A rose by any other name, Shakespeare said, would still have a lovely aroma, and that is certainly true. Still, names are extremely important, and if you disagree, ask a man whose surname is Pig – and compare his life experiences with a fellow named Jones.
As for me, I am perfectly fine with my last name, but I wish people would stop automatically sticking “Ms.” in front of it.
Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that Ms. should be banned, but I would love to see a rebirth of the lovely title of Mrs. After all, the beauty of Mrs. is that it implies the existence of a mister to whom the woman is attached.
By contrast, Ms. lumps all women – married, single, engaged and widowed – into the same amorphous group.
Ms. became fashionable in the seventies, during the heyday of the Women’s Liberation Movement. You see, feminists decided that women’s titles should not reveal their marital status, since “mister” did not reveal men’s.
As an ex-Catholic and fervent feminist at the time, this reasoning appealed to me. It reinforced my belief that men and women should be treated exactly the same, given the lack of distinctive, innate masculine and feminine natures. After all, without God, who would have created such natures?
As the years passed, however, I found that the feminist premise about the sameness of the sexes conflicted with my everyday observations.
I didn’t know men who shopped for hours to find the perfect shirt. I didn’t know women who got weak at the knees when they found the perfect saber saw at the hardware store.
I also observed that a man encountering an infant generally did not talk to it in high-pitched tones – which any woman would recognize as baby talk. And a woman confronted with a spider usually would call out for a man to kill it, but I never saw the reverse happen.
In “What’s Wrong with the World,” G.K Chesterton writes about a woman who asked him if he believed in “comradeship between the sexes.” He found this a bad idea, he wrote, because men act differently in groups of men than they do with women.
“If I were to treat you for two minutes like a comrade,” he said to the woman, “you would turn me out of the house.”
Chesterton was writing in 1910, and I didn’t come across this bit of wisdom until I had returned to the Catholic fold – and given up my radical feminist stance. By then, his words struck me as completely reasonable.
I had no desire to be “one of the guys,” nor did I want men trailing along when my female friends and I had a girls’ night out.
I suspect that Chesterton would have deplored the “Ms” title, since it is another example of diluting the differences between men and women. Besides, it is clear that when you tweak language, you shake up people’s perceptions of reality.
For many generations, women embraced the label of “housewives,” which implied a woman’s connection to both husband and house. Later, that title was replaced by “homemaker,” which no longer implies a marital relationship.
Today, mothers at home with their children are rather awkwardly called “stay-at-home” moms — a term that Chesterton would have called as redundant as “go-to-work dads.” Mothers with jobs are called “working mothers,” as if moms at home were just twiddling their thumbs.
All of us, thank God, exist in relation to other people, and our titles reveal our deepest connections. Growing up, I was accustomed to being called “Grace and Tom’s girl” or “Rosemary’s sister.”
As a little girl, I dreamt of one day being a teacher and a writer, but I also prayed that I would find a man to love, who would love me back – and who would marry me.
I finally did meet my soul mate, Jeffrey Murray, and I was delighted to stand with him before God as we vowed to become one. I was thrilled to take his last name and assume a new identity as Jef’s wife.
Ever since then, “Mrs. Murray” has sounded perfectly beautiful to me. Really, it is as sweet as the proverbial rose.
Lorraine’s latest books include “Death of a Liturgist” – a wild and wacky mystery about a layman who wreaks havoc on a traditional parish; and “The Abbess of Andalusia” – an exploration of Flannery O’Connor’s Catholic journey. Her web site is www.lorrainevmurray.com
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