Jetsons vs. Cartwrights: Our Fossilized Surnames
The 1960s animated sitcom The Jetsons was set in a space-age future, complete with domestic computers and rocket cars. George Jetson jetted off to work each morning for his tyrannical boss Mr. Spacely, who was attended by a secretary named Miss Galaxy. Space-age surnames for a space-age lifestyle.
Now, I don't drive a rocket car. But I do happen to have in my pocket a smooth little rectangle that lets me video-call anywhere in the world; tap into a near-infinite web of knowledge; read any book I want or listen to any song I want within seconds of wanting it; get a live map of my surroundings with me moving through them; and so much more. From the perspective of George Jetson's creators, I am definitely living in the future.
So where are the information-age surnames? Forget The Jetsons -- our names still live in the world of the Cartwright family of Bonanza.
Surnames don't ebb and flow with fashion the way first names do. That makes sense, since they're fundamentally about heritage, connections and continuity. Yet as generations pass, the names themselves can come to seem arbitrary. We routinely identify ourselves based on the lifestyle of a single ancestor, 15 generations back, who happened to be around when his community started using surnames. Our surnames are fossilized.
Perhaps your name is frozen at the time that one of your hundreds of forebears lived by a broad river crossing (Bradford) or a castle (Castro). Perhaps you take your identity from the fact that he was a shoemaker (Schuster) or cowherd (Vaccaro). Or maybe his dad's name was David (Davidovic, Davison), or he was a short fellow (Little, Klein), or had red hair (Rubio, Russell). Why him and not you?
What surname would your descendants bear if you took a lifestyle snapshot right now? What byname identifies you to those around you? Would you choose a location-based name, like Michelle Chicago or Kevin D'Onramp? An occupation, like Chris Estateplanner or Melanie Broadband? Are those names really any more outrageous than Cartwright, a builder of carts?
Realistically, I know that few of us will make that surname leap. Our fossilized surnames are here to stay. That means that in the comically absurd space-age future of The Jetsons, the most unrealistic element may not be the robot maid or the individual spaceships, but the name Jetson itself.