In 1986 a friend of mine was named the new Abbot of a Benedictine Monastery. I was proud to just be a friend at the ceremonial induction. The trappings of a basilica, with sunlight filtered through ornate stained glass windows, candles burning with gentle flames, rows of black robed monks walking in cadence to the singing of psalms, trumpets blaring, incense wafting, with the background of a beautiful pipe organ played by a master. Tradition. The Catholic Church embodies tradition. There was a time when the incense warded off evil demons. The modern church recognizes much of the tradition as symbolic. I am grateful.
But there are traditions that are sacred cows – they have lost value, and in some cases inhibit progress of thought. My sacred cow of today is the idea of surnames. There is nothing inherently wrong with surnames, everyone should have at least one.; The problem is with the tradition of assigning surnames based on the gender of the parents. Surnames belong to the fathers.
The Women’s Liberation movement of the late 20th Century identified this problem and came up with a wacky solution: Hyphenation, hyphenating the mother’s maiden surname with the fathers surname. Many of us progressive thinking wackos of that era bought in to the idea. That is the problem with progressives like me – we will buy in to the first thing that comes along, whether it makes sense or not.; Change for the sake of change.
Marilyn vos Savant, that intellectual dynamo in Parade Magazine, has presented an idea that strikes me as a great compromise. She correctly identifies the problem – I will quote directly because I like her brevity of logic:
“…Boys and girls both start life with their father’s last name. But girls usually drop their surname when they get married. changing to the name of the father-in-law.
I believe that both men and women should keep their premarital names throughout life. When they get married and have children, sons would take their father’s surname, and daughters would take their mother’s surname. The benefit to girls and women would be enormous while cost boys and men nothing – except the fun of claiming ownership of the opposite sex!”
So what is the problem with just taking the father’s name? Traditionally, women are not seen as individuals. The surname suggests the domination of man over woman. The feudal concept has filtered down through the generations. Fortunately for us, we live in an age where we recognize individual identity, we are moving toward a civilization where there really is a semblance of equality.
There is a whole herd of sacred cows grazing in the pasture of civilization. We are hunting them down, first taking the young, then the sick and injured. Is it possible that we might one day cause the sacred cow to become extinct?