Monday, April 4, 2011

Adiós, Patriarchy, Hola Alpha-Names?

Legislation introduced late last year in Spain changed the way Spanish last names work.  [See and] 
For those unfamiliar with Hispanic traditions, people have double last names in Spain (and most Spanish-speaking countries): traditionally, the first one was the father’s last name, while the second part was the mother’s. It sounds more complicated than it is, but imagine that it’s like a hyphen last name, but with a standard format and a traditional way of moving with every generation. So….if a woman with the last name Ellis marries a man with the last name Jones, their children’s last name will be Jones Ellis. I, for one, have thought this was a great way of handling the issue of last names for married women: you retain names without complicating everything etc.The first last name is the one that keeps going from one generation to another, so it's usually considered the "main" one.

But apparently, this is sexual discrimation. Since the male surname is the main last nameit’s biased against women. Putting the male surname first is, apparently, unfair. So what the solution? The last names will now be ordered ALPHABETICALLY. Unless the family specifically requests otherwise. So….the kids would now be Ellis Jones. It's insanity--—the former order was unfair, so we’re replacing it with alphabetical tyranny? And a confusing one at that. This is supposed to be better? 

There have been allegations that the Spanish government was trying to distract the population from bigger concerns (y’know, like the economy and so forth) by enacting this law.  While it’s true I don’t live in the Iberian peninsula, it certainly worked for me. I’ve been distracted for months with this one (which  may be why it took me so long to post on this…

Years ago, I commented to my then-boss about how I had moved up the last name chain, and was now towards the top of the office mailboxes, since my V-surname had been replaced with a C-name upon my marriage. He smiled the amused smile of someone who doesn’t get it (D-last name, FYI) and I joked about the far-reaching effects of alphabetization on people’s situations in life. When he expressed some doubts about this, I laughed and told him that’s how the privileged always react to discussions of discrimination. 

To be fair, I was mostly joking. But most people forget that alphabetical order is the default mode in a lot of situations, and exercises subtle influence that not everyone recognizes. That’s why businesses have tended to be overrepresented in the “A” name category—they were the first listings people saw in the phone book. Clearly, the days of the yellow pages are behind us. But effects can linger.

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