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What's in a name?

When my brother got married, there was Great Discussion about who would take whose name, and whether that decision was based on patriarchy or tradition or what have you.

My brother and his wife did not want their children to suffer from hyphenated-name syndrome, or to suffer from last-name-different-from-his/her-parent syndrome; nor did my sister-in-law want to abdicate her own Self by taking my brother's name in lieu of her own. All these things are understandable.

Instead, they have decided both to take a completely different name, a name which features (eventually) on both their family trees, but is neither their own, nor anybody else's in the immediate families of either.

It is their decision, and I hope it turns out well. But I think it is a mistake, and a grave one. Maybe I'm just old enough, at 36, to be old-fashioned.

The only thing we children-of-immigrants have is our names. Our names link us back through history to our Ould Countries, to our Mother- and Father-lands, even if those links are 160 years old. My and my brother's great-great-grandfather came to America in 1848, the Year of the Revolution, to seek his fortune with his brother. They married two sisters, the Z's, who were both from a village not far from their own, back in Germany. The two families set similar courses at first, and then, in grand American tradition, dispersed. I have cousins Kluckhohn all over the place.

For my brother to deny this heritage, this wealth of knowledge of days gone by, seems to me to be a betrayal. He is, essentially, giving up everything it means to be a K. in America. He's giving up our dad. He's giving up our Grand-dad, he's giving up our great-grandfather, and his brother, and our great-great-Grandfather, who started out a mail-room-boy and ended up president of the company. My brother is giving it all up, he is denying its virtue, he Doesn't Care. I do.

But then again, why should he? He and I are on a Cusp—I was born at the end of Generation X, and he was born to be the start of Generation Y. Gen X looks backwards, we see what has come before and know that we are neither worthy of it, nor can we escape it, nor can we accept it. All of the ideologies of the Baby Boom are implanted in our DNA, and we have seen the outcomes, and we don't care.

Generation X knows that the world around us is an illusion. Everything we are told is untrue, and we resent that. Growing up, our Baby Boomer Parents taught us taught that individual action could make things better; but our own experience taught us that individual action does nothing except make fools of those who try.

So why shouldn't my brother and his wife change both their names to something that has meaning for them? There's absolutely no good reason why they shouldn't. We live in an age where names have lost their meaning, or where the meaning of names have lost their importance. Who cares whether the child of M.M. and B.K. is named Smith or Kumar or MacMillan or Makanth? There is nothing important in a name except history. And it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that History has nothing to do with our future. We are learning to ignore it. Progress is the key to the human future; progress, and humanity, and nothing else. As far as my brother is concerned, apparently progress is all that matters.

To hell with history, we don't need it. Apparently. Says Generation Y.

And if we didn't have history, says me from my late-Gen-X-philosophical-bubble, What would your rebellion against the Names of Things mean?


glenister + simm

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