Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Double-Surnames and Gender Equality: A Proposition and the Spanish Case

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Double-Surnames and Gender Equality: A Proposition and the Spanish Case

Article excerpt


- Hillary Rodham, speaking to Bill Clinton about changing her name to his before his 1982 campaign for Governor of Arkansas. (Bruck, 1994: 64)

Women have long seen their identities subsumed by family life; a woman's loss of her "maiden name" in marriage is a symbol of this self-effacement (Spender, 1980: 25). With a rise in their social and economic status, it is now somewhat more common for women in our culture to keep their own surnames. This means that more couples now must choose their children's last names.

Recent cartoons in The New Yorker explore this dilemma for a high income, highly educated audience. In one, a woman in evening dress is visibly pregnant. "Actually, the first name was easy," she tells her dinner companions. "It's her last name we're battling about." (September II, 1995: 81). In another, a woman is trying to console her crestfallen suitor: "I do love you Ross, but I'm not ready to hyphenate yet." (March 25, 1994: 71)

A classified in the San Francisco Bay Guardian sought advice:

Help Us Name Our Baby! Dad has his last name, Mom has hers. What do we name the baby?

What did you do? His? Hers? Hyphen? Anagrams? Ideas, please. Write Baby...

This ad is reproduced in a book on the subject by Sharon Lebell (1988), Naming Ourselves. Naming Our Children. Lebell's advice is to give male children their father's name and female children their mother's. Many would object to siblings not having the same last name, but is a better compromise available?

The argument of this note is that there is. I first offer a simple logical proposition. This proposition proves that surnames meet certain desiderata of identity, egalitarianism, and feasibility if and only if they are double-names with a sex-based rule on which name gets dropped by future generations. I then examine some empirical evidence on these in the Spanish tradition of naming, descent, and gender relations. Actual descent systems and gender relations are of course not logically derived from any particular naming system, nor do they imply any. Thus does reality intrude on the simplicity of a formal model. If the model is useful, however, it will highlight certain regularities.

Kinship terms are important to anthropologists, but they have made little study of this two-name dilemma. This is odd, since many great anthropologists themselves bear hyphenated names: Evans-Pritchard, Levi-Strauss, Levy-Bruhl, Pitt-Rivers, Radcliffe-Brown, and Maybury-Lewis. No other academic tribe seems to have so many double names, even my own largely English tribe of economists. The English tradition of "double-barreled" names is usually explained by a maiden-name too important to be lost at marriage. In the US for example, many Kennedy descendants bear double surnames. What kind of system, however, would accord such an importance to everyone's name?


Consider the following six desiderata of a naming system:

(1) Identity: Everyone should keep the same surname throughout his or her life.

(2) Parents: Children and parents should have a surname in common.

(3) Siblings: Siblings should all bear the same surname.

(4) Genealogy: A surname should provide some unambiguous genealogical reference: e.g., it tells us who is this girl's maternal grandmother.

(5) Equal Continuity: Husband and wife should have equal chances of passing their surnames to future generations.

(6) Feasibility: The number of names included in a surname should not grow with each generation.

If the above are accepted, it can be shown that there is only one general "solution": double- surnames in a fixed order, and with a sex-based rule on which name is dropped. To illustrate, say the ordering is (mother's name)-(father's name). Then the children of Mary Brown-Jones and John White-Smith could have the surname Brown-Smith, combining their mother's maternal and father's paternal surnames, while dropping the surnames of their mother's father and father's mother to maintain feasibility. …

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