Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

My Twitter Exchange With Jamelle Bouie

Washington Post contributor Jamelle Bouie, or @jbouie, posted the following to a thread in Alex Seitz-Wald’s Twitter feed (or whater it’s called) about my hyphenated-names post from earlier today:
Holy crap. That post would have been better if it were just “Look at this Jewry Jew Jew.”
To which I responded:
I don’t buy into the Jews-rule-the-world-with-their-hedge-funds-and-Neiman-Marcus-Holiday-Season-catalogues thing. But I’m Jewish.
Bouie responded graciously, saying:
Um, I was being really, really sarcastic when I sent that tweet.
I tweeted (oooock, I hate that word, but I guess that’s what I did) back:
Thanks for responding.  I was about to post a sarcastic response to you on Angry Bear. Suffice it to say that I’m not anti-Semitic.
Elsewhere in that thread, begun by Seitz-Wald, someone named Irin Carmon–like Seitz-Wald a staff writer for Salon, I just learned; I’d never heard of her before–tweeted:

that seemed like a very long way to say “Alex Seitz-Wald sounds like he’s Jewish”

She’s right, of course.  I mean, who knew that only Jews work on Wall Street and have Neiman’s credit cards?!  And that “Carlyle” is a Jewish name?!  Or, for that matter, that Seitz is?!

I’m not a Twitter user–wasn’t, that is, until an hour or so ago; I think it’sis ridiculous–but I opened an account this evening in order to repond to the many accusations of anti-Semitism in that Twitter thread, including from Seitz-Wald, who surely knows that Seitz is not usually a Jewish name, but figured I thought it was.

Carmon, by the way, is a Harvard alum, who in the Twitter thread said her kids have (surprise!) hyphenated last names.  She’s probably busy getting ready for the High Holidays next month.  I can tell by her last name.


UPDATE: An exchange between reader Sheila and me in the Comments thread to this post:

SHEILA: I have a hard time understanding why post generation boomers are so negative about us. We cared about the poor, protested unnecessary wars, protested corruption and actually gave a shit about racism and the environment. Along with women’s rights. And for this we are vilified? It seems the right wing has been allowed to change the narrative to cast us as a bunch of stoned welfare recipients. I am a boomer and I kept my name because we moved to Alaska and I wanted my friends from the Bay Area and Madison to be able to find me . My kids are named after my husband. It honestly did not seem to matter. At any rate, I am really proud to be of my generation. I only hope that the generations to come eventually emulate us. Sheila

ME: And you think my post is about women who keep their married names after they marry, WHY EXACTLY, Sheila?

Let me spell it out: This post is about people WHO GIVE THEIR KIDS a last name that is: the mother’s last name, a hyphen, father’s last name.  This is a tiny segment of upscale people, almost all of them with degrees from fancy universities and from or currently living in a large metro upper-Atlantic coast area. I suspect that you could travel throughout, say, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, and almost every other non-northeastern or mid-Atlantic state, spending weeks in each, and never encounter a Millenial with a hyphenated mother’s-last-name/father’s-last-name last name.  Yet people with those last names are heavily represented in the student body of the most prestigous and expensive private colleges and universities, and in the upper-tier print news media and other no-one-but-people-with-upscale-backgrounds-need-apply professional circles.

To spell it out further: It’s about elitism. It’s about putting a neon sign on your kid that is intended to shout: “Upscale.” “From erudite, highly-educated family.”  Exactly the way, back in the early and mid-20th Century, the New England boarding prep schools, the Ivy League, the banking industry, the State Department, and ALL the other pillars of wealth and privilege were stocked with names like McGeorge Bundy, Erskine Bowles, Fill-in-the-Blanks-Wasp-Last-Name-As-First-Name.


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Advertising That Your Child Comes From an Upscale, Graduate-School-Educated Home and Therefore Won’t Need Financial Assistance if (When) He or She is Accepted Into Yale.

One of the really annoying (at least to me) fads among late Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, mainly, I suspect, from the Northeast and the Washington, D.C. area, is the hyphenated-last-name thing for their children.  As in, say, Alex Seitz-Wald, a Millennial blogger at the Washington Post’s The Plum Line, whose post from this morning, “John Boehner’s Escape Hatch is Closing,” I just read.

I don’t know anything about him; I know it’s a “him,” not a “her,” because I’ve read mentions of one or another of his posts, with references to him as, well, “him.”  Or, that is, I wouldn’t know anything about him were it not for the hyphenated last name.

But because of the hyphenated last name, I do—or at least probably do—know quite a bit about him: that his parents have graduate degrees and fast-track careers, probably as doctors, lawyers or the like, and that he grew up in a gentrified city neighborhood or an upscale, probably older, leafy (definitely leafy) suburb somewhere not far from the Atlantic Ocean and not south of D.C., or in a college town.  He spent his youth, when not in school, in highly competitive sports leagues (probably soccer) and in look-at-me volunteer programs, maybe overseas during the summer.  He had private tutors for math and/or whatever other subject he needed in order to ace the SAT.  And he spent his four undergraduate years at a prestigious private college or university, and his junior year (or at least a summer) at a university in China, South America or Europe, graduating with a degree in something and with no (or almost no) college-loan debt.

And eventually, probably when he’s in his early 30s, he’ll marry a Millennial with a wink-nod code name like his: say, Harriet Goldman-Sachs. They’ll have two kids, named, maybe, Gertrude Goldman-Sachs-Seitz-Wald and Leon Goldman-Sachs-Seitz-Wald, respectively. Whose offspring three-plus decades later will be named, maybe, Linda Goldman-Sachs-Seitz-Wald-Neiman-Marcus-Carlyle-Group and John Goldman-Sachs-Seitz-Wald-Neiman-Marcus-Carlyle-Group.  Respectively.

The danger here, of course, is that by then all college and graduate-school programs will be online, and more reasonably priced, and therefore the Goldman-Sachs-Seitz-Wald-Neiman-Marcus-Carlyle-Group kids will be saddled with the hyphenated eight-name last names with no particular advantage to it.  Other than that the Washington Post, New York Times and other prestigious media outlets will have jobs waiting for them when they graduate with a degree or two or three from Yale Online University.


UPDATE: Actually, as I just wrote in the Comments thread in response to a comment by reader rjs, Seitz-Wald is a terrific political journalist at Salon, The Nation and ThinkProgress, as well as, now, the Washington Post.  (I believe he’s still with the other three.)  And really, I don’t know a thing about his background.  I just keep wondering what the intended end game is with these hyphenated names.  I mean, how many generations can be reflected in a last name before space runs out on the birth certificate? Because it obviously can’t extend beyond another generation, this fad really does strike me as simply code for, “This is someone with upscale, educated, intellectual parents who can pay his or her college expenses.”

Sorry, but it does. It’s today’s version of the British-Isles-last-names-as-first-names code that the Brahmins of the early and mid-20th Century employed.


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