The Importance of the Surname

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I am and always have been unmarried. While I don’t plan to get married any time soon, I cannot begin to imagine changing my surname just because I got married. I have given this a lot of thought over the years, never really confronted with the reality of having to choose one path or the other. The controversy of it (as if there should be a controversy around something so simple, so tied to one’s own choice about personal identity) came to mind today when I read about Air Canada’s recent kerfuffle about refusing to allow spouses to transfer tickets to each other if they had different surnames. (Referred to on Twitter as #SurnameGate.)

This might be a new issue in North America, but having spent a good portion of my life in Iceland with Icelanders, whose naming conventions dictate that people take their father’s first name plus a –son or –dottir suffix as their “surnames”. When a typically quite mixed Icelandic family travels together, there can be a lot of questions asked because everyone in the family has a different last name.

Aside from the world’s different naming conventions (lots of countries do it differently; Iceland is just the most obvious, near-and-dear-to-me example), the idea of personal identity comes to mind. While it has been historically common and expected that women in much of North America change their names when engaging in matrimonial activities, feminism and women’s liberation put a small dent in that. The hyphenated surname also has grown in popularity. I even know a few couples who decided to choose whole new names, unrelated to either of them, to start their new lives together. Non-traditional options aside, apparently, most Americans still choose to take their spouses surname; most Americans seem to feel it should be legally required to enforce marital name changes?!

I met a funny, personable American woman in the Keflavik airport in the late autumn of 2013 who told me that she decided to keep her maiden name not just because she had worked hard to get her PhD just before her father died but because it was a part of her identity. Getting her doctorate was the only time in her life that she saw her father cry. He commented, “It’s just too bad that the only doctor to ever have our family name won’t have it much longer.” She realized she wanted to keep the name – to honor her father, her family, herself. It echoes the same kinds of feelings I have always had about my name. I never loved the surname I was born with, but the longer I live, the more I do, the more accomplishments I rack up, the more pieces of official ID I collect, the more I am cemented in this identity. It has absolutely nothing to do with some future spouse’s identity or name. (Some argue that it has nothing to do with one’s father either – but it has more to do with one’s parentage than it does some random person you fell in love with – but that too is a matter of perception, choice, how you live your life and want to be identified.)

Leaving aside the personal attachments and bureaucratic and legal issues attached to having a name, where the issue becomes even more contentious is where a person is actually prevented from doing something because they have made the choice not to toe the name-changing line. One friend was not able to do anything with bills or bank accounts because her name was not the same as her husband’s. When she explained to the customer service agent that she did not have to change her name, the agent seemed surprised that one has a choice.

And in Air Canada’s case, although they had a clearly stated policy in place that addressed this issue, the customer service issue went viral because of social media and one man’s determination. When he was prevented from transferring a ticket to his wife, he elevated the issue to become one that transcends a customer service faux pas and becomes something bigger. As the man stated in his exchange, ““You can see how this institutionalizes a lower quality of service to women who kept their maiden names, though, yes?””

Random rambling – pumpkin curry soup

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I have remarked that my writing is stream-of-consciousness uncontrollable vomit lately. I made a lot of comments the other day to a variety of people that could be classified as harsh generalizations. I excused myself, though – I was in a broad-strokes mood. Yesterday my visiting friend and I were discussing the concept of making generalizations about Icelanders and the Icelandic population. It is possible – you can easily get a representative sample of such of small population. Of course I am not sure I would want to in the way/manner we were discussing it, but at least we can acknowledge that it’s possible if desired.

This is a stream-of-consciousness ramble as well. Tying up the loose ends of all the recipes and things from the last few days.

The Lia Ices album Grown Unknown is a piece of perfection. I forget how much I love it every time I stop listening to it for a while. Lately I have been wrapped up in compiling the year-end mix (going out next week along with new copies of the fouled-up 2013 Halloween mix).

A couple of other hated words since I enjoy chronicling (bitching about) meaningless corporate language so much: “stakeholder” (the more I think about it, most so-called stakeholders don’t really hold any stakes. They are involved, results are relevant to them – but stakes? No, not so much) and “funnel” as in “marketing funnel”. Not terribly fond of “silos” either, even if the word makes sense. I like to keep silos in the farmyard for grain since I have become like an old-hand farmer, dealing with dead mice and such, I know about these things.

Cookies someday soon… Happy Anzac-less Australia Day

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Since taking on several new activities and (for the moment) spending a bit more time in the office, I have not been at home with my dear oven and beloved KitchenAid mixer in order to get some serious baking underway. As a result, Australians throughout the office will be devastated to learn that I have not been able to supply much-loved Anzac biscuits for today’s Australia Day event. (But follow the link! You still have time to make them for yourself!) Likewise, my intention to bake caramel cream cookies remains just that, an intention.

Rest assured, I have an overwhelming amount of serious writing to do for work, which means I will spend a week or so holed up in my house behind the keyboard. This always means that the oven will be going at full throttle as well.

Cookies, dear addicts, will return soon. I would like to say “…return to an office near you…” but recognize that this is misleading. Chances are, they will only turn up at the Opera HQ in Oslo. 🙂

This year, in a reversal of fortune, I am so happy not to be in Iceland for the winter! The main road between Reykjavik and Keflavik, which is NEVER closed, was closed due to snow. This means the weather has reached an insane level of inhospitability. Icelanders are hardy, tough folks for whom a normal blizzard is just “a few flakes of snow”… so I cannot even imagine what is going on over there right now.

Last night, in mildly snowy Oslo, I went to see Reggie Watts‘s live musicomedy act at Parkteatret. Hilarious in that uniquely Reggie way. A long time ago, when I lived in Iceland, I used to know Reggie (briefly). This was before his comedy had taken off, and he was mostly known for fronting the band Maktub. We both had Seattle connections and had a lot of phone conversations. I eventually messed the friendship up by being more than a bit flaky (those were difficult times).

Last night when I saw the show, it suddenly dawned on me how much time had passed since then. In many ways it felt like yesterday, but when I really reflected, I realized how much has happened in my life since we were acquainted — so I can only imagine how much had happened and changed for him. (No wonder he seemed to have very little recollection of me. Not that I am particularly memorable.) The temptation to run to Stockholm to see Reggie’s show tonight is palpable. I will be wise, though, and stick with my working and baking plans (it’s the responsible, and incidentally, selfless, plan).

Happy Australia Day, my Aussie friends!