Welcome

Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

I Want To Be Me.

Yesterday an acquaintance posed to me her dilemma. She is a married woman of UK origin, who gained the privilege of Bajan citizenship several years ago. She married a Bajan. She has a Bajan identity card that carries her married name (let's call it 'Holding'), which is different from her maiden name. Most of her basic identity documents are in her maiden name (let's call it 'Petrovic'). She has a Bajan driver's license, that is now expired and needs to be renewed; it is in her married name. She tried to renew the driver's licence and have the name changed to her maiden name. Guess what? "Sorry, madam, we cannot do that because then the driver's licence would not match your ID card."

My solution was to just apply for a new driver's licence. My guess, and I am always happy to be proved wrong in such things, is that the ID card, but this time using older documents like the UK passport to have the maiden name recorded. Then, go and get a new driver's licence, which will carry the maiden name and match the ID card. My guess, is that there is not a record that will show that she has an ID card already and a match of her photo (and that can always differ from the person presented due to the grace of time).

I wont go on here about the social silliness of women changing their names when they marry, and also arguing that they are not 'property'. I like places like Scandinavia where a woman rarely changes name due to marriage. Or places like Iceland, where names are patronymic (or sometimes matronymic) and they reflect the immediate father's (or mother's) given name and not the historic family lineage. So, a boy may be Jan Petersson (his father was Peter), and a girl carries the father's name and the fact that she is a daughter, so Ingrid (Peter's daughter) is named Ingrid Petersdottir. When Jan marries, his children will be Jansson or Jansdottir; when Ingrid marries her name does not change but her children will probably carry their father's given name (though it could be her given name). The Icelanders, living on an island of only 160,000 people, seem to be able to survive this. First names that have not been previously used in Iceland must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee before being used. In Iceland, directories of people's names, such as the telephone directory, are alphabetised by first name, not by surname. To reduce ambiguity, the telephone books go further by also listing professions. Icelanders tend to refer to each other by first names, even formally. To many non-Icelanders this may be a real challenge, and of course, Icelanders face a range of problems when they travel abroad. But, it is forever clear who you are and what you are called.

Those of us who have tried to move from certain social traditions with family names and have wives who sought to compromise by having double-barrelled names know the fun and games of a mother having a certain surname and child carrying a different name: eyes roll, and questions get asked such as "Are you married to the father of the child, madam?" Some of us got cute by including the mother's maiden name as the child's last given name so that their name sounds the same as the mother's double-barrelled name. For example, I may be called Brian Smith. My wife, Sandra Fuller when I met her, could be called, Sandra Fuller-Smith after marriage. Our son could be named Colin Fuller Smith (or C.F. Smith).

In the Caribbean, the obsession with family names makes so little sense for those of us with African origins given that we had these given by slave owners and overseers, and they have little bearing to any true family lineage. All of those Innises who band together and think they are different from Worrells and Holders, without having little idea if indeed their ancestors might all have sprung from the loins of a common mother some 400 and more years ago. We so love taking what the Europeans told us to take and running with it as if it is our own, and doing little that really makes sense for who and where we really are.

But, we know that bureaucrats love rules and we often fall foul of rules not meeting the simple needs of people.

Have a blessed and wonderful day.

1 comment:

iriebrown said...

You talk about bureaucracy try Spain!!

I think the most important point here is having all documents in the same name - either your maiden name or your married name. One can't have different names for the same person.

Esp in these times !