Quebec outlaws kinship groups

I expect that most of my readers are Thinking Housewife readers and have already seen this, but here are the links anyway concerning Quebec and Spain.  In Quebec, it is illegal for mother and child to take on the father’s name.  Thus, patriclans have no way to continue themselves, and the extended family–after long centuries of weakening–is effectively abolished.  Usually the war on “mediating institutions” isn’t quite so blatant.

I often hear the word “tribal” used as a term of abuse, but I would encourage my readers to think twice before using it this way.  Would it be so bad if being part of an extended family carried real rights and responsibilities?  Isn’t there rather something odd about us that I have no duties whatsoever towards my cousins, my uncles, my grandparents?  If we’re not going to have extended families in any real sense, why bother having last names at all?  Is dependence on the state and the market necessarily better than dependence on kin?

Inheritance–the way of deciding who belongs to what kinship group–is a central feature of all historic societies.  There are reasons, I think, why every great civilization has grown out of a patrilineal culture.

3 Responses

  1. Originally, surnames were mere soubriquets, used to distinguish persons of the same name – John the Taylor from John Robert’s son. That is why the old lawyers talked of a person’s “name and addition” and why a mistake in a person’s Christian name is a “misnomer,” but a mistake in his surname is a mere “misdescription.” The etymology surname = sire name is, like all popular etymologies, false. The prefix is French “sur,” from Latin “super,” meaning “on top of” or “additional,” as in surcharge, surcoat, surplice &c

    The first hereditary surnames were territorial; John, the owner of Blackacre was “Mr Blackacre,” that is, Master of Blackacre and his wife was “Mrs Blackacre,” that is, Mistress of Blackacre. The rule was not that a wife took her husband’s surname, but that both took the name of their seat; thus, a younger son marrying an heiress would use the name of her estate. In fact, in Scotland, heiresses, including co-heiresses (“heirs portioners”), always keep their own surname after marriage, to indicate their claim to the family land

    In Scotland, where surnames are closely connected with coats of arms, we have surnames like “Moncrieff of that Ilk” “Ilk” means “same,” in other words, Moncrieff of Moncrieff, to distinguish the branch of the family still in possession of the pronominal estate. Again, where one has a name like “Maitland of Lethington,” indicating the branch of the Maitland family at Lethington, a wife is known as “Mrs Lethington,” not Mrs Maitland.

    Children only use their parents’ names hyphenated, when they inherit land or a heritable right to it, from both. It is even done, when a woman becomes heiress in her issue, because the male line becomes extinct, sometimes centuries after her death. Her descendants, if they wish to matriculate her arms, always assume her surname, either alone or hyphenated with their previous surname.

  2. Hello Mr. Paterson-Seymour,

    Perhaps the appeal to family names was a mistake. I think the important thing is that all of these people knew what family they belonged to, who was and wasn’t kin. Still, although I’m pretty reactionary, I don’t think I’ll try to push my nostalgia for tribal arrangements too far.

  3. By the way,

    Bringing up the issue of inheritance is really going back to the roots of French conservatism. One of the big causes for Louis de Bonald and Frederic Le Play was defending primogeniture. They realized that once property was entirely individualized, and the family ceased to be a corporate body continuing from generation to generation, the family would be terribly weakened. Given industrialization (about which Bonald was wary), it’s not clear to me that there was any way we could have won that battle.

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