Letters to the editor

Don't stigmatize your kids with ridiculous last names! Plus: American public was the only hero in the Clinton-Lewinsky debacle; maybe AWOL Northwest pilot was just following orders

Published January 24, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Why should a baby get the father's last name?


A Fisch by any other name

When I married, there was simply no question that I would keep my own name. I would no sooner change my name than I would exchange my face for some other face. I was born with this name, lived through a lousy childhood with it, graduated high school, college and law school with it -- it was mine and that's that!

When it came time to have children, my husband and I discussed the name situation. In our case (both of us have unusual last names that are hard to spell) using both names or some combination of names was not an option, so we quickly came to the following decision: boy children would get his last name, girl children would get my last name! Ideal solution for our progressive, 21st century family! Now it's six years and three boys later, and no one knows how forward thinking and progressive we are (yet)!

-- Patricia O'Beirne

There are certainly lots of reasons for patrilineal naming and lots of feminists following that tradition in naming their children. Questions of phonemes and paternal legitimacy aside, I think there are two big reasons why this tradition is not openly rejected by most feminists: bureaucracy and ostracism.

People don't think it's your partner's kid if they don't have his last name. Bureaucracy can't even handle two middle initials! Ostracism is awful though. Is taking a stand worth the cost in pain and suffering? When we chose to create a new family name, which both my partner and I took as absolute surnames and which we gave to our two children, his parents took it as a rejection of their entire family. The stress and conflict were immense, on their side from rejections felt and on ours from the clear lack of understanding.

Yet the implied inequality of giving a child their father's last name is a tradition worth the effort to demolish.

-- Christina M. P. Sonas

This interesting article only looked at the American tradition of naming, which is far from universal. In many Hispanic cultures, for example, a child gets the last name of the father's father and mother's father, in that order. Then when that child reproduces, he or she will pass on his or her father's name, dropping the mother's. I'm sure many other cultures have differing practices. In an article that makes claims about evolutionary psychology, it seems prudent to make sure the phenomenon discussed is close to universal.

-- Elizabeth More

When women become more secure in their legal status and receive their just appreciation by society I suppose this whole baby-naming foolishness will wither and die. Although wrapped in unctuous sexist and classist origins, our patrilineal onomastics will remain the norm and in time even "free thinking rebels" will realize that the utility of using the current system outweighs its shady past.

Furthermore Lloyd and her man-friend have chosen to give their spawn his last name and her father's last name. In fact no actual feminist alternative exists except with people choosing new last names at the age of 18, sending chaos throughout any and every record-keeping system.

So what if our system is inherited from a horrid past, we haven't given this continent back to its original inhabitants, although we recognize it was wrong to have taken it.

-- Judy Kellner

After reading Fisch's article on the combination name she and her husband gave their son, I had to laugh. When our first child was about to be born 11 years ago, my husband and I had the naming discussion. My last name is Choinski and his is Threlkeld. Imagine the possibilities! Choinskeld, Threlski. (Would you spell that please?) We laughed ourselves silly. Ultimately, my husband felt more strongly about the kids having his last name than I felt about them having mine, so they are all named patrilinearly. I have no problem with it, my kids have no problem with it, and their teachers have seen plenty weirder families than ours!

-- Elizabeth Choinski

How convenient that Lloyd of the one-syllable last name can assume the high moral ground in baby naming. What if the last names of the parents are Papadapalous and Phantumabumrang, or Hougetsou and O'Murtaighearrhea? Or, in my particular case, Zuckerman and Christakis? Personally, I've never really understood why so many women think it preferable to give one's offspring the maternal grandfather's last name over the father's. Either way, it's patriarchy.

-- Erika Christakis

Arguments over sexism, biological tendencies and legitimacy aside, there is one compelling reason not to give a child more than one last name -- it's called common sense. Take this scenario as an example: Ms. Smith has a daughter with Mr. Jones. They name the daughter Jones-Smith. Ms. Jones-Smith marries Mr. Clark, taking the hyphenated name Clark-Jones-Smith. They have a daughter who marries Mr. Phillips, and takes the name Phillips-Clark-Jones-Smith, and so on. Forcing a child to take two last names is painfully short-sighted and just plain selfish. Let's not victimize our children by making issues out of non-issues.

-- Ben Lebowitz

The fact is that children get their fathers' last names because family is still very important, even in our modern culture. In most Western societies, we reckon family connections through the father's last name. It is not that big of a deal, and it is not particularly surprising. If the author of the article keeps encountering women who have long, involved stories about how they chose their children's last names, then I would suggest that she is talking mainly to a very small group of women like herself who care about such things. If the article's musings about last names is indicative of anything, it's of how the minds of aging feminists run more and more to the irrelevant in the realities of the post-feminist world.

-- Mark R. Shipley

Whose vast conspiracy is it, anyway?

The real hero in this whole [Clinton impeachment] episode was the much-maligned American public. Throughout the Year of Impeachment, the public was steadfast in its position: Poll after poll all year showed that about 65 percent of those polled opposed impeachment. Not because they liked Clinton or approved of his behavior, but because they saw the attempt to railroad him for what it was. This, from a populace routinely dismissed by politicians, the media and the intelligentsia as an ignorant and unsophisticated bunch of rubes.

The one bright spot is that it exposed this Congress to the light of day. It showed us how much rancor had become routine; it showed us the schoolmarmish manner and misguided zealotry of the so-called House Managers; and it highlighted the refusal of our elected representatives -- mostly from the right -- to negotiate in a civilized manner on this and many other issues. And, of course, it exposed the hypocrisy of some of the extreme right's most visible proponents (Hyde, Livingston and Gingrich spring to mind).

In fact, the side effect of ridding us of Gingrich may be the greatest boon in this whole sordid episode. It's also a perfect illustration of the law of unintended consequences. Perhaps Newt and his allies on the religious right should have remembered the biblical admonition "Pride goeth before a fall." Indeed.

-- Linda Mundy

Once upon a time, Al Capone's ardent defenders complained about the "Capone haters" who "conspired" to railroad their hero to jail for the trivial charge of tax evasion. After all, had not the legal system absolved him of murder and racketeering?

Jeffrey Toobin and Gary Kamiya need not spin complex psychoanalytic and sociological theories to explain the "passionate hostility" Clinton has generated. The "Clinton knowers" despise Clinton simply because they think he has made a career of breaking the law and abusing women, and skillfully lying to cover it up.

-- Taras Wolansky

This man dropped bombs on innocent countries and killed civilians to try to keep his problems off the front page. That would constitute abuse of power at least. Never mind the obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the American public. Sex my ass, this sexual predator is a disgrace at best and a traitor probably.

-- Jeff Stanch

If this article is a fair rendering of Toobin's book, the book misses the mark. The fact that people didn't like Clinton and would go to great lengths to discredit him does not mean they were mean-spirited. Were the folks who went after Nixon all mean-spirited? They won, so on first blush, they get the nod.

Knowing what motivated the so called "elves" might have balanced the tale a bit. If Nixon's ultimate sin was to use the power of the presidency because he could, Clinton's was to use public office for his personal enrichment and glory.

Bill and Hillary are bright people who have made some contributions. Would you like your children to emulate them? The end which justifies the means with the Clintons is: It's about getting elected, stupid.

-- Steve Bunting

It shouldn't surprise me that Salon continues to spew forth its Clinton apologies soaked in moral relativism, denial and deflection. People don't care if Clinton had the most expensive D.C. call-girl ring on speed dial or if he had a girl in every closet. It wasn't the sex, it was the perjury and obstruction of justice, stupid! There are over 100 people in federal prison for perjury. Tell them about "common sense flexibility" in the law. One thing is for sure in the post-impeachment environment: Now there seems to be two sets of laws -- one for the rest of us and one for presidents. All hail the king.

-- Eric Schwartz

Singaporeons riot for Hello Kitty

I would just like to point out that Spottie Dottie is not one of Hello Kitty's "round-faced friends," as stated by Mr. Getzlaff. Ms. Dottie's face is more triangular by nature and I believe she would be quite offended to be placed in the "round-faced" category. Thank you for your time and understanding -- we don't want to start another melee.

-- Daniel Peters


Epicurean pilot fired

I work for Northwest Airlines as a reservations agent. On that fateful day in November, word of pilot Floyd Dean's decision to delay the flight due to meals washed over our office like a backed up sewer. Why was he doing this? Did we really need any more press? Flight attendants, mechanics -- everyone was amazed.

Then we heard about an FAA guideline and our opinions changed. I could be wrong, but apparently there is an FAA guideline that prevents a pilot from eating the same food as the passengers. The reason is, if the flight was hijacked or the food poisoned, the pilots would be safe and still able to land the plane safely and get medical attention for the passengers.

Unfortunately, NWA allegedly had "forgotten" to put different pilot meals on numerous flights and this particular pilot was fed up. Sure, it may have delayed the flight. Sure, everyone was upset and the press lambasted NWA, but had something gone wrong, that pilot could have landed the flight and gotten medical attention to those passengers who needed it.

Now, do I agree with the method in which he chose to do this? Not really. He could have explained to everyone in a different fashion. Waving the classic "bird" to the ground crew was not exactly professional, I concur. Mr. Dean was following FAA guidelines, albeit in a less than professional way.

-- Kelly Cooper

By Letters to the Editor

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bill Clinton