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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The problems with last names

Why last names are outdated

By ALEX MOTAWI — almotawi@ucdavis.edu

Last names first entered the limelight across many cultures thousands of years ago.  Through the ages, they have developed to encompass most of the world and follow many different conventions. The evolution of last names as we get into the current age is fascinating, but as we look forward, adjustments need to happen for them to fit the U.S.’s ever-changing society. While last names tell us great amounts about the past, they are quickly becoming outdated and could soon be obsolete in their current form if we ignore their conventions.

A quick glance at a last name can tell you a lot about a person. Because of the U.S.’s cultural diversity, along with last names often adhering to the roots of a group of people, the last name can first indicate where a person’s ancestors trace back to. While knowing a person’s roots is valuable, it’s dangerous to think just a last name offers the full story. Other than cultural roots, we use last names as a to identify each other in formal settings like school and work because they tend to be more varied than first names in the U.S. While this is helpful, many cultures manage identification by issuing numbers to people (Social Security Numbers, for example) rather than first and last names alone. In essence, last names in our society have devolved into more of an interesting distinction than something modern that reflect progressive values.

The largest reason behind last name conventions being obsolete in the U.S. is their inherently sexist nature. The traditional ideal of the wife choosing to adopt the last name of the husband and then naming the kids after the husband’s surname is something that wouldn’t be tolerated if it was first brought up today. The practice is sexist by design, assuming that the male is the dominant person and better name in the household as well as the most important person in the family. Ideas like that just don’t fly today, with good reason, so why do we still follow this convention with last names? Not to mention that this surname “tradition” doesn’t leave room for same-sex marriage.

What use does the last name have as a cultural marker if it only represents one side of the family? Does U.S. society only care about the ancestors of one half of the couple? 

Solving an issue like this is something that needs to be tackled by a multitude of educated experts and government policymakers. Changing the conventions of something that’s been entrenched in the U.S. since its founding is going to require some true ingenuity and an ability to engage the masses, but I feel that it’s necessary. Equality with last names is something that’s going to be spoken a lot about over the next few years — let’s be at the forefront.

Last names are a large part of U.S. society, but not without some glaring issues that need to be addressed. If we want to carry the tradition into the future, the concept is going to need some modernization to keep up with changing U.S. society. 

Written by: Alex Motawi — almotawi@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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