Few people would deny that our society has made great strides towards equality in almost every area of American life. And yet, beneath the surface, one group of citizens still suffers from broad forms of discrimination. Of course I am speaking of those of us whose last names are also first names. As double firsters we must weave our way through a culture that has no respect or understanding for our unique condition. After all, how could they? Until you have faced confusion from people who think your last name is your first name, you can’t understand how it feels. And to those who say “just deal with it”, I say, “that’s exactly what the Nazis said, just in German.”
I remember bitterly the first time I realized I was different. My 3rd grade teacher Sister Anne Mathews was constantly calling me Marcus, or even Mark. It wasn’t so much the mistake, though really, how hard is it to remember a student’s first name, it was her unwillingness to examine the underlying causes of her discriminatory actions. It all came to a head when she handed me back a vocab test which I had aced with the note, “Great Work Mark!!!”. I stayed after class and told her how demeaning her actions were, how her subconscious prejudice was creating a learning environment fraught with emotional trauma for me. Her reply? “I’m sorry Mark, I had no idea”. Talk to the millions of American double firsters and you will hear this story millions of times.
This is not simply a problem of personal namism, the problem is institutional. Whether its tax forms, drivers license applications or jury duty, double firsters are subjected to no end of red tape and run around. A 2009 Pew research study revealed that the average American with a last name for a first name spent 43 hours a year, A YEAR, working out mistakes on official government forms (I would link to the study but I forget where I read it). You would think the federal government would be hard at work fixing these problems, but to date, not one cent has been spent on this issue. Last year’s bipartisan Frank/Ryan bill in the House, the “Last Name Fairness Act” floundered. Its as if to the federal government, we simply don’t exist. Of the nine current Supreme Court Justices, only one is a double firster, and he never even says anything.
Consider this a call to action, all of you smug people with your unique and complicated last names need a wake up call. We will no longer stand by and allow our rights to be trampled. Double firsters have made this nation great, from Ben Franklin, to Abe Lincoln to Jesse Jackson, and all faced constant discrimination from people who just didn’t care enough to know what their first name really was. This is America, we can do better!