Saturday, August 11, 2007

What's in a Name? Jordan as a Pioneer in Women's Lib?

The Middle East is know for many things, however a powerful and and active women's liberation movement isn't one of them, or is it? With such highly publicized, if not overly prevalent societal women's issues as honor killings and, less publicized but not less legal, a husband's right to keep his wife and children from leaving Jordan, it's easy to understand the West's preoccupation with women's treatment. And, yet, Jordan is actually leading the women's crusade in one particular area.

In the United States, a movement started in the 1850s as part of the overall suffragette (right to vote) movement, when a forward thinking woman named Lucy Stone made the shocking decision to keep her maiden name after marriage. An entire organization was founded aimed at the preservation of women's names. The idea gained little traction until the 1970s. During the women's lib movement, it was a political statement to retain your maiden name. Even as late as the 1970s, it was somewhat shocking action.

I, of course, was raised during the women's lib movement. Even so, I never seriously considered joining the 17% of women in the US and keeping my maiden name. Among other things, my name was already 19 characters long. By changing my name to my husband's I could shave off 2 letters. And (bonus!) I got to keep the same last initial. All of those monogrammed items wouldn't go to waste. I probably took at least some of this lack of interest in keeping my maiden name from my mom. Although she was fairly feminist, she unloaded an unwieldy (and not very pretty) last name for one much more pleasing to the ear (in my humble opinion) on her marriage. She even kept it after her divorce until her remarriage just a couple of years ago (well, she's in fact retained her first married name in her e-mail addresses). So, with a brother to keep the name going, I had no real interest in, nor need to, keep my maiden name. Some 11 years ago, I happily gave up my maiden name, jumped through significant hoops and changed all of my legal documentation to a new name. And then I moved to Jordan.

Finally, I come to my evidence that Jordan is leading the women's liberation charge. In becoming a citizen of Jordan, I had to jump through hoop after hoop. From obtaining paperwork from the various agencies certifying that I'm not a terrorist to waiting in line after line and going from building to building, it seemed a never-ending process. And, then, at the end of it all, I had a new citizenship - and an old name. That's right, I had to GIVE UP my married name and take back my maiden name in order to become a citizen of this fine nation. I find it quite curious, as if the father's claim on a woman is more valid and important than the husband's. In fact, it's almost as if the government is keeping families from melding to become one unit. Mom has one name, dad has another, what do the kids do? Clearly they take Dad's, but that means that from my Jordanian documentation, my children and I don't even appear to be related. This is familiar ground for those American feminists of the 1970s who ran into bureaucratic hurdles due to different last names.

So, here I am with American documentation saying one name and Jordanian documentation saying another (yes, this ALSO produced challenges and arguments while trying to change over my driver's license), not because I want to keep my maiden name out of a spirit of women's liberation, but because the government has forced me to. After 11 years getting used to a new name, I now have to ask upon signing any legal document in Jordan, which name do I sign? Somehow it feels like I've gone backwards. But maybe, just maybe, this is a good thing. After all, perhaps it will lead to my dropping my last name altogether decreasing my name to only 13 letters. It's a mouthful enough, perhaps this is a sign that Jordan wants me to make life easier and just use my first name. Only time will tell, I guess.

Happy name changes!

9 Comments:

At 4:56 AM , Anonymous Emily said...

MommaBean,
This comment is off topic, but I posted some pics of Florida just for you!
Emily

 
At 6:45 AM , Blogger joladies said...

what you do is go to the head of the passport office with a petition and your foreign passport and ask that all your documentation should be in your married name. I did this, with some other foreign wives, a few years ago as I have almost forgotten my maiden name!!! It is strange what we fight for, like in inheritance matters, it is all to do with blood family. T

 
At 11:45 PM , Anonymous kinzi said...

T, good your you ladies!

MB, this was quite a post. It is kind of easy to go on with the day-to-day stuff, and then something like this hits you.

It makes me crazy that there is nothing in my kid's school records that show they are my kids too. My father-in-law hates his name, and he would be MORTIFIED to know his grandkids are identified by it!

 
At 11:52 PM , Blogger MommaBean said...

T - Thanks. Next time I have a couple of days to waste, I may try that :). Since I have the documentation from the US on me, I figure it'll all work out. But it sure is silly...

 
At 3:29 AM , Blogger UmmFarouq said...

You are Wilton, I am Clifton, which is worse?

I've had to formulate a new signature with the maiden name, after 15 years of being a SULEIMAN.

Isn't it nuts?

 
At 3:33 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Umm Farouq,

Okay, we do have a contest there. Although I suspect that (if they do it right) Clifton might be easier to spell in arabic that Weel-tone (teehee). It is terribly difficult to figure out what name to sign and then remember how to sign with the maiden name. Luckily, I generally remembered. That's the upside.

 
At 9:02 AM , Blogger Dave said...

I've come to realize that when it comes to certain issues, Jordan is about 30-40 years behind the U.S. Namely I'm referring to women's rights, ideas on litter, wearing seat belts and smoking in public places. Don't worry, Jordan should catch up by the year 2042.

 
At 12:45 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Momma Bean,
This is an Islamic thing and is the same in most (if not all) Muslim countries. Women do not belong to their husbands, so they keep their own names, which makes a lot of sense when you consider what happens in the event of divorce or a husband's death. Should a woman really have to change her name each time she remarries or separates/divorces from a husband? A husband might not always be a husband, but a father will always be a father - thus, a woman just keeps her own identity. In Jordan, you should be identified as your children's mother in the family book, not to mention on their birth certificates and passports.

 
At 11:35 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Dave, I hope a tad before 2042...

Anon, Thanks for stopping in. And yet, perhaps if the presumption was that a marriage would last it would change the prevailing sentiment. And, while it MIGHT make sense if I were FROM here, snce I had been using my married name for 11 years before moving to Jordan, going backwards is ridiculous. Oh, and the passports don't note parents and the family book is not something I carry around on a day to day basis. Personally, I prefer my kids and I have the same name...

 

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