Nielsening Haydens and Haydening Nielsens

by Henry on July 26, 2007

_Making Light_ has a fairly vigorous discussion about Wikipedia policies going at the moment, which has wandered onto the topic of whether people should or shouldn’t be able to decide what their names are for themselves, or whether some other (whether it be Wikipedia, a government agency or whatever) should be able to restrict their choices. “One comment”:http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/009200.html#202564
comes from someone whom I presume from their name is Japanese:

Toru Ranryu: To what extent are people entitled to choose their own name? Where I come from, to steal an expression from the Flamer Bingo thread, there are strict rules for how children obtain their names, as well as for when name changes are allowed and what names are acceptable. All of this is enforced by a no-nonsense government agency. Incidentally, under these rules it would not be allowed for Patrick Hayden and Teresa Nielsen to both take Nielsen Hayden as a last name. Are these rules repressive? Do they deny some fundamental freedom or human right? I don’t think so. From birth, your name is not what you call yourself but what others call you. There are ways in which you can change your name, basically by asking people to call you something else, but in the end the decision is always made by other people.

This reminded me of a job talk that a candidate gave in my department last year, describing the politics of women’s surnames in Japan. As I remember (I may be mangling this), it’s impossible for a Japanese woman to keep her birth name for official purposes after marriage; if, say, she wants a passport, she’s obliged to get it under her husband’s surname. But divorce is extremely easy in Japan (you basically have to fill out a form to inform local officialdom and that’s it) so that women who don’t like this rule have taken to divorcing their husbands temporarily before travelling abroad, getting a passport under their birthnames, and then remarrying their ex-husbands on their return. To the extent that my memory isn’t garbling the candidate’s account completely, this suggests that Mr.(???) Ranyu’s views on names aren’t shared by some of his compatriots; it’s also a nice illustration of the lengths to which people will go to creatively reinterpret institutions so as as to undermine egregious official restrictions.

{ 52 comments }

1

Kieran Healy 07.26.07 at 7:44 pm

Germany has a similar agency, I believe, governing acceptable names for newborns. Don’t know about marriage.

2

Henry 07.26.07 at 7:47 pm

Iceland too – I thought about putting this in as an addendum to the post, but couldn’t quite make it fit.

3

Josh in Philly 07.26.07 at 7:47 pm

Embarrassing misspellings in your title, Henry, especially since your subjects are editors!

As I understand it, it used to be that the UK would not allow you to eliminate any part of your name, so the musician who wanted to become “John Ono Lennon” had to stay “John Winston Ono Lennon.” Was that so, and is it still? What about the German law that you cannot give a child an undignified name?

4

chris y 07.26.07 at 7:58 pm

There used to be a register of acceptable given names in France. And a friend (xx) who married a German (xy) in the 80s wasn’t allowed to keep her name, which pissed them both off a good deal. Are either of these regulations still current?

As I understand it in English common law countries your name is legally what you are generally known as. I don’t believe that would work in practice. If I successfully persuade all my friends to start calling me Genghis Khan, and then try to open a bank account in that name, I’m guessing I won’t have much luck.

5

Doctor Slack 07.26.07 at 8:01 pm

[Japanese] women who don’t like this rule have taken to divorcing their husbands temporarily before travelling abroad, getting a passport under their birthnames, and then remarrying their ex-husbands on their return.

Hmmm. My “urban legend” sense is tingling…

6

jacob 07.26.07 at 8:04 pm

I once had a conversation about this with a Frenchman, who said that one must name one’s French child after a saint. (Is this still true?) What really struck me about this conversation was that the man–who had spent his adult life in the United States–thought it was an entirely sensible rule. After all, he said, during the French Revolution, people had named their “Table” and “Chair,” and, well, we couldn’t have that, now could we?

7

tom s. 07.26.07 at 8:05 pm

This is a timely connection to a revelation yesterday that “the names Kaur and Singh do not qualify for the purpose of immigration to Canada.”

See the CBC report for more.

8

Alan de Bristol 07.26.07 at 8:10 pm

My(Japanese)wife still has her birth name, perhaps because she married a foreigner.

I’ve never heard of the passport/divorce story above.

9

Henry 07.26.07 at 8:31 pm

josh – the misspelling was up for only 3 mins before I spotted it (you must have read it during that time; by the time your comment was posted it was already corrected). At least I didn’t hyphenate …

10

Henry 07.26.07 at 8:33 pm

doctor slack – this was the topic of the candidate’s research – while I may possibly have screwed up some of the details, I’m reasonably sure it’s correct in broad outline.

11

franck 07.26.07 at 9:04 pm

The French rule on acceptable names was also meant to stifle ethnic minorities in France. It was an object of great resentment to Basques and Bretons that they couldn’t name their kids the Basque or Breton version of saint’s names, and some names were disallowed entirely because they didn’t have French equivalents.

12

Jake 07.26.07 at 9:10 pm

I thought that under common law your name was whatever you said it was, with restrictions on changing it largely concessions to practical governing.

13

y 07.26.07 at 9:32 pm

Even in countries with fairly liberal rules on naming are likely to have some restrictions. For example, in China presumably one’s official name must be in Chinese characters, whereas in the US it cannot be–and this is a case where transliterations definitely cannot be regarded as equivalent to the original. Can one’s name be an unpronounceable string like “Bftsplk”? How about “Hen3ry”? “#!@$*”?

14

Mark G 07.26.07 at 9:53 pm

Y: Yes, well, if we’re not careful, this sort of thing could happen.

And while we’re naming European countries with these sorts of regulations: didn’t Ingrid have a post up at some point about her travails with changing her last name in the Netherlands?

15

Doctor Slack 07.26.07 at 9:59 pm

this was the topic of the candidate’s research . . . I’m reasonably sure it’s correct in broad outline.

Fair enough. Curious, then, that such a fascinating practice hasn’t attracted more notice from Japan-watchers. Or maybe it has and I’ve just missed it.

16

jdkbrown 07.26.07 at 10:15 pm

y: You’ve not heard of the artist formerly known as Prince?

17

John Quiggin 07.26.07 at 10:27 pm

Ingrid’s post is here.

The Australian situation, as I understand it, is that you can take whatever name you like, and change it as often as you like, so long as there is no intention to defraud. But opening a bank account requires lots of ID (and getting that ID requires ID, and so on) so you would have to spend a fair bit of time ensuring that other people knew you by that name.

18

stuart 07.26.07 at 10:29 pm

The article on this at wikipedia seems to match my (admitted limited) knowledge of the subject of Japanese marriage naming. When you get married both must take the same surname but it can be either.

It’s not as simple as that in fact – technically (and historically when japan was less nuclear family based, often in fact) you are joining that family, and there are various conventions and norms about which family is chosen. Gender does sometimes seem to play a role, but also the wealth/prestige of one of the two partners families may play a significant part. One special case is when a Japanese marries a foreigner, when there is no option – both must become part of the Japanese families register for it to be a valid marriage in Japanese law.

19

dave heasman 07.26.07 at 10:36 pm

“If I successfully persuade all my friends to start calling me Genghis Khan, and then try to open a bank account in that name, I’m guessing I won’t have much luck”
Not now, maybe, but about 30 years ago a guy changed his name to “Barclays Bank are a bunch of Thieves” and cashed a cheque made out to his new name. It got into the papers so it must be true.

The French have relaxed their rules on names too; we used to have a Breton (?) friend who went by the name Gaelle with 2 dots over the first “e”, but she couldn’t have it on her passport. I think it’s allowed now.

20

Henry 07.26.07 at 11:09 pm

Stuart – thanks.

dave – Gaelle with the not-an-umlaut is definitely a Breton name, and one of the loveliest girls’ names I know. My younger sister has a Breton name too – Annaick with the not-umlaut over the i.

21

Hektor Bim 07.26.07 at 11:46 pm

Dave,

Yes, the French have somewhat relazed their names. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for public education in minority languages, too, like every other European country.

22

richard 07.26.07 at 11:58 pm

Just for the record, Barclay’s Bank are, indeed, a bunch of thieves. Like all banks, really.

I understood there was some jiggery-pokery about whether the squiggly-fishhook-trumpet-circle symbol was, in fact, a legal name or not: IIRC Prince (now restored) adopted the symbol in order to evade clauses in a record contract that was binding on Prince-or-the-same-artist-under-any-other-name he might assume: the idea being that the symbol was not a name.

23

The Constructivist 07.27.07 at 2:39 am

#8: ditto. Our kids have one last name in Japan and another in the U.S.

24

Mat 07.27.07 at 3:05 am

Given that it’s not uncommon (not COMMON, but definitely a secondary tradition) for some Japanese men to take their wives surnames, and has been since Samurai times, I’m calling urban legend on the bit about women’s names in Japan there.

25

Mat 07.27.07 at 3:11 am

Got it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Married_and_maiden_names#Japan

It’s apparently law that married couples share a surname, but not law that that surname be the husband’s.

Details of the story other than that are left as an exercise to the reader.

26

Henry 07.27.07 at 4:04 am

A google search on “Japan” “divorce” “surnames” pulled “this”:http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0XPQ/is_2001_May_14/ai_74493378 up as the first hit.

Before Akiko Orita got married in the fall of 1998, she planned to have an equal partnership with her husband, rather than ”an absorbed merger” in her words. But she faced a problem — the Civil Code. Under it, Orita and her husband would not have been able to keep their separate surnames. In addition, she objected to the requirement that married couples indicate a ”head of household” when registering their marriage. … So Orita and Doi, both 26 and researchers living in Yokohama, agreed not to register their marriage. … hey are among a growing number of young couples in Japan who, when it comes to marriage and choosing surnames, are choosing to skirt the rules of the Civil Code, which they see as out of step with the times. …

Since her marriage was not registered, Orita was referred to as a ”lodger” in the ”relationship” column in the couple’s certificate of residence. But after learning that the terms ”(unregistered) wife” or ”(unregistered) husband” are also valid entries, they had the certificate revised. The change made them eligible for publicly funded housing and family discounts on cellular telephone contracts, among other benefits. For many working women, the Civil Code’s provision that forces married couples to choose a single surname is a major source of frustration. … For instance, a 36-year-old married female company employee of Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, says she continues to use her former surname to head off any confusion in the event she gets divorced. Yet she says the hassles of maintaining two surnames are greater than she had imagined. Among the problems she has encountered are not being easily able to prove her identity when receiving registered mail and being barred from using an air travel ticket bought under her former surname, as it differed from the name in her passport. ”I am going to register my divorce because I am tired of having to do this,” she says. …

Another problem for common-law couples can be children.Their children are officially regarded as having been born outside of marriage and are thus denied certain rights, including those involving inheritance. One woman, 34, a former resident of Kyoto in a common-law marriage, registered her marriage shortly before giving birth in 1997. Three days after her child was born, she registered her divorce, in a move aimed at benefiting her child. The plan proved successful after the couple moved to Tokyo and tried to find a nursery school for the child. The child was accepted, as the applications for children registered in their fathers’ family registers were given priority by the school.

This is close enough that I think this is pretty clearly _not_ an urban legend.

27

marty 07.27.07 at 4:08 am

If someone really wanted to creatively reinterpret institutions why wouldn’t they just avoid state-sanctioned matrimony altogether, live with a spouse, and keep her own name? I realize the benefits (I’m assuming married couples get benefits in Japan) wouldn’t be there, but if your goal is to creatively reinterpret oppressive social institutions, this seems like an alternative that wouldn’t damage the spousal relationship as much as, say, divorcing and remarrying over and over again. Just a thought.

28

Henry 07.27.07 at 4:13 am

If you look further down the results page, there’s lots of similar stuff – the issue of surnames is clearly a hot-button one for feminists in Japan.

29

Scott Martens 07.27.07 at 5:30 am

“not-umlaut”

Trema!! (“Tréma” en français)

In California, you cannot name a child a number, and I don’t think they will let you use a numeral in the name. You also cannot name a child or change your name to an obscene word in any language the relevant registrar knows.

30

Praisegod Barebones 07.27.07 at 7:08 am

It got into the papers so it must be true.

706

The French have relaxed their rules on names too; we used to have a Breton (?) friend who went by the name Gaelle with 2 dots over the first “e”, but she couldn’t have it on her passport.

They’re still quite hard-line about surnames: children can only take their mothers name if they are 1) illegitimate and 2)not acknowledged by their father.

Also – children with the same parents in the same family have to have the same surname. (My guess is that at least some commentators won’t see a problem here: I’ll just say that I think that it is.)

There are also some fairly strict rules about what is and is not a given name in Turkey: I’d guess for similar reason to the French practice….

Oh…and there’s also a (fairly racist) joke about French immigrants giving their children the name Fetnat (for Fete Nationale) beacuse they’ve been told the rule about saints days (French calendars have a saint on them for every day of the year except July 14th).

31

richard 07.27.07 at 7:46 am

in any language the relevant registrar knows

now that’s just begging for trouble.

32

bad Jim 07.27.07 at 7:57 am

Um, the not-umlaut is of course called a diaresis, and is commonly employed by picky publications like the New Yorker to inform their readers that a given vowel is not part of a dipthong. I first noticed their idiosyncratic spelling of “coöperative”; nowadays I’m reminded whenever the radio plays the meditation from Massenet’s “Thaïs”.

33

SG 07.27.07 at 8:18 am

I am living in Japan, and know a Japanese person who has done something like you describe: he is divorced from his wife, but they are still married. He explained the situation to me, and although it was hard to understand I shall try to explain it here. At one point in their lives they were married, but because it can be counter-productive for women to appear married when they apply for work, he took her name. Then, later on, their circumstances changed and it became worse for him to have her name than for her to have his. So, they divorced. But they are still, as it were, married. In the sense of partnered. (I don’t understand why it wasn’t counter-productive for him to have her name, but it is possibly because he was already working at the time)(Also, when he introduced himself he never used her name, as far as I understand it).

The name taking thing is due to a phenomenon called koseki (I think) which applies here, and I think is something like a kind of parish record of names. It goes back very far in many cases. It doesn’t apply to foreigners and I presume to Japanese people who take foreign spouses. However, as far as I understand it, the particular choice of which person in an entirely japanese marriage changes their name is entirely arbitrary.

(Everything in that second paragraph I learnt from the person in the first paragraph – so it could all be wrong, it was a while ago when I heard it. But I’m pretty sure I have the story of the person’s situation correct).

34

mollymooly 07.27.07 at 8:53 am

#6: it’s not that you must name your child after a saint; France is a secular republic. It’s that you must give your child a traditional name, not some novelty of your own invention. Since France was historically Catholic, children were given saints’ names, to have the saint’s feast-day as their name-day. So the traditional names happen to be saints’ names.

35

bill in turkey 07.27.07 at 8:54 am

Hey, moderators: I posted a comment in this thread a couple of hours ago which seems to have got trapped in your moderation filters. (it would have come after 29 in sequence)

I’m really puzzled as to what I might have said that has caused it to get pulled. (in particular, and as far as I can tell, it was on topic, polite and, at least by intention, non-inflammatory.)

I’d be very grateful if someone could let me know what has got people’s hackles up, so that I can edit accordingly….

36

bill in turkey 07.27.07 at 8:56 am

Incidentally, on the subject of whether numbers are names, does anyone remember an individual called ‘perri 6’ who used to be active on the left(ish) of British politics.

37

chris y 07.27.07 at 9:05 am

6, 32: Is Astrolabe therefore unacceptable?

38

Eimear Ní Mhéalóid 07.27.07 at 10:57 am

There’s a story in Edward MacLysaght’s memoirs (former Chief Herald of Ireland and general expert on Irish surnames) about how he advised a poor family that they didn’t need go to the expense of having a deed poll* drawn up and registered to have the eldest son’s surname changed. He was born before Mr. X and Miss Y. got married and his birth cert. read John Y. They just needed to do some kind of affidavit that he had always been known as John X.

*Technically a deed poll is just a deed that only has one party to it, the opposite of an indenture (both names refer to the way they used to trim the parchment), but the term is used almost universally for these name change deeds.

39

Alex 07.27.07 at 11:23 am

My dear Soizick nearly fell foul of the register of French names; her parents successfully hacked the rules by appending a regulation moniker for official consumption. I’m forbidden to mention it.

40

Suvi 07.27.07 at 11:52 am

#3 “What about the German law that you cannot give a child an undignified name?”

It’s true, you can’t. You aren’t allowed to invent names, either.

German registrars have a list of approved names, and if the name you want to give isn’t on it, you can’t give your child that name (unless you can prove that it is a known and accepted name in some other part of the world).

41

Barry 07.27.07 at 12:17 pm

Richard: “IIRC Prince (now restored) adopted the symbol in order to evade clauses in a record contract that was binding on Prince-or-the-same-artist-under-any-other-name he might assume: the idea being that the symbol was not a name.”

The way that I heard it was that he found out that internet searches for [symbol] weren’t doable, so he was losing publicity.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it was just a whole load of problems that triggered the ‘unsymboling’.

42

greensmile 07.27.07 at 12:55 pm

name
I
self identity

People with sufficient level of ego and intelligence CAN, if culturally liberated to do so, consider binding a name to their personality by which they feel they are saying something about themselves [status, origins, interests…] and thus leap over the first step or two of acquainting themselves with others or otherwise connecting. There is a vibrant branch of this human capacity on display via spray paint on many walls in NYC and in the many monikers by which bloggers post.

And not being who you “really” are for the nonce has its own uses on the other hand.

Cattle get a barcode or an ear tag.

We are born with a history, perhaps a station in life but we all have a choice to forge an identity for ourselves and the name is a precious token of that identity if you can forge it as well. The comment of Toru Ranryu betrays a terrible need for stasis of role in society.

43

garymar 07.27.07 at 4:03 pm

ditto on #8 and #23 and #26. My brother got divorced in Japan and all it takes is a quick trip to city hall or the ward office. The Japanese use social pressure instead of legal procedures to preserve marriages, and they work extremely well — too well, probably.

It’s hard to see this as an urban legend, it sounds very probable. Here’s a similar one:

Getting a driver’s license in Japan can take the equivalent of thousands of dollars in lessons at approved driving courses, and people often fail the test. The system is set up to discourage driving, after all.

But the Japanese government quite freely awards licenses to those with valid foreign licenses, especially American licenses. I guess they figure people get plenty of experience driving in the US. I showed my US license and got a Japanese license without a written or a road test.

So during the 70’s, some Japanese got the idea of taking up a brief residence in the US, getting the US license while there, and returning to Japan to exchange it for a Japanese license. The total cost of the trip was still below the cost of obtaining the license at home, plus you get a vacation and you didn’t spend months at the driver’s range. A lot of college students did this because they had the time for it.

But eventually, when this move got too popular, the government changed the rules and closed the loophole.

So, the prevalence of this kind of jiujitsu performed on the legal system makes me think there’s something behind marriage/ divorce story.

44

omicron 07.27.07 at 6:08 pm

A further note on the Japanese surnames issue. It is correct that a married couple must have the same last name because their tax system is built around this principle in certain ways (need to find a citation). For example, it is much more common for the wife to take the husbands name, but in certain situations the husband will take the wifes surname. This is actually used as a way of tax and debt evasion because when your name is changed debts cannot “stick” to you, hence some men take the wifes surname to avoid debt or in some cases criminal records. It’s seen as a rather deplorable thing to do, and I’m not sure if that was still the case, but I learned all this when I was researching a Japanese television show I was interested in.

45

MD² 07.28.07 at 1:47 am

Oh…and there’s also a (fairly racist) joke about French immigrants giving their children the name Fetnat (for Fete Nationale) beacuse they’ve been told the rule about saints days (French calendars have a saint on them for every day of the year except July 14th).

Maybe used in racist circles as a joke, but the practice did exist. I’ve know at least two Fetnat, one being my cousin.

Onomastics in France have evolved quite a bit in recent years. Not enough that a couple was allowed to name their daughter Téléphérique as wished, but I’ve known quite a number of Gwenaëlle (and Anaël, etc…), one Nanami (absolutely not japanese must I say) and I’ve known a (idiot IMHO) couple (both teachers) who named their kids Aristote and Périclès (I kid you not… poor kids). Not to speak of numerous variation and bastardisations of foreign names of second generation immigrants.
The “in” names in lower middle-class in the last ten years seems to come from American sitcoms and tv shows (Kevin, Brendan, Dylan etc).

What I find fascinating with Toru Ranryu’s comment is how much it fails to acknoledge a part of Japans’s history; just think of Middle-Age (and I’m not talking the higher class Heian hell, anyone who tried to read the Genji will understand)practices: one name up till seven, another till you’re an adult, yet another when you become a monk, another used solely for when dealing in confuscianist circles, one for your buddhist death… Names used to be anything but static in Japan, and still are quite flexibles in some respects.

For example, it is much more common for the wife to take the husbands name, but in certain situations the husband will take the wifes surname.

Practice often used also if the wife’s name is prestigious and/or if her familly has no male heir.

46

SG 07.28.07 at 1:52 am

garymar, I would like to clarify that that system no longer holds. Now Americans have to do a set of lessons. Australians, Britons etc. have merely to sit an interview.

47

Toru Ranryu 07.28.07 at 6:42 am

For the record, I’m not Japanese but Swedish. I’m glad that my comments has spurred some interesting discussion here too.

48

Stentor 07.28.07 at 6:51 am

does anyone remember an individual called ‘perri 6’ who used to be active on the left(ish) of British politics.

Mr. 6 is still around. He even has a Wikipedia page. My own research intersects somewhat with his, and I’m always tempted to err on the side of including references to his work just so I can have “6, P.” at the top of my bibliography.

49

ed 07.28.07 at 2:45 pm

The most interesting part of this post was buried:

“But divorce is extremely easy in Japan (you basically have to fill out a form to inform local officialdom and that’s it)”

What!?! Why can’t we do that?

50

garymar 07.28.07 at 7:25 pm

sg — thanks for the update, I haven’t lived there for 11 years. I imagine the Australians and Brits only need an interview, because they drive on the wrong i.e. left side of the road, just like the Japanese.

51

Helen 07.30.07 at 1:26 am

52

praisegod barebones 07.31.07 at 5:06 pm

‘Oh…and there’s also a (fairly racist) joke about French immigrants giving their children the name Fetnat (for Fete Nationale) beacuse they’ve been told the rule about saints days (French calendars have a saint on them for every day of the year except July 14th).

Maybe used in racist circles as a joke, but the practice did exist. I’ve know at least two Fetnat, one being my cousin.’

Many apologies then: it looks as though I’ve been misinformed. I’ve only second-hand evidence that it was a racist joke (not moving in racist circles myself).

Is it a boy’s name or a girl’s name. Or – like Deniz, in Turkey – both?

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