{In Her Own Words} Choices

Claire from Cakes and Bunting is planning her wedding. It’ll be cheap and fun and she won’t get stressed. No really, she won’t.

How many times have you heard it said, that women have the right to choose? Whether we work or stay home to look after kids. Whether we change our name when we get married. To get married. To get divorced. Whether or not we keep an unwanted child.

Oh yes. You can choose. You’ll be vilified, whatever you pick, but you can choose. Our position as public property means some people will decide your informed decision isn’t in the best interests of womanhood (of which they are the ultimate arbiter) and that you are wrong.

I recently wrote a blog post about changing my name when I get married. I thought long and hard about it – covering everything from the wishes of my partner and my family to the way we trace ancestry, the patrilineal naming system in the UK versus, say, Iceland, the fact that the name I am so proud of is the name of my father (and so I was born having taken a man’s name) and ultimately, how important it would be for me to share the name of my partner and subsequent family.

I made the mistake of voicing my decision to some colleagues and friends. My long-considered inclination to changing my name was met with surprise (“Aren’t you a feminist?”) and honestly, disappointment. Other women could not understand why I might do it. There was a clear assumption from the tone of the questioning that I had not thought about it, but was merely doing what I was expected to do.

Even well into our engagement, I thought I would not change my name. But then I changed my mind. Hey – it’s my right to choose, isn’t it? But it seems that there is only one right choice for most people.

For some people (like my lovely mum) it is a good thing to change your name – a mark of pride in what you are doing and a declaration of a single family unit. She was surprised that I might not do it, but ultimately OK with it, and understanding. This is the right way to respect a choice.

But at work, changing my name was a dangerous adherence to The Man. “What if you get divorced?” “My mum didn’t do it.” “Why doesn’t he change his name to yours?”

I respect these opinions, but there is scant respect for my own. I am clearly not thinking about it, or not thinking hard enough about it, because I have come to the wrong decision.

When people talk about being ‘pro-choice’ they are thought of as being ‘pro-abortion’. Choice has come to mean favouring the liberal/leftfield/non-traditional rather than actual choice.

But choice is not automatically believing one option is wrong and another right, and not condemning someone for ticking the other box. Being open to choosing doesn’t mean you always have to go against the grain. The only wrong thing to do is to mindlessly condemn someone for not adhering to your polarized worldview.

In countries where we are lucky enough to have genuine choices in our life, we need to fight for them (sadly, women in the US have the most famous ‘choice’ fight of all on their hands again). We need to permit both the right to choose, and be permissive of the ultimate paths you and others take in life. The right to choose means that some people may make choices you don’t like – but that’s choice.

In Her Own Words: In Celebration of International Women’s Day 2011” was created to share and celebrate the experiences of women from many walks of life. All day Tuesday, March 8th Any Other Wedding and One Cat Per Person will feature posts written by a collective of intelligent, passionate and opinionated women bloggers from the United States and the United Kingdom. The conversation begins here, but it does not have to end here. We encourage you to comment and create dialogue as well as visit their respective blogs. Be sure to stop by Any Other Wedding and One Cat Per Person throughout the day to read all of the posts in the series. For more information about International Women’s Day, visit http://www.internationalwomensday.com/

Banner: Joshua Gomby
Categories: International Women's Day
12 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted March 8, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    YES. I completely agree.
    I had much the same experience in choosing to keep my own name – more often than not I get asked why I've done that, and the responses have ranged from "is that so it'll be easier if you get divorced" (WHAT? No!) to "but how will your children know you're their mum?" (um….I'm pretty sure that has nothing to do with my surname) and "but don't you want to be a family?" (Uh, we are). I had hoped that we had moved beyond being questioned for our choices – but this does make me a little concerned for the choices I will continue to make.
    And you're right, it's really important to respect other peoples' choices, even if they are at odds with yours.

  2. Posted March 8, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I'm getting married in August and I feel so strongly connected to my family name both in identity and loyalty I couldn't bear to lose it. However, my fiance and I want the same surname, and for any children we have to share the same name, so we've decided to combine both our surnames and we'll both change our names to become double barrelled.

    Sadly, I don't feel comfortable telling people about our decision (and actually, most people don't ask, they simply assume I'll take my fiance's name) When I do tell people they make an automatic assumption it's for feminist reasons (which they view in a negative light.) Yes, I'm a feminist but the reason for keeping my surname isn't to do with feminist issues. Add in the fact my husband-to-be will also be changing his name, it's almost as though they think 'gosh, poor guy,' as though I've made him do it, because why on earth would a man choose to change his name when tradition says he doesn't?

    I've even heard people say, with absolute conviction, 'I HATE people double-barelled names.' Gee, thanks, how very open minded of you!

    My fiance has already said when his family find out (they don't yet know he'll also be changing his name) they will probably be offended, which I cannot even comprehend.

    As you say, it's about choice and it's up to whoever is getting married to decide. What I don't really like is when it is simply assumed that the woman will change to her husbands surname because that is 'just what you do' and tradition dictates it. I've heard some women say, "I really love my surname and I'll miss it, but I HAVE to change it because he expects me to.' Oh dear…

  3. Posted March 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you it is about having the choice to make the decisions you want.

    I am not particularly career minded or career focussed probably because I don't know what to do and partly due to being forced into thinking having a strong career was what I wanted when in fact it was what someone else wanted for me.

    I currently don't have a job due to moving and don't know what I want to do and if I am honest, and I have never really told anyone this, I want to be stay at home and look after the house and be there for my children when I have them. That is what I would choose.

    But I feel guilt at feeling like this: and when I brought it up once my friends atarted laughing and saying how funny I was and I laughed too because I was too scared to tell them the truth, because I would be letting woman kind down. I would suddenly become anti feminist, someone who was forcing women back into the prison they were trying to escape from.

    Sometimes women force other women to feel bad about their choices and judge them for it and force their ideals and their decisions on other women. Surely we should unite together so we can all make the choices that work for us and support each other in those instead of judging each other and making each others' lives more difficult?

  4. Posted March 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    This is an issue that so many of us have thought, worried and blogged about, and all of us have eventually come to our own different conclusions. It is something that should be entirely personal, but as you say, ultimately is just another thing for women to be judged on.

    I still haven't changed my name fully. I quite like it that way. To some people I am Mrs Hislast to some people I am Ms Mylast. I even am growing to like being Mrs Mylast-Hislast which is something I really wasn't keen on to begin with. Ultimately, I like that I can be who and what I want in different areas of my life. Suits me. Wouldn't suit others. And that's ok.


  5. Posted March 8, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    @lottie – this is exactly what is making women turn against feminism, and I hate that women now think it is ok to deride women for CHOOSING to do what they want to do with their lives.

    It was not alright when 50 years ago, when it was assumed that women would stay at home and look after the kids, and the women who went out to work were seen as bad role models, or in some way a lesser woman.

    It is not alright that it is now assumed that women will go out to work, and that women who CHOOSE to stay at home are somehow less of a woman.

    We need to change this, so that women like you don't feel ashamed to admit how they want to live their lives. This is not what women have been fighting for.

    Be proud of your choices.


    (Also – come and write us a post on this. Yes?)

  6. Posted March 8, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Do I really have that much of an opinion to write a post here and can I?


  7. Posted March 8, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    @Lottie YES. Yes yes yes. We would love that. LOVE that. Yes please.


    By which I mean, that would be nice if you'd like to?

  8. Anna K
    Posted March 8, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Claire, I was with you all the way for every single word of this piece.

    I used to despise the thought of changing my name. I felt like I'd worked hard for 27 years to make my name what it stood for, what it meant…why would I throw it away? And then I started to care a little less (this sounds so shallow but my husband had a great surname). When I got engaged, we had a talk about it, my resolve to keep my name was dwindling, but my guilt was rising…my guilt to Womanhood, for not taking a Stance.

    And he said to me "if you change your name, it'll be like we're starting an adventire together"

    And I was a goner. And I felt terrible for ages. But now? I'm known as Fawcus to some, and Kasparian to others. I get to live out my tragic Russian heroine fantasies when I sign my name AND I don't feel I've lost anything. And I'm ok with that.

    Amazing post.

  9. Posted March 8, 2011 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    "Oh yes. You can choose. You’ll be vilified, whatever you pick, but you can choose." YES. Love this. (I mean, I don't love being vilified, I mean I love what you're saying here – you know what I mean.)

    What makes people think they have a right to criticise other people's personal decisions?? TO THEIR FACE?! Apart from anything else, it's just so rude!

    Lottie – I know what you mean. After years of studying and training and working hard to establish myself in a profession, I am almost embarrassed to even hint that, if we had kids, I would maybe quite like to be at home with them and not work for a while. There's a fear that I would be letting down my predecessors, or women in other countries who don't have the choices I have (see: my entire post). So, yes, please write this post – I for one would love to read it!

  10. Posted March 8, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Ditto Lottie-can't wait to read your piece! Hurry!

    And Claire, this post is about so much more than whether to change your name. You've nailed it with how choice is only choice when someone else says you made the right one. That's what needs to change. Amazing stuff.


  11. Posted March 11, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Same thing happened to me. I thought so long and hard about it but ultimately decided to change my name, but plenty of people assumed I'd just gone with tradition without any thought. Frustrating.

One Trackback

  • By Desperate Housewives on February 29, 2012 at 12:30 am

    [...] not. On Claire from Cakes and Bunting’s fabulous In Her Own Words post about Choices a few weeks ago, Lottie from Lottie Really Loves made a comment which really struck a chord [...]

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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