By Jaime Vergara
"Ze" has entered my vocabulary. Ze will not eliminate "he", "she", and "it"; just adds to it. It might even delight my Tejas Mejicano campesinos who will mistake my use of zee language. Ze does not matter… "She", however, does matter.
It is no longer repeated as often as it used to, but the old Chinese saying, oft-quoted by Mao Zedong and Deng Xiao Peng, was nu ren neng ding ban bian tian, “women hold half of the sky.” China has gone back to being unapologetically patriarchal. The systemic reasons are deep, not the least of which is the universal pattern of naming a child after the father’s ancestral beginnings rather than combining the gifts of the mother and father’s names.
In my University classes, I printed my whole name on the board, Jaime Ravelo Vergara, to indicate how my father and mother’s last names are my surnames. When I was in Spain once, I was called Señor Ravelo. My name over there was formally written as Jaime Vergara y Ravelo.
The name in Spain was actually the way Filipino names were made during the Spanish period, still true in many Hispanic countries. The European practice included both mother and father’s surname when naming a child. It varied on whether the father or mother’s came first or second. In some English influenced countries, the middle name is the mother’s maiden surname. I some places, like many parts of the United States, the mother’s surname has been dropped. The latter has always been the case in China. The only time a mother’s name shows up is when a combined child’s given name includes that of the mother. The father’s surname is the standard unchanging one.
My children follow the practice of having the mother’s surname carried as the child’s middle name. However, in some places where the mother is the primary care giver, a child’s surname often takes after the mother, like those of single mothers, or divorced mothers who have sole custody of the children who reverts back to her maiden name, and renames everyone with her surname.
Some boutique practices have entered American practice like families where the boys take on the father’s surname, and the girls, the mother’s, or vice-versa. In some, myriad of combinations apply. The hyphenated family name has become common for wives and children.
The family’s surname after a marriage is also changing. In previous times, the universal practice was for the man’s surname to be adopted, and only after a divorce does the woman have the option to revert back to her maiden name. There are actually eight States in the Union that allow men to change (their names) into their wives names in marriage without petitioning the court for the normal process of name change. I once adapted to my Chinese wife’s surname since the Chinese female always retains her maiden name after marriage. My gesture was not appreciated!
But if patriarchy is deeply embedded in many cultures to the detriment of female roles, certain conservative elements of Islamic countries have now dredged certain Koranic provisions that dictate how a woman behaves modestly in public. Sharia laws are very explicit about how women are to behave in manners and looks, but the literalism now being applied by Islam’s fundamentalists used to dog biblical fundamentalist as well. That kind of literalism is hard to dispel as many sections of religious fundamentalism adopt their favored restrictions and impose them on their members as provisions of inerrant scriptural law. Judaism and Christianity have variations of the same theme. In the current Afghanistan-Pakistan talks where the Taliban is involved, serious consideration of Sharia Law as it applies to women is actively on the table. Gang rape in India has exposed a common travesty.
“A rose by any other name” served Shakespeare’s audiences well, and was cute with Romeo and Juliet, but no longer. A rose by any other name is a fluke. She wants her name in golden letters in the annals of history, just as much as he does, and has as much equal right to it as anyone. No affirmative action required, just the right to be SHE!
There were seven revolutions I’ve joined in my life: 1) youth and emotive exuberance, 2) minorities and their civil rights, 3) Third World’s independence from imperial and colonial designs, 4) university vs. multiversity without a cognitive overview, 5) global business against protectionism and entrenched patrimony, 6) the rise of local men and women, and 7) women’s rightful place in humanity’s leveled field.
February 17, 2014
--You can reach Mr. Vergarra through email@example.com