Yesterday on International Women’s Day I reflected on the female line of my family. Our family, like the vast majority of families in the world, carry the surname of the males. But it has been the females (with a few exceptions) that have had the most impact on my life. Perhaps, this is due to longevity. Or maybe identifying with the same gender.
Three of my great-grandmothers were still alive when I reached my teens. Two of whom outlived their children-both my paternal grandparents died relatively young. And the third passed away during my junior year of high school. I feel fortunate to have memories of all three.
I am now a grandmother and two of my great-aunts are still alive. A third lived until she reached the century mark. Two were childless. I only know the circumstances of the great-aunt who lost three children all within a few days of their birth. A hazard of doing missionary work in a developing country.
The other great-aunt may or may not have had a choice. Although she was politically a conservative, in life’s actions she was a trailblazer. One of the first (possibly the first) females to graduate from the University of Texas with a degree in chemistry, she still resides in Texas. And I treasure my copy of her speech entitled A Woman Chemist vs. Gender Discrimination. She is in her late 90s now. I’m sure you can do the math…
My third great-aunt was married to the most extroverted of my great-uncles. Their third child, a cousin to my father, is just two years older than I am. So, it is easy to see the connectedness. The strong female line was a great influence from my early years.
I have three living aunts all now at least in their seventies. Accurately, I can describe all as living active, independent lifestyles. Unfortunately, as is often the case with the female line, two survive their life mates with only one fortunate to still have a spouse.
Perhaps this is another reason the female line has influenced me so much. The survival rates. It is quite common for women to outlive men. But there are exceptions. Both my paternal grandfather and my father outlived their spouses. A tribute to my mom can be read by clicking here. She and her mother passed down the artistic gene.
I was close to both sets of grandparents. But I lived near to my paternal grandparents as a child. They were very special people. Both grandmothers worked in education. One taught, when necessary, the other was a career educator.
My cousins also skew toward the female line in numbers as well as connection. Although to be fair, I only have one male cousin. Nevertheless, I am closer to the women. We live in an age of women with careers. And ours are varied. Somehow, we juggle work and home life.
Future of the Female Line
And then the numbers tip to males in the next generation. Including my two daughters, there are only three females on my maternal side and four on the paternal. What will this mean for the female line? It is too early to see what will happen with the generation on the horizon as I am the only one in my age group to have grandchildren. Fortunately, both genders are represented, and the maternal middle name continues. In this case, the surname is not the identifying factor.
The Female Line and Surnames
Worldwide, only a few countries bring forward both surnames. I can see how things could become unwieldy if all the surnames were passed from generation to generation. If I had the surname A-B and my husband C-D would our offspring be A-B-C-D? And their children? Would they have eight surnames? If not, which names would be dropped?
So, surnames can be complicated. But what is important about a person? I would pick character over name any day of the week. Names identify us, yet who we are goes far beyond a name, either given or surname.
I feel very connected to those before me. Now that my children are giving birth to yet another generation, I hope to provide that same connectivity for my grandchildren. Family lines are important. Both the male and the female line.