Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Surname Game

WaPo's Howard Kurtz looks at Bill Richardson and the campaign that practically isn't:

I've been scratching my head over the Richardson candidacy for some time. The guy's a governor, a westerner, a former Energy secretary, a former congressman, a former ambassador to the U.N. and a global troubleshooter who's managed to get hostages freed. Despite that resume, he is mired so deep in the Democratic second tier that it must be hard to see the first tier.
I agree with him. And it is a head-scratcher. Though, my guess is that this is just a case of peaking too soon. He was a party darling way back when, chattered about as an heir to Clinton (presumably then, Clinton/Gore) power. He was, as summarized above, a Hispanic from a western state, with knowledge and connections to spare.

But time passes and in comes Barack Obama, glamarous, younger, still a minority, and sexy in both the political and traditional senses of the word. You can hear the grinding of metal as the spotlight shifts away from the maybes of the past to the might-just-make-its of the current political world.

The article mentions that Richardson for years has bucked advice to campaign under his mom's maiden name, which is Lopez, and could be paying the price now with zero traction among his . . . I dunno, what? His hometeam? So Richardson remains a Charley Sheen in the age of Estevez. Can anyone say for sure that doing so is a mistake?

At any rate, he may have bigger problems than his lack of minority-name-ID - like his penchant for embellishing and not fact-checking, er, his own bio. Shrug.

I'm always interested in these sorts of issues - more so at this point in my life, when the option of retaining my lifelong name, the only observable indication of my Mexican heritage (Richardson, who the article implies doesn't look the part, looks far more Mexican than do I) is staring me in the face. I dated a guy once who vehemently opposed the idea that I'd maintain my surname instead of swapping it for his - especially after I pointed out that, politically, I'd be a moron to do so. He though this was some form of manipulation or lying or deceit, or something equally damnable. Of course, unlike Richardson, who, as a "Lopez" would be reaching back a generation to adopt a name that was never his, my surname is mine. Changing it doesn't change my ethnic make-up. Nor does maintaining it falsely claim a right to a heritage that isn't mine. And of course, this is all before we get to the broader gender, cultural, and familial considerations involved in taking a married name. My married name would, by the way, be very similar to Richardson's.

I don't know what I will do. But I agree with Richardson for sticking it out with his own name.

(btw, this made me snort outloud: "Says MSNBC's Tucker Carlson: 'It strikes me as out of bounds for a candidate -- it ought to be out of bounds -- to campaign on his ethnicity.'")


Anonymous said...

F Tucker Carlson and his damn bowtie.

I agree with Richardson's stance too, especially since in many interviews he's mentioned/embraced his heritage and I thought it fantastic to hear his candidacy announcement in Spanish.

Btw, if anyone can visit UCIrvine and see if the can find a spare spine from their body part harvesting program, I think I heard the Democrats are in bad need of them. Crap....or at least a remedial class in negotiations...since when in negotiations/compromises do you give nothing for something? I think they miscalculated.


CP said...

If I had a vote, I'd say you should keep your surname.

The broader cultural statement is on that side, in addition to the politics. I think either keeping separate names or both parties adopting a new or hyphenated name most closely tracks with my personal ideas about intra-marriage equality (note my gender-neutral term).

But not everyone does or must share my ideals, and I'm not sure there can't be adequate reasons to deviate from that ideal. For instance, many published authors and academics keep their surnames just to make it easier for readers to find their works. Similarly, if you were interested in running for office, you have other legitimate professional reasons to maximize the utility of your last name, including maintenance of a cultural identity in the minds of voters.

For future professional reasons, I might want to avoid changing my last name, which I think is now very recognizable and useful to me as it is. Similarly, were I to marry a woman with a Spanish surname, I might hesitate to adopt it, for fear of appearing to be co-opting her identity for my own political ends, regardless of my own views on intra-marriage equality and name-sharing. I think that's the sort of consideration that informed Richardson's choice.

I think the key is that it's one thing to maintain a surname that benefits you politically (you can't be blamed for the utility of a name bestowed upon you at birth), and another to change your name to try to capture something, regardless of whether that something is already a a part of your personal identity.

And I suppose as a long-time fan of yours, I want you to keep your last name and altogether maximize your political caché. Or at least to ignore any vehement opposition and make whatever decision you feel suits you.