On the rise of surnames and the state

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Niccolo and Donkey
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Taken from The Trouble with the View from Above by James C. Scott:

Team Zissou

This doesn't sound right. Pre-State society would want to know what clan you came from.

Bob Dylan Roof

Excellent article. When power is unmatched it has a tendency toward visibility, publicity, and ceremony (as opposed to the anonymous and invisible type of power that must hide and dissimulate in order to maintain its influence.)

Naming is a necessary component of appropriation: a man takes a woman and names her, an empire conquers a city and renames it (Leningrad, Stalingrad etc.) Appropriation is, in turn, a necessary component of power, which is the essence of the public state. Counting (census), dividing (naming), and ordering (authority) are all elements of an entity bent on restructuring a world so that it falls within the scope of its power. I'm not familiar with the history, but the author's story of patronyms as an artifact of political power seems wholly plausible in this context.

The other point concerning simplification is well-taken (synoptic naming), but the author could have focused on the psychological implications of naming as well. Division and distribution are usually public acts that bind nature and people to a new conceptual scheme that has some sort of public significance and moral consistency, i.e., legitimacy. The Christening of the Americas as the New World reflected the Marian (Catholic) nature of the conquest that bound heterogeneous lands, peoples, and customs to the authority and legitimacy of a new theology, morality, and secular power in Europe. The new names signal much more than mere totalitarian efficiency and reinforce state power in a different way.

Team Zissou

I think something entirely different is going on. Notice how blacks call themselves "Prince" or "Snoop Dogg" or "P-Diddy." Well no shit--they don't know who their fathers are. If you're just an atomized product of a sperm donor and some baby-momma, there's no need for a surname. But it's the secular welfare State that subsidizes an atomized existence. People want to know who you are and where you came from, and more so once the secular State collapses.

Beefy Rep
According to Wikipedia, surprisingly all three of those guys had fathers who were married to their mothers at some point, and Price is actually Prince Rogers Nelson's real first name. I think the point is well taken that exploitative technological capitalism, and its essential redstributionist correlate the "Welfare state," have undermined the whole use of a surname; however, its function in an earlier scheme of state capitalist power is supported by the link, and I see no contradiction in saying that it since been superseded in favor of more exact ways of keeping tracking people.

A surname certainly doesn't tell us much information at this point. A person's surname usually reflects an incidental fact about a single ancestor, such as where they lived or what their occupation was, and says nothing about the many millions of other ancestors one has. Furthermore, in America this incidental moniker is often mangled into unintelligibly by assimilation, and is usually somewhat misleading, or at least only part of the story, when deciding on a person's ultimate national origins. Perhaps blacks care even less about their surnames because they have an additional layer of arbitrariness, due to having being just picked by an ancestor here in this country after the civil war with no connection to Africa. I've even heard some of the names were even just taken from the former slave owners themselves, which is understandably treated as onerous.

We might as well just be a number, and this suits the typical life well. What if we tried something else, like naming ourselves like the Native Americans did? Instead of something like brave bear, we would have to find words for names such as "processes insurance applications" or "he who drinks much Natty Light."

I'd personally like to change my legal name to my social security number and start calling myself Abraham Tall Mountain.