November 20, 2009, Newsletter Issue #260: Why do we have last names

Tip of the Week

As my children expand, in height, so does their curiosity. My six-year old daughter asked me the other day, “what’s your last name daddy?” I smiled and told her it was the same as hers.  She paused and asked, “What’s Emmy’s last name?” Emmy is her little sister. I replied, “The same as our last name.” She paused again and went on, “What’s mommy’s last name?” I smiled, “Mommy’s last name is the same as ours.” She curved her outer lip inquisitively and went on to the next family member she could think of quickly, “what’s mom-mom’s last name?” I explained to her that mom-mom has a different last name. She asked why, and I rationalized that mom-mom married pop-pop who has a different last name than we do.
She seemed confused with my unexpected answer. I asked if she understood, she paused, and asked the real question, “Why do we have last names?”
Ah, the reasoning behind all these questions. “We have last names so everyone can be told apart; otherwise, we would have thousands of John’s, Michael’s and Bob’s in this world without knowing who was whom.” “Oh,” was her short reply. I get the “oh” answer when she doesn’t catch on right away.
I couldn’t help but to dwell on her question. I really wanted to tell her we live in a tribal society. I wanted to say most people take great pride in differentiating themselves from others; and people will use their name, country, nationality or family trees to create a sense of superiority. I wanted to tell her how ridiculous a tribal mentality was and how we are all the same – every one of us. I wanted to say that names are just another form of labeling. I wanted to say names are inconsequential. I can wait for that conversation. I’m sure we’ll have it someday.     

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