Scandalous Name

by Stacey

Let me see, there was Whitewater and Gennifer Flowers. Vince Foster and health care reform. Monica, no one could forget that. And, oh yes, her vote on the Iraq war. Until last week, I thought I had a handle on all the scandals d’Hillary, but it appears there’s another. One that I myself, could be found guilty of.

It’s her name. She’s Hillary Clinton of course. But she’s previously gone by Hillary Rodham. Sometimes referred to as Hillary Rodham Clinton. Even Hillary will do. Fasten your seat belts friends.

I first came across the name issue in a New Yorker review of two upcoming biographies of Senator Clinton. One called A Woman in Charge by Carl Berstein of the Washington Post and the second called Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton by NY Times reporters, Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. According to the article, the changes to Hillary’s name over the years is an issue of character.

When she married Bill, at the age of twenty-seven, Clinton pointedly decided to remain Hillary Rodham. According to Bernstein, she had resolved to do this “as a young girl, even before the practice was encouraged by a nascent women’s movement.” He quotes Clinton telling a friend that the choice was a matter of principle: it affirmed that she would continue to be “a person in my own right.”

Then in support of her husband’s political career, she made a switch.

Seven years later, when Bill was in a tough campaign to regain the Arkansas governorship, Hillary changed her mind. Except, she insisted, it wasn’t a change at all. “I don’t have to change my name,” she declared. “I’ve been Mrs. Bill Clinton. I kept the professional name Hillary Rodham in my law practice, but now I’m going to be taking a leave of absence from the law firm to campaign full-time for Bill and I’ll be Mrs. Bill Clinton.”

I don’t know if Hillary ever really went around as Mrs. Bill Clinton. Maybe for convenience sake she did. Like when she was trying to make reservations at a schwanky restaurant. Or when she was talking to the teacher from Chelsea’s school.

Or maybe it actually was a calculated decision to appeal more to women in Arkansas, many of whom may not have kept their original names after getting married. Maybe it mattered more to her to present herself as someone those women could relate to, so her Democratic husband could maintain his position as governor of the freakin state. This is politics after all.

Hillary remained Mrs. Bill Clinton all the way up to the eve of her husband’s Inauguration as President, at which point she suddenly began introducing herself as Hillary Rodham Clinton. This change, too, she insisted, wasn’t one. “Hillary Rodham Clinton has been the First Lady’s name all along, since 1982,” her press secretary, Lisa Caputo, told the Times, in what was described as a tone of exasperation. “We’re at a loss as to why people think this is something that we’re just trying to change now.”

I’m sorry, but I am not offended by this. It’s hard enough for me to figure out what I want my name to be now that I’m married and have kids. Let’s see, there’s the working girl in me who wants to keep the name I was born with. There’s the married part of me that still wants to keep my own name, but occasionally, in a romantic flush, thinks it would be sweet for us to have the same last name. But then there’s the whopper – the mommy part of me who now has a different last name from my kids. Ouch! What’s a working girl, married lady, mama bear to do?

Fitz and futz around with my name, that’s what. Mostly I’m my working girl name. But if the pediatrician’s office calls to confirm my kid’s appointment and asks if I’m Mrs. my-husband’s name, I say yes. And I don’t mind. I kind of like it.

We haven’t even dealt with the fact that when we got married, my husband and I agreed that we would both legally change our names to include the other one, only without the hyphen. So my last name would become like another middle name for both of us, although we agreed I would still go around using my original name. We never bothered to change our names. We did, however, name our kids this way.

So. Back to Hillary. Apparently there’s one more round left to go.

A few weeks ago, the Albany Times-Union reported that Clinton has now dropped “Rodham” from her Presidential-campaign literature, though it still appears on communications from her Senate office.

This is what Elizabeth Kolbert, the writer of the New Yorker piece has to say about the name issue:

In a political culture like ours, where character supposedly is all, this sort of fuzziness is obviously a problem.

Nope, it’s not a character issue. Yes, it sounds like her people may have tried to downplay the switching around of her name. It would have been better if they could have been straightforward about that. But still, this is a domestic issue lots of women deal with. It has some importance, but in the face of global warming and the Iraq war, not that much. Let’s let call herself whatever she wants and move on.

In other name news, I just read this column in the Chicago Tribune, in which I learned some people are upset by the press referring to Senator Clinton by her first name, thus diminishing her authority.

“The simple fact is that Hillary Rodham Clinton is running in a field
of men who are never referred to by their first names,” Jane Fritsch, an
online Tribune editor wrote to me in an e-mail. “The argument that we
call her Hillary to avoid confusion is a weak one. There are easy
alternatives. … Certainly the problem created by the existence of two
presidents named George Bush has been a difficult one, but we found ways to
solve it without diminishing George W. Bush.”

Hillary’s own campaign Web site has a banner that reads “Hillary for President.” She’s so famous, she can be just Hillary. John Edwards campaign couldn’t pull that off. John? Which John? Is Kerry running again? See, it wouldn’t work.

I’m curious what others think about all this name business. Anyone care to weigh in?

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