The Problems with Names and Pronouns

Two Trends are Understandable But Problematic

First, a Disclaimer

I am about to embark on a couple of topics that could lead to some misimpressions on where I stand on certain social issues. I will try to dispel any such perceptions when discussing the rationale for the trends noted below.

Just to be clear at the outset:

  • When people get married, I think they should be able to call themselves pretty well anything they like. That is their business.
  • When someone has issues of gender identity and related concerns I support them trying to wrestle this to a solution, recognizing  that in earlier days most of us were clueless to such issues. As they say of life in general, so correctly, its complicated.

With that foreground established, let us proceed.

Names- Rationale, Problem and Solution

Rationale: Some decades ago, a general trend rose when people got married to move away from the traditional practice of the wife taking the husband’s surname. In its place, we saw the rise of the hyphenated last name.

This “let’s smash together two (or more!) names is a terrible idea. Although, again, if people wish to do this, to symbolize a joining together, have at it with my blessing. It’s great to find ways to symbolize your union. But this seems like less than the best way to do so.

Problem: But the hyphenated names can be ridiculously long and a pain to write out. And we double the odds of misspelling someone’s last name with two of them. And what if we get them in the wrong order? Who have we offended then? What if one partner leads with one name and the other leads with the other name? Could happen.

The still greater problem I see is with kids. When they grow up, carrying about their hyphenated names, imagine they fall in love with a similarly named person. Shall they combine all four names? Will we need larger business cards and name tags to handle all those letters?

I am sure people work out these second-generation challenges, but it really does seem to me an unnecessarily complicated business. How about everyone in the marriage keeps the name that has been a part of their identity all their lives? Seems reasonable to me.

Solution: For the kids in the hyphenated name families, how about going back to a REALLY old custom? The boys carry their father’s name, the girl’s carry the mother’s name. I know – a couple of problems with that.  What if the child really, really hates the respective parent? Of the child is one of the aforementioned gender in question/transition persons?

I would think there could be easy workarounds for these, including the aforementioned child going through a simple court procedure to change their name, early in life with parental blessings, on their own at age 18. People do this all the time now for other reasons.

How Did I Get to This Position?

I admit this idea of naming for each parent by gender came to me a long time ago watching an episode of Star Trek: Next Generation. The security officer on the Enterprise, a Klingon, introduced himself to someone thusly: “I am Warf, Son of Mogh.” When I heard that, I thought it was terrific. An ideal way to identify oneself and one’s family linkage. In the words of that great leader and philosopher Captain Picard, Make it so!

More recently, I perceive that a lot of people just keep the name they arrived with. That seems imminently appropriate and practical to me. Not so much so for the hyphenated name.

Pronouns- Rationale, Problem, and Solution

Rationale – There is a popular trend going about for everyone to decide for themselves what pronouns they wish to be attached to their personage. For example, one could choose him, her, or they. Or some other term. The possibilities are limitless.

I very much understand the Why of this idea. We are slowly – painfully – starting to figure out as a society that things like gender identity are not so black and white as many of us thought. Countless people over the ages have lead lives of turmoil, misery, and subterfuge because they did not fit in the box assigned to them. The sooner we learn how to deal with this very real problem as a species and a society, the better. People need our support

Problem: The pronoun part of this seems to me massively unworkable on a large scale and over time. This might be just an old guy talking about something new, but I really don’t think I am the problem on this one.

It is challenging enough to remember everyone’s name. Now we need to memorize their individual choice of pronoun’s as well? Good luck, humanity. I know many social action groups, churches, and academic groups  try hard to practice and support this mechanism. Some businesses and others are making the effort.

But it feels like an artificial appendage, these mixed pronouns, that will not, in the long term, survive. It is too chaotic for too little gain, in my not all that humble opinion. For a good discussion of the opposite viewpoint, you may want to check this out: 

Solution: I get the reasons people want a change, so let’s support change. How about a new set of pronouns that are gender neutral that everyone can use? I would bet that some clever folks could come up with some early winners that would be popularly adapted by masses of us. The American South can lead the way – Y’all is a perfect form of address that fits everyone. Build on that, y’all.

Enough Said

I imagine I have now delighted some readers on one or more of these topics and enraged about an equal number on both issues. So be it. Just trying to help us all get along. Your thoughts? I am open to ideas and perspectives.

          Bill Clontz

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5 replies to The Problems with Names and Pronouns

  1. Loved your blog today! I kept my “maiden” day when I got married and yes, we did the unthinkable and hyphenated our children’s last names, essentially giving them two difficult to pronounce and spell names with a hyphen in between. When they were little our children loved that they had both our names. And yes, they even would sometimes say they would only marry a person who likewise had a hyphenated name so they could have four last names for their own children. However, time passes and we all grow up (usually). Our children (clever ones they are, indeed) took care of it when they got married. Our daughter went totally traditional and took her husband’s last name. Our son and his wife decided to take on a completely new last name (this is more common than you might think–as a priest I have married quite a few couples who went this route). But both their families all have the same last name.
    And to your last point, I want to do right by people and their choice of pronouns but after years of having grammar drilled into my brain, I will always think of they as plural. But I am working on it.

    • Thanks, Jeanne. Great that you shared your experience s as a parent and as a minister. People do find ways to work these things out, don’t they?

  2. Thanks for clearing up a lot – not…good try though…I definitely like the idea of the kids having the option to choose, when they marry….

  3. I’ve no objection to “they,” since we already use it in situations where we’re referring to a person whose gender we don’t know. “Somebody dropped their keys in the lobby.” And the English language managed to survive the loss of “thou” as the singular form of “you,” so broadening the use of they somewhat doesn’t seem like a big step. But some of the wholly invented pronouns I’ve seen don’t seem likely to catch on. Language change doesn’t work by fiat.

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