In yesterday’s front-page story exploring Caroline Kennedy’s name recognition in her bid for New York’s vacant Senate seat, The New York Times made an observation: “Ms. Kennedy, who declared last week that she would like to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as the junior senator from New York, is in many ways embarking on a test of the enduring power of her politically royal name.”
Too true. Yet one can’t help but pause for a moment, reading this meditation on the “enduring power” of Ms. Kennedy’s name, and remember that, until recently, “Ms. Kennedy” was, per the Times, not “Ms. Kennedy” at all, but “Ms. Schlossberg”—the married name by which, for the past twenty-odd years, the media have generally designated the princess of Camelot.
Now that said princess is making movements toward reclaiming her crown…the media seem to be having a bit of a vicarious identity crisis on her behalf. What should they call Caroline? Should what they call her really matter? (Insert your favorite what’s in a name? cliche here.) Technically, Caroline Bouvier Kennedy’s name is…Caroline Bouvier Kennedy, or “Caroline Kennedy” for short: When she married Edwin Schlossberg in 1986, Caroline didn’t become, strictly speaking, a Schlossberg. (“You don’t use the name Schlossberg, do you?” Larry King asked her in a 2002 interview. “I mean, you do and you don’t.” To which she responded, “Right. Well, I never really changed my name.”)
But Caroline’s own Kennedy-uber-alles attitude toward her surname didn’t stop the media from re-naming Jack and Jackie’s daughter on her behalf. Between 1986 and early 2008, according to Nexis and newspaper archive searches, most publications generally referred to Caroline as “Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg.” As if to solidify the point, they generally shorthanded her subsequent references not to “Ms. Kennedy Schlossberg”—but simply to “Ms. Schlossberg.”
In answer to the what’s-in-a-name question, then, the media have been suggesting: Caroline’s a Kennedy, sure, but she’s something else, too. For better or for worse.
And yet, of late, “Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg”—the name that tacitly represented Caroline as more than the sum of her ribonucleic parts, as a person independent of her famous family—has lost a limb. Now that Caroline seems to be embracing her Kennedy side—which is to say, her political side—the media have been engaging in a bit of selective amnesia when it comes to that whole, politically inconvenient Schlossberg thing. (Schlossberg: not too sexy-sounding. Not too Christian-sounding. Not too Camelot-sounding.) In that, they’re showing Caroline de-facto favor: “Kennedy,” star power aside, connotes innate political ability, talent that exists regardless of political experience; “Schlossberg,” meanwhile, serves as a reminder of the largely apolitical existence Caroline has carved for herself for the past several decades. In hacking off the Schlossberg in their coverage of Caroline, the media are essentially giving her a free pass when it comes to the issue of her experiential preparedness to become a U.S. senator. Because, “let’s face it,” Amy Holmes declared on CNN the other day, discussing Caroline’s legislative aspirations. “If we were talking about Caroline Schlossberg, this conversation would be absurd.”
The media, perhaps aware of that fact, have occasionally come up with creative ways to dodge The Schlossberg Problem. To wit: the old Skirt The Issue With A Nickname trick (referring to her as “Princess Caroline” and the like); the Have It Both Ways approach (referring to her as “Caroline Kennedy” and “Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg” in the same article); the Parenthetical Compromise (referring to her as “Caroline Kennedy (Schlossberg)”); the Maiden Name Reversion (referring to her as “Caroline Bouvier Kennedy”). But for the most part, recent media coverage of the erstwhile “Ms. Schlossberg” has simply sawed off the inconvenient appendage with nary a nod to the phantom limb. (Caroline Kennedy…! Caroline Kennedy…! Caroline Kennedy…!)