Friday, March 08, 2013

Say my name, say my name

I felt today was appropriate to address something that has been more and more noticeable and annoying, in particular since it seems to concern mainly women.

In the last ten to fifteen years, it has become the norm to identify public figures, political or otherwise, by their full and complete names. Just not the female counterparts.

So where JFK would routinely be addressed as John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the press, his wife would only be called Jackie Bouvier Kennedy. And this goes beyond reading off some unknown's id for the first time. It is systematic.

Now, before I go into a partial, slightly rambling analysis of this phenomenon, let's do a little Local Naming Customs 101.

For a long time, it was the tradition among the predominantly Catholic population to give their children two or more baptismal names, usually that of the particular Saint the parents prayed to or the one on whose feast the child was born, or the name of a beloved (sometimes deceased but not always) family elder, in addition to what the French call the "prénom usuel" ie the given name the person usually responds to.

The name order used to be that the given name was the one closest to the family name. I have three baptismal names myself, my brother has four (parental enthusiasm towards the first born, obviously). Our names both start with Marie. As does my mother's, and most of my maternal aunts.

In the last generation or so, however, this has changed dramatically. While some people continue to name their children in this manner, whether they are Catholic or not, others have adopted a new naming style.

You see, it has become de rigueur to give birth in North America, that coveted foreign passport being seen as "giving the child a future" as a coworker once told me and so, worth any sacrifice.

Including our old naming tradition which has proved problematic to foreign immigration services.

Think about it. If you remove all the names after Marie, it is impossible, at first glance, to distinguish me from my brother based on our names alone. In order to simplify and adapt, parents now name their children in the Anglo-Saxon style (?) of First Name, Middle Name/Initial and Last Name.

These names, how ever many they may be, are all printed on your birth certificate, your id, your driver's license, passport, voter's card etc.

So how does this relate to the main topic of this post i.e. naming women?

Because the difference when addressing the sexes is so marked. Whenever the government is presented, both the President and the Prime Minister are each announced by First Name 1, First Name 2, and Last Name but the only woman "super minister", as they call them now, is listed as First Name, Maiden Name and Last Name.

This triumvirate, by the way, tends to project the image of being the "only one(s) who do any work".

Yes, several women of that cabinet are simply called by First and Last Name. Strangely enough, some of them are single, married or divorced so the logic escapes me.

Interesting fact: one of them never uses her maiden name because her parent was a high profile member of the Duvalier government. Seems as though she hides behind her husband's name even if my parents never fail to remind me of who she is Daughter Of. Given that parent's bloody reputation, I can almost understand.

However, usually, it seems, men are referred to in a way distinct from women. And given the current government's overwhelming love of photo ops and "good" press, I cannot help but notice this.

Where did this naming fashion come from? I am not sure. A friend suggests that it started with the Ex-President and that it was a way for him to fudge the issue of his real name. Yes, paranoia is rampant around here so both the thesis and the real could be true.

You might have guessed that I personally put a more feminist spin on this issue. Spitting out the entire baptismal name of someone gives their address a certain Old School flair. As if the litany of their names give the men in question more weight or more stature. For those who need it. Who can doubt that certain elected officials (and candidates) are so...unexpected in their posts that they need some measure of legitimacy that elections alone cannot give them?

As for women, I am torn. Either including their maiden name is considered the modern, feminist thing to do by not erasing their identity in favor of that of their husbands.

Or, to the contrary, it is a way of showing that she has political clout despite being a mere woman. Proving her worthiness by way of blood or marriage? That she got this job because of Who She Is (Daughter Of) and Where she Comes From (What Political or Social Sector)?

But how to explain those public/famous women who have only First and Las Name? Should I understand that they are old fashioned and cannot bother with all these verbal gymnastics? that their lineage is so obscure, it isn't worth the bother? or, worse still, that they are just placeholders who do not deserve more than their share of the limelight?

What's in a name? asked the playwright. Good question.







1 comment:

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