Tag Archives: identity

What’s in a Name, and Changing It

Back around 1000 CE, surnames were not as common or set as they are now. Someone might just be known as John or Mary. If a second Mary showed up then you might be known as Mary of Kent, or Mary the weaver. John the smith or Liam of the potters’ field or Elizabeth from Gower got shortened in time to John Smith, Liam Pottersfield and Elizabeth Gower.

The taking of a surname started in the south and slowly spread north as cities and villages grew. The gentry were the first to take surnames and only around the 14th century did surnames become the norm for the common people.

When John Smith and Mary Kent married, she did not become Mary Smith but retained her name. Names became a little more standardized and were passed down in the family. No longer was there Erik son of Anders, and Bjorn son of Erik. They went through a transition of Erik Andersen and his son was Bjorn Eriksen. This is still done in the Scandinavian countries but I’m not sure if it changes per generation any more but there will be a Sigrid Eriksdottir and a Bjorn Eriksen, depending on your gender.

As far as English speaking, European culture went, the surnames stabilized. When John Smith and Mary Kent married, she did not become Mary Smith but retained her name, for a while. This was common practice but seems to have shifted somewhere between the 17th and 18th centuries, though it is hard to pin down when this change happened. There is some indication it was happening earlier. In  other cultures women may never change their names or take on hyphenated or other joined surnames.

Being that European culture of the time (and still) ran on a patrilineal system it’s no surprise. It’s been argued, but in most cases, it is a woman’s choice. In my mother’s era women were no longer entities of their own but became part of the man, Adam’s rib, so to speak, with marriage. Mary Kent became Mrs. Smith, but even moreso, she was Mrs. John Smith. No longer did she have a name or identity of her own. Mr. Smith remained the same, no matter if he was married, single or divorced. Miss Mary Kent advertised her availability with that honorific and that she belonged to someone when she took Mrs.

Because I believe so much in equality, I don’t think it’s right or fair that a woman always takes the man’s name. But “always” is not the way it is anymore. Rock stars, movie stars and doctors often keep their birth names, not changing when they marry. Married women might be Ms. now instead of Mrs.

The rules change in different countries and I was aghast to see that in England today (according to the website on name changes) a woman is still referred to as Mrs. John Smith as is “correct” and “traditional” according to the site. Because it’s tradition to have slavery, or to beat spouses or to throw out working TVs does not make it right. Traditions change. Some of the argument against keeping one’s birth name (if a woman) is because it will cause consternation, people won’t accept it and it will be difficult. In other words they’re saying, don’t rock the boat and be happy we let you vote.

I’m single but were I not I would not take my husband’s last name. I would keep my name or might consider hyphenating it. I know one couple that chose a brand new name for themselves and another couple that did the same but combined parts of their birth  names. But why should I change my identity and he assume that he doesn’t have to? Why do I have to become the posession of a man. I certainly would never ever become a Mrs. John Smith. I remember my mother and women of her era having trouble getting credit cards in their own names once they divorced, because the companies presumed they were with men and issued the cards in Mr. John Smith’s name.

In Canada, the rules change province by province. I believe certain human rights pertain across the country but what costs in name changes will change. In BC, each person can keep their birth name, the woman can take the man’s or the man can take the woman’s. Should they want to hyphenate or use both names, that becomes a legal change of name for which they must pay. But otherwise, they can keep their name or change to it at a later date, only paying those costs associated with getting new ID, like driver’s licenses or passports.

In Alberta, it’s mostly the same but I believe a man must pay if he changes his name to his wife’s. There is another example of something not being fair. It’s assumed a woman will change her name and a man will not. A woman doesn’t have to pay but a woman does. I just wonder when the world will see women as equal human beings. It happens in some places and in others, women have limited rights.

I’m not saying one shouldn’t change a name but I think each person should think before they do so: is it necessary? Why me? Why not him/her? Will my identity change? Do I have to belong to someone? Should we choose a completely new name? It goes on. I just think that people changing their names because “it’s always been done” is not reason enough.

Here is a thesis on the changing of women’s surnames.

http://www.bsu.edu/libraries/virtualpress/student/honorstheses/pdfs/C692_1991CoxDinaM.pdf

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Body Adornment

The other half to yesterday’s blog on camouflaging the true shape of our bodies is one of adornment. People are like crows. We have always been attracted to shiny and colorful objects. Ever since Grog the caveman noticed the bright blue stone, we’ve been collecting these things. The best way to store such objects, if you were an itinerant caveman, was to wear it. And look, that blue stone brought the sky back again or slowed the mammoth down so we could kill it.

Body adornment covers jewellery made of glass, metal, clay, wood, stone, feathers, bone, etc. strung or worn in many ways across different parts of the body. As well it has been stuck through and pierced into whatever piece of flesh could be pierced. From lip and nose discs to rings on fingers, toes, nipples, to pieces of wood or stone or metal punctured through chests, backs, arms and other fleshy bits–if it could be done, someone has done it.

Jewellery has as many uses as clothing does. In many cases such adornment started out as a ritualistic aspect with Grog, perhaps a dedication to a belief or god or path. As well, certain body markings indicated tribal/familial affiliations or ranks of authority. A pope would wear an amethyst ring that the faithful would kiss. A particular group in the jungle may have their noses pierced while their neighbors had their eyebrows be-ringed. Whether a fashion trend in that area or a mark of community, these regional differences served the purpose of identifying one group from another.

Facial and body makeup also came along, where applications may have been used for special occasions, rituals, power or to enhance characteristics, such as outlining the eyes to make them look bigger; but also the kohl liners worked to reduce sun-glare into the eyes. There have been practical applications for some body makeup and painting, such as coatings to keep sun off, or insects from biting.

Tattoos and scarification are other ways in which the body has been marked for centuries. Piercings can be temporary, as in the sundance done by some plains nations in North America, where the man’s chest is pierced for the (up to) four-day sundance. But permanent marks are part of identification, authority or belonging to a particular group. Scarring the skin with ridges and whorls, along with embedding items under the skin have been done in some areas for quite a while. Sailors were long known to pick up tattoos on their travels. I’m not sure of the reason why and that would take a bit more research. Some I believe had to do with visiting foreign countries where some of these practices were more common.

Tattoos are big now in parts of modern tribal culture as well as the resurgence of the burlesque dance style. Dancers often have designs that are reminiscent of the 50’s and the earliest North American white tattoos (I say white because I’m not sure if any First Nation groups did tattooing like the Maori have done). Maori tattoos served several purposes including looking fierce in battle, along with the facial gurning.

But last and probably the most popular reason for adorning one’s body, whether with rings, earrings, necklaces, piercings, makeup, tattoos or scarification is for the sheer enjoyment of decoration. We have not traveled that far since Grog started smearing red clay handprints onto his chest, tying a blue stone about his neck and piercing his ears. Though he may have decorated some for superstitious reasons or protection from spiritual or real elements, there came a time that it was just cool and fun to decorate himself. And let’s not forget the status symbol of having the brightest colored rocks or the largest gems in the whole tribe. That hasn’t changed much. If it had, we wouldn’t pay through the nose (does that term come from jewellery?) for precious gems and gold. As long as there are humans we will be given to adorning ourselves and structures around us. If you don’t like a particular fashion of body decoration, be assured that within a hundred years it will change again.

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