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surnames as first names
Posted: 27 August 2007 07:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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I could suggest that the whole custom of the woman changing her name on marriage was discontinued, but that’s starting to move off-topic, so I won’t expatiate.

But it’s not really true. Sure, there are many women who do not take their husband’s surname, but most still do. (At least I think it’s most; I don’t know the statistics off the top of my head. In any case, the practice of taking a husband’s name, while diminished, is far from gone.)

Indeed, and I wasn’t intending to imply that it had, only to express a wish that it should.

This is a classic illustration of a linguistic change that makes communication more difficult.  Once upon a time, and still in my idiolect, the first sentence quoted would have begun: “I could suggest that the whole custom of the woman changing her name on marriage be discontinued...” The way it is, to me (and apparently to Dave) it means unambiguously that the custom was discontinued: that women don’t do that any more.  Bayard meant it as a future possibility, but in his dialect there’s no way to indicate that: the verb suggest takes the past tense of the following verb whether it’s seen as factual or counterfactual.  It’s like the disuse of might have in favor of may have in that respect.

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Posted: 27 August 2007 11:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Customs vary from one country to another. In my country (Israel) a woman is required by law to take her husband’s name (if she has a special reason for continuing to use her former name --- an actress, or author, say --- she must get a special dispensation from the Minister of the Interior).
In Chile, where I grew up, women don’t take their husband’s name.
i suspect that customs may vary in different parts of the English-speaking world, too. In Britain until fairly recently, a wife was in danger of losing even her first name (I still have one ancient friend who addresses her letters to my wife and me “Mr. and Mrs Lionello Urmurm").

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Posted: 28 August 2007 02:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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languagehat - 27 August 2007 07:21 AM

Once upon a time, and still in my idiolect, the first sentence quoted would have begun: “I could suggest that the whole custom of the woman changing her name on marriage be discontinued...”

What I find interesting is that I’m perfectly aware of that form ("be" rather than “was") and now it’s pointed out to me, it does sound better (and more accurate) but I still have to think hard before seeing what I wrote in the way you and Dave understand it.  If I had meant that the practice had already been discontinued, I think I would have written “I could suggest......has been discontinued”

“Was” in this context now sounds ambiguous to me, now that you’ve pointed out the potential confusion; I shall try to avoid that form of words in future.

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