A married woman by any other name …

pwreminderIt occurs to me: Submitting one’s “mother’s maiden name” is often a key identifier for banks and password-reminder prompts  to prove you are who you are. It’s also a key means by which to have your identity stolen.

And isn’t that what happens, to a degree, when a woman surrenders her maiden name upon marriage? Giving up one’s maiden name is like having part of her identity stolen. 

It’s as if she folds her youth into her panties drawer, puts a ring — and a girdle — on it, and becomes someone else.

Such a patriarchal, medieval custom! (Did women even change their names in the Middle Ages?)

Mom gives up her "Gorbea" -- as well as her piece of cake!

My mom gives up her “Gorbea” — and, below, her piece of cake!

Wedding cake bites copy (2)I recently joined a group on Facebook composed mostly of strangers who share my mother’s maiden name, Gorbea. (Darn. Now it’s public.) After just a few days of sharing photos and stories, we’re establishing quick family bonds — like cyanoacrylate instant adhesives — as we discover there’s a trait that seems to run in the Gorbea clan, particularly among the men: abandonment.

“Abandon” is an interesting word. To love someone with abandon means to give it your all. Probably the easiest means of conceiving a child, too. Yet “abandonment” can be grounds for legal action. And in some families, like ours, abandonment seems an even greater temptation than forbidden fruit.

In my mom’s case, she surrendered not only her family name but the Hispanic custom of “piling on” to retain her birth name at the end. As more Latinos assimilate into the U.S.,  we’ll see more and more truncation of our traditions.

I did some research and, interestingly, in those places where sharia law exists, women do not customarily surrender their birth names — although they may give up most of their civil rights. According to Wikipedia:

In most Arabic-speaking countries, women keep their full birth and family names and do not change their family names to their husbands’ family names. This is also common practice for Muslim women around the world, except for South Asian Muslim women, who take a double name or adopt their husband’s. In some Middle Eastern marriages, however, the wife adopts the husband’s surname (especially in Christian households).

A marrying woman also retains her given name in Cambodia, China … well, daggone. I thought we were so progressive here in the Western Hemisphere. Or should I say “bloody hell” — because we can trace this custom primarily to the English — that empire that tried taking over the world. Today’s U.S. marriage rites  pretty much stem from the contractual ceremonies of the Middle Ages.

As far as I know, I have no direct English ancestry — close enough, though, in Scotland and Ireland. There’s also a mix of the Basque region of Spain and some indigent island Indians. Where we come from surely gets muddied, with all of this name-changing.

Oh. Is that the point? To cover our tracks? (It sure makes it harder for ex-beaus to trace our movements, even on Facebook.)

On my wedding day. Our infant daughter was an attendant.

On my wedding day. Our infant daughter was an attendant.

There’s something beautifully symbolic about adopting a family name as part of a lifelong love pledge. Sometimes the man gives it up, sometimes the woman. Some marrieds add a caboose connected by hyphens.

Personally, I like the trend of smushing names together, as did the former mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. His surname was Villar, but when he married Corina Raigosa they created their new surname, “Villaraigosa.” Rolls right off the tongue. Similarly, The New York Times correspondent Jodi Wilgoren and playwright Gary Ruderman had a smash with “Rudoren” upon coupling.

The Gorbea family coat of arms, reportedly the original heirloom found in the home of a Gorbea in the Basque Country of northern Spain.

The Gorbea family coat of arms, reportedly the original heirloom found in the home of a Gorbea in the Basque Country of northern Spain.

Imagine the genealogist’s nightmare sorting things out if we all did that. My surname might then have become “Davidea” or “Gorbison.” Then my daughters’, maybe “Byrgorbison” or “Davideane.” The options are endless, just like the recombination of chromosomes when we reproduce. Smush, smush.

Women’s movements have had limited success changing name-changing customs. According to a 2011 report in “The Huffington Post”:

The practice of women keeping their last names, first introduced in the U.S. by suffragette Lucy Stone in the 1850s, adopted by members of the Lucy Stone League in the 1920s and popularized during the Women’s Rights Movement of the early 1970s, peaked in the 1990s at 23 percent. By the 2000s, only 18 percent of women were keeping their names, according to a 2009 study published in the journal Social Behavior and Personality. Now, according to TheKnot, it’s at just 8 percent.

It makes me laugh that we call out chauvinists as “medieval” when the modern wedding ceremony is relatively unchanged since the Middle Ages. That section about “if anyone here knows why these two should not wed to please come forward …”? It has to do with consanguinity — being too closely related by blood (another research job for the genealogists) — or having killed someone, or being unfaithful or non-virginal or impotent. Nuptials were even originally performed in a bedroom, not a church.

Talk about medieval. Or … perhaps, progressive?

My one consolation: Although I tucked away my identity as Terry Davidson many moons ago, “Davidson,” along with my mitochondrial DNA, lives on each time my daughters fill out the blanks for “mother’s maiden name.”

Hi, Mom.

5 ways modern technology steals our humanity

Let’s start with the obvious.

1. Automatic flush toilets (and soap dispensers)

Yeah, that's EXACTLY what I was thinking about the misdirected shots of soap.

Yeah, that’s EXACTLY what I was thinking about those shots of foam.

Not everyone overflows with creativity, but one masterpiece (‘fess up) that anyone is proud to admire is that morning dump. Don’t mean to be crude. Part of the enjoyment of “going,” though, has gotta be reviewing where you’ve gone.

Pooh on automatic flush toilets for stealing our glances. Meaning: Neither my doctor nor my mother gets the information they need at routine check-ups. You have to be gymnastic and quick on the uptake, or downtake, as it were.

It’s even more annoying when just a shift in your seat prompts a premature flush (some toilet designs double as bidets, in those cases). I’m left feeling: What?! Am I invisible here?!

The automatic flush also trains people not to flush; when suddenly encountering the rare hand crank, they then neglect to clean up their business, which is just wrong and leaves the next person thinking: “Animal!”

Automatic soap dispensers (also known as “hands-free” — ah, the irony!) are simply toying with us. It’s like the bully at recess who takes your cap and won’t give it back, raising it higher and higher … we keep swiping in the air — c’mere sensor … where are ya’? … ahhh, gotcha! … oh, crap, on my sleeve. Embarrassing. You end up talking to the sink, or yourself, or worse — some waiting stranger not in the mood for discourse who might decide to just leave without washing her hands.

2. The DVR

Sure it was a marvel when it first came out. Just like in the Seventies, when VCRs were replicated everywhere and, upon receiving the monthly cable movie guide, I would start with the A’s, cross-reference each movie airing against my AFI’s 100 Greatest Movies of All-Time tome (a book) and then set the must-sees to record so I could knock them off my bucket list then transfer them WITHOUT COMMERCIALS to a pristine tape to keep FOR ALL TIME (until the tapes disintegrated, which they now have done) and decorate each tape spine and load them into the bookshelf sorted alphabetically and by genre to admire.

I’m sure you all can relate. A very human thing to do.

Looking forward to the next time Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert take their synchronized vacations so I can catch up.

Looking forward to the next time Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert take their synchronized vacations so I can catch up.

Problem with the DVR: You can’t see or touch your stash. And you can’t possibly “save until I delete” all of it. You must constantly choose what to part with, or set it to “save until space is needed,” in which case things get recorded over each other that you never even see, and before you know it, you are missing “American Idol” Season 12 Audition No. 3, or the entire week of Feb. 18 Daily Shows and Colbert Reports. You just can’t see it all. I repeat: You can’t see it all.

Moral: If you don’t have time to watch a show in the first place, chances are you don’t have time to watch the accumulation of shows you’ve missed, unless you sentence yourself to sucking up all of your “free time” with “West Wing” marathons and “Game of Thrones” binges, in which case … you are left with no worthwhile life with which to live.

3. Speech-to-text tools

Yay, now everyone on the street can hear your texts!

Yay, now everyone on the street can hear your texts.

Rewind to when predictive text was new and we were all carrying those phones with the alphabet clustered by threes on the number pad keys. That design dates to the mid-20th century when people memorized phone number exchanges by province (like the old Glenn Miller hit “PEnnsylvania 6-5000” or the Liz Taylor movie “Butterfield-8”), giving rise to the 1960s touch-tone phone. We bravely attempted to tap out texts based on this arcane schematic, which never would have been designed this way if They could have seen the future and spaced out the most frequently used letters more logically. And we would hit the wrong keys and have predictive text predict the wrong words. This also emitted big chuckles and sometimes, yeah, we sent it with the typos because we knew the recipient would be perplexed — superfunny.

Speaking into a phone to coax it to text seems even funnier, not only due to the warped results but the image of everyone talking into their wrists like special agents … then raising voices louder when it doesn’t work. WHY NOT JUST CALL THE PERSON INSTEAD?!?!?!? ‘Nuff said.

4. Keyless entry

Feeling password strong!

Feeling password strong.

This includes push-button car ignition devices and such. If, eventually, no one carries keys, what clue will we have that we are experiencing “senior moments”? The “where are my keys?” routine is eliminated. Instead it’s “What was my password?” repeated 50 billion times across America every nanosecond. Or “Can I have your digits?” in the case of a car-jacking and other crime.

What’s funny is that with an average 2,738 passwords per person per lifetime that we are forced to recall, we end up keeping the passwords mostly from ourselves. Reset, reset, reset, reset, reset ….

Remember in preschool when the password was simply: “Please!”?

5. Drones

Drones really bug me. They make me miss the bees.

Drones really bug me.

This inhumane advance is possibly the most devastating strike against humanity. We live in an age when video games have gotten too real and virtual reality stands in for actual reality.

Whether spying or killing, drones are the height of impersonal.

And with them, all of the apocalyptic artificial-intelligence specters and sci-fi plots about the robots we create turning on us and imprisoning us are finally coming true. We are the drones, and we’re the ones pushing the red buttons, mostly because it’s easy and makes us callous … and I’m not talking just our fingertips.

Enough with droning on already.