The Return Of Patriarchy
November 25, 2011, 04:25 AM
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I'm reading Charles Murray's 2012 book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, about the growth of class divides in America and I think it sheds some light on this NYT article by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow on the failure of that post-1968 project to have women not take their husbands' names at marriage:

WHEN my parents married in 1977, women’s liberation was in full swing and my mother was a consciousness-raiser. She was about as likely to take my father’s name as she was to sport a veil at the wedding. She would remain Ms. Tuhus. Nine months later, the surname for their new baby (me) was self-evident. My parents yoked their names into a new one: Tuhus-Dubrow....


But this Wave of the Future has washed out to sea:

According to a 2009 study analyzing data from 2004, only 6 percent of native-born American married women had unconventional surnames (meaning they kept their birth names, hyphenated with their husbands’ names, or pulled a Hillary Rodham Clinton). 

I know lots of women, including myself, who kept their birth names at marriage. But according to my anecdotal observations, which others seconded, rates of hyphenation seem to have fallen since my brother and I were born. 

As Ms. Segal-Reichlin said, “At the time I think they thought they were going to be the wave of the future,” but it has not panned out that way. Still, hyphenated names are not entirely a relic of the ’70s, like sideburns and lava lamps: witness the Jolie-Pitts.

Based on my conversations, the verdict on hyphenation was mixed. 

“When I was young I hated it,” said Sarah Schindler-Williams, a 32-year-old lawyer in Philadelphia. “It was long, it never fit in anything. I was always Sarah Schindler-Willi.” 

But most, including Ms. Schindler-Williams, eventually grew to appreciate their cumbersome monikers. Names frequently convey information about their bearers: Weinberg or O’Malley gives you a hint about the person attached to it. But conjoined names, several people mentioned, also say something extra about your parents’ egalitarian values. (Unless you are British; then it means you’re posh.)

Of course, the point of wanting to advertise your parents' egalitarian values is to demonstrate your own hereditary poshness. 

The problem, though, is that egalitarian values, such as a lack of disdain for bastardy, got taken up, in practice, by all the wrong people. 

For example, when reading lists of arrestees in last summer's English riots, I was struck by the many double-barreled surnames. Were Old Etonians running amok, like on Boat Race Night in a Wodehouse novel?

My English readers pointed out, however, that doubled-barreled surnnames in England today are less the mark of friends of Bertie Wooster (e.g., Gussie Fink-Nottle, newt-fancier from deepest Lincolnshire) and more the mark of blacks whose parents didn't marry.

As Murray documents in his new book, the key class divide today centers around marriage and legitimacy. Thus, it's hardly surprising that this innovation has faded out of fashion.