this shouldn’t have surprised me

I admit I was taken a bit aback when my daughter said she wanted to take her (new) husband’s name, as I’ve been so comfortable living with my own (father’s) surname while married all these years.  But she’s something of a romantic and I understood her feelings about bonding with her husband’s family and it is her life.  And the day after the wedding she changed her facebook name to “firstname husbandssurname” which seemed weird, but then I thought, well, OK, she needs to live her own life.  Today she was running around getting name changes.  But it turns out that I did not understand her intentions.  You may (or may not) recall from prior posts about names that my childrens’ names have the pattern “firstname middlename fathersurname mothersurname” where their legal surname is “fathersurname mothersurname” — space no hyphen.  Turns out that her intention is to now have the three-name surname “fathersurname mothersurname husbandsurname.”  She ran into trouble at the social security office where there was not enough space to write in all the names, and is now researching her legal options. I realize most of you do not know my daughter, but as someone who does know her, I should not have been surprised.  It appears that the social security problem is a character limit.  We’ll see how this goes.  Years ago, when we were naming the children, we recognized the long-term problem of all these names.  My husband’s idea was that, after a few generations, you’d just generate an acronym and start over.


It took about an hour, most of it spent on hold, but I think my son’s tax situation is cleared up.   Although his two-name surname was clearly in the “last name” field of his return, and although the person who keyed in his $10 tax payment attributed it to the correct name (starting with the first part of his last name), the person who keyed in his return used the second half.  Thus generating two IRS letters, one claiming a name mis-match for the SSN relative to past returns, and another claiming that he’d failed to pay his $10 tax bill.  The IRS agent was pleasant and efficient, but told me to tell him to stick a hyphen in his name to prevent further problems.  He commented that Spanish people have the same problem.

This is about cultural dominance as well as gender roles.  As I’ve mentioned before, we stuck my children with a two-name surname, adopting the Spanish system (although we are not Spanish):  They are Firstname Middlename Fathersurname Mothersurname, to be alphabetized under Fathersurname, space no hyphen between the names.  At the time we named them, hyphens still gave computers trouble so we thought the space was better.  As it has turned out, hyphens have been almost universally adopted to clarify matters.  This first/last business trips up Spanish-culture people when they hit the US, but it also confuses Asians, whose name conventions are the opposite of the English ones.  (A Chinese TA once give me his students’ grades alphabetized by first name.)  Matters would get a lot more clarified much more quickly if official forms switched from “first name” and “last name” or (worse) single name fields to “family name” in one box and “personal name(s)” in another.  How long do you think it will take for the dominant culture to make such a simple adaptation to multiculturalism?

about names

There are some issues to consider about naming yourself in print, and a lot of these are not obvious at first. I’ve been talking with some of my students about this, because several are thinking about changing their names for a variety of reasons, including marriage and language.

If you are thinking about changing your name, you may as well think about what’s at stake in the options. And even if your name is staying the same, you still have some choice in exactly how you write it for publication. What matters in a publication name? Continue reading “about names”

black vs african american

This may be the wrong network for this question, but here’s a try. In general, the terms “Black” and “African American” are considered non-derogatory among people in that group, with some preferring one and others the other and many people using them interchangeably. By contrast, many White young people are being taught that “African American” is the only acceptable term, and that “Black” is insulting. I am getting feedback from my students — few of whom are Black, some of whom have gone to integrated schools — that there are places where young AfAm/Black people take offense at the term Black, and other places where young AfAm/Black people laugh off or dislike African American and strongly prefer Black. So I’m pretty sure this is varying. My question is, does anybody know the parameters of how it is varying? What geographic areas or types of places go one way or the other? My hypothesis is that the only places where African American is preferred and Black is seen as derogatory is in White-dominated schools where the Black/AfAm kids are picking up what White kids are taught. But that could be wrong. Continue reading “black vs african american”