polish and Danish relatives adjusted their names coming here. As my Dad's Mom liked to say, "we speak and spell the language." Her husband -- Daly -- didn't tweak, but Daly isn't the Gaelic; it is the English. Perhaps more important for my writing is my sense that I am the last of our "cell" of the Dalys.

Changing, hyphenating, using the "Mac" or the "O" etc., has more to do with class and ethnicity in the U.S than with anything else. I find it disturbing that women more likely to hew to societal traditions have less opportunity for knowledge outside that programming (younger, isolated, less education, more conservative politics / religion); the "market culture" asks what is your identity, your name, what you stand for, your family "worth" (the tale of the Sxxxxxxx family especially spoke to me of this), etc.

Without a stable name you haven't a stable identity, in writing, and part of my point about women's names changing is that our larger society is trying to keep women from having or establishing a stable identity and a familial / matrilineal identity. Another place where this is very easy to identify is in the translation and migration of names according to nationality and place of residence. For example, when there was a short plurality of relatively educated women without husbands, and they were actually quite mobile while they were not supposed to be leaving one place for another, women's names are "all over the place" the way they are today -- as on this list -- the "standard" of "stability" seems absurd with the prevalence of frequent moving, serial monogamy, etc. I tried to point this out in my first book, by including all the variations in spellings of everyone's names, and including the place in source material where the source names herself.

But that was a deliberate effort. On a more unconscious level, it is common to find noted in academia (especially in the sciences) that female academics try to show who they are through their bios, to "prove themselves," in a way male academics do not -- there is a certain level of assurance or assumption in the actual writing as well.

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