What’s in a name?

Six days to go until The Great Any Other Relaunch, readers! Get excited. Get very excited…and come back at 1pm for a tip-off and some Pen Do gossip…

Susie recently wrote a piece for us that got you all talking. It was beautifully written, completely honest, and, it transpired, summed up how many of you felt about your engagement and wedding photographs, and the wedding industry as a whole.

Well today, Susie is back with another post that I know is going to speak to so many of you. It’s something that both Aisling and I have written about in the past, and something that gets right into the feminism/patriarchal system versus tradition argument, and has caused many of us to stop and think. And that’s the important thing – as long as you’ve really thought about it, and made a conscious decision, you can rest easy with that decision.

Susie, over to you…

Picture the scene: I’m sitting at my desk in my new flat, all wrapped up in a cosy dressing gown, trying to get some real jobs done but instead constantly getting distracted by the wedmin beast flaring its nostrils and waggling its horns and basically dancing naked around me till I give in to its evil demands (yeah…worst excuse ever for not working). Then I come across my electives application form sitting in a pile, all ready to be sent off with the obligatory underexposed passport-sized photos. I see that under “name” I’ve written a little explanation about how, come the summer, I’ll actually have a different name to my current one and pretty please can you sort out my badge so it reflects this, *insert coy smile and coquettish giggle here*? And then out of nowhere, I start to really think about this whole name-changing malarkey. Something I’ve somehow managed to completely neglect in amongst my other hugely important life decisions (like, hmm, ivory or cream roses? and should the flower girls have blue or ivory or even sparkly sashes? and what kind of unique font best represents us as a couple??).

So I start to think, really think about it, and properly this time. Am I really sure about this? Do I want to lose my surname forever? All my friends and cousins who have married so far have changed their names, and to be honest I don’t know any married couples with different surnames. So why would I even think of keeping mine? Well, because I can, I suppose. This is such a huge decision, and it’s one that I seem to have made utterly nonchalantly, without giving it the thought it deserves. Suddenly I’m entertaining the thought of keeping my name.

I think one reason I’m sad to leave my name behind is because I’m scared it will die out. It’s not a common name, and I’ve never met anyone else who spells it the same way as we do – and now I’m the last one. I hate the thought that our name will just die out, that there won’t be any more little girls and boys running around with my surname, that tangible link back to the past generations. But much more than that, my surname is mine. It’s how people have thought of me, and how I have thought of myself, for my whole life. It’s who I am, my inner self made solid and physical by simply writing down two words – and now all of that has to change? No way, I said to myself. No way am I losing my identity.

But I do want us to be a united family. I want to have the same surname as my hoped-for children (and despite my I-pushed-them-out-I-get-to-name-them argument, the fiance is pretty dead set against them having my surname). I want people to be able to talk about us as “The Smiths”, not “Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones”. Is that ridiculous? Probably. But is it genuinely how I feel, and therefore please don’t mock me for it? Yes.

As a Christian too, I do somewhat controversially believe that the husband should be the head of the family, and this seems like a step in the right direction for living out that belief. Add to that my fiance’s thoughts on the matter, and the fact that double-barrelling really isn’t an option for us, and you get a pretty convincing argument for a change of name. Simple. But it’s all so unfair, really. There’s this unspoken assumption that I should be happy to lose my identity, while he loses nothing. And that makes my inner feminist absolutely hopping mad – all this talk of progress and we women still have so far to go. Even as I read what I’ve written back to myself, I find myself silently outraged that men expect us to change, but somehow it’s hilarious to suggest that it could go the other way around.

Even so, I think there’s a real and dangerous risk of politicalising something which actually is a deeply personal decision. Yes, I count myself as a feminist, and therefore I applaud and celebrate the fact that we have a choice about these things – but that should be a real and true choice. Pressurising people into keeping their own names because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do as a feminist is just as backward and repressive as not being allowed to keep them in the first place. But equally, someone who does choose to keep their name isn’t necessarily a raging feminist either – not everything is a political statement. In an ideal world there would be no pressure either way, but the truth is, whatever I choose to do there is sacrifice involved. Not the same kind of sacrifice each way, but still none the less a loss.

In the end I left the form how it was and didn’t change my mind. If people ask me, it’s for a thousand little reasons, but honestly? Most people don’t ask. I’m sad to let my old name go, but I’m excited to start making a new shared identity together. I feel happy in my decision, and I feel like I’ve finally given it the thought it deserves. But I’d love to hear from everyone else – what decisions did you make, and how did you get there?

Categories: Marriage, Politics and Feminism
24 interesting thoughts on this

23 Comments

  1. Posted February 28, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    I had always known that I would change my name, even though it creates 'oooh good surname' & there are just girls on our side. Suddenly nearer the time it felt strange & I wasn't sure but because it had been a long held belief I kept with my decision. I spent almost a year after marriage using neither surname as none felt quite right & now two & half years on I'm used to it. Some friends will always call you by your maiden name, my godchildren do to distinguish me from their aunt & I like that. I also have set some of my passwords to partly involve my maiden name so I'm still typing it regularly.
    Oh yes & I tried to make my maiden name a middle name but it would only work through a deed poll. That part did get me annoyed.
    Enjoy your new name, booking hotels & flights together & being known as 'The…..' is lovely.

  2. Posted February 28, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    I said I would and didn't question it.

    Until two days before the wedding, when I freaked out and decided I was losing my identity. Then I changed my name on Facebook to see how it would feel, and my best friend cried because I wasn't me anymore.

    I've still only got my husband's name on Facebook. Keeps the in-laws happy. I might change it somewhere else further down the line, who knows?

    Px

  3. Fee
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    I worried and worried about changing my name for many of the same reasons as you – and now I have, nothing feels different at all.

    I'm sure it's different for everyone but for me, it felt like this huge decision but then amongst all the other 'yikes, I'm married' feelings, it kind of got absorbed.

    I know that sounds odd – in six months time, it may have all sunk in and I'll feel differently!

  4. Posted February 28, 2012 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I had just always assumed I would change my name when I got married, you know when you're little and try out boys names with yours, yeh that was me.

    In fact, it was even on my mind when I set up my photo website, I had already met Mr Bex then and thought what if we end up getting married (OBVS didn't mention that to him!), I would need to change my website if I put my surname in the address. Always the planner! It didn't even occur to me to keep that as a 'professional name'.

    When it actually came to getting married, I did discuss the possibility of not changing my name but he said he would be upset by that. He particularly loves his last name and to be honest, so do I, it's so different and yes, I do now have to spell it out, at least twice, every time I use it but I love having that link to him and the constant reminder of – whoop I'm married to him!

    Plus I can choose from amazing Indian names which I love, when we have kids which really wouldn't go with my old name without sounding odd. And there is definitely that thing of being known as 'The …..s' I don't think of it as a feminist thing at all – to me it's just acknowledging our choice to be joined together in marriage. If I can do that and still be a feminist, why can't I change my name too.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Susie, you probably do know a few marrieds where the woman hasn't changed her surname it's just that we don't go around shouting it from the mountain tops. And because it's the common assumption that the woman has taken the man's name one doesn't ask.

    As far as your HtB being 'dead set' against the children having your surname- what about your surname as their second/middle name? It's commone practice in the south in the US so that the mother's name lives on as well. And if you think it's weird, well without that tradition we wouldn't have Beyonce or Reese Witherspoon.

  6. Katy
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I didn't give it a huge amount of thought in the run up to the wedding – like Susie, all my friends and family had changed their names on marriage. I probably should have thought about it more (for one thing, it took a whole day off work to do all the name change admin – gah).

    I did briefly consider keeping my name for work and professional purposes, and taking Mat's name for passport, bank stuff etc – but a friend who did that told me how much hassle it was for payroll, pensions, tax etc that it didn't really appeal – and it's not like I had built up a hugely devoted following of clients based on my original name who would all forget who I was as soon as it changed.

    So, I changed it. And the only negative comment I have had is from an older female lawyer on the other side of a deal, who said 'well that's a bit unenlightened of you'. So much for the sisterhood…

    I agree with Susie and other commenters – it's a choice, as long as you have thought about it and made the decision for yourself and your own reasons then everyone else can lump it, frankly!

    ps what I find much weirder than seeing my name with a different surname is getting post addressed to Mrs W – makes me feel very grown up and a bit like an imposter!

  7. Posted February 28, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    we both changed our names and double barrelled. I had said I didn't want to lose my unusual, unique to my convict ancestors surname, and then my husband said that he wanted to take on my name too. So we're the …..-…..s. Obviously doubling up won't work for everyone, and a lot of people (mainly his family and friends) raised their eyebrows at him being 'under the thumb' and dominated by me, but it works for us.

  8. Becca
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I never thought about not changing mine. My name isn't affixed to my identity, maybe having been adopted and already having "another name" made me realise that who I am and what I stand for…my identity…isn't captured in two or three words.

    I did think about keeping it for work, like Katy said, most female lawyers keep their name for work purposes. However, like Katy (again) it seems like a lot of hassle to have two names for different aspects of one life. I'd also be kidding myself that I've built up a reputation with my maiden name at such an earlier stage in my career. I'm sure if I was getting married at 40 and had been in practice for 20 years then I'd think more carefully about keeping it for work.

    I also think that if I witnessed a crime and had to be put in witness protection and was given a new name, I would still feel like me. I know its completely different but at the same time its not. There is nothing IN a name that isn't in the person that name belongs to. Its not about "personal brand", which is a phrase I hear banded around at work either (and irritates me to death). What makes you tick isn't your name…its you.

  9. Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    This is a great post…thank you Susie!

    I was adamant I'd keep my name. I'd been a Fawcus all my life…I'd taken 27 years becoming the best Fawcus I could and no-one was gonig to take it away from me. I wasn't going to "let the side down" and take my husband's surname.

    And then I realise that I just preferred the name. And I did a complete U-turn.

    I worried for months that I would lose my identity. Fact is, i haven't. I respond to both K and F. I do feel a bit disappointed in myself for choosing a name because it sounds like a Russian trgic heroine and thereby supporting patriarchal tradition….but that's what I did.

  10. Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I always thought I would take my husband's name, and then a couple of events that happened in the year before we got engaged made me realised how proud I was to have a surname that reflected the family I had come from, and how I didn't want to lose that. In addition, I felt strongly that unless M was prepared to consider taking my name, then I shouldn't have to consider taking his.
    So, I kept my surname, and M has gone from being slightly disappointed that I didn't take his to being the fiercest defender of my decision, which is great.
    The most difficult thing about keeping my surname has been putting up with questions about it – which frustrates me, as I would never question another woman's decision to take her husband's surname (and all of my friends have done so) – which have ranged from "Was it because you don't like M's surname?" (only asked because his surname includes the word c*ck in it – and totally untrue, as his surname and my first name would make me sound like a Jane Austen heroine) to "Won't your children be confused by you having a different surname to them?" (Erm, I think they won't know any different and as long as they know I'm their mother, that's the main thing!) I've also had it said that "at least it'll make it easier if you get divorced." Which is exactly why I chose to keep my name, of course.
    I don't feel any less of a family for having a different surname to M, but obviously I don't know if this will change when we have children – my instinct is that it won't, personally – and we've already decided to do what anon said and have my surname as a (second) middle name for all our kids, even if it is a bit clunky.
    I think the key thing is making the decision that is right for you – and not because that's what society/family/feminism seems to be telling you. And I think one thing we should all be doing is not judging other women (or men) for their own decision on this subject.

  11. Becca
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Anna K….I may also prefer my married name. And it means I will have a "J" in my signature (which I have already perfected) and my lawyery signature can get even more scribbly and judge like.

    Please don't judge me.

    Emma…I know I shouldn't laugh but what can you say to "it'll make it easier to get divorced"….honestly. Some people talk utter and complete PISH.

  12. Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I haven't changed my name yet (obviously, since I have gotten married yet), but I am fairly sure I will. Some reasons:

    1) I would like us and our kids to have the same surname, I'm not particularly determined that it be G's surname, no reason he should get priority except…

    2) His surname means a lot to him, because it is his Welsh heritage, to which he is very attached. He identifies a lot with it, much more than I do with my surname. Regardless of patriarchy and feminism, it just means more to him than it does to me. Also…

    3) I don't like my surname. If you abbreviate my first and second name, you get Kat Flem. I'm really ready to NOT be Kat Flem, to be honest. I've been ready for that since my friends first worked out that I could be Kat Flem in year 10. Finally…

    4) No-one who has ever met the pair of us would ever assume that I took his name because he owns me, or is in any way oppressing me in a patriarchal manner. As he said to my cousin when she suggested that we were supporting the patriarchy… "Me oppress Katie? Have you MET her?" …I'm assuming he means I am far too charming, adorable and delightful for anyone to want to oppress me *ahem*

    K x

  13. Jessie
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    My middle name is my Mum's maiden name as when I was born my uncle wasn't even close to getting married and as it is he had girls so the name still threatens to die out. Given that I have a brother to carry on our surname I want to continue the trend of using my Mum's maiden name. Plus I was always amused when people tried to guess what the 'W' stood for!!

  14. Esme
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I haven't really got anything to add to this except that everyone has made really excellent points. What I will say is that although we talked about the name thing enough to both feel happy about it, I'd practiced my new signature etc etc, the one thing I hadn't thought of? The fact that initials would be different. What. An. Idiot.

    xx

  15. Posted February 28, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    If I ever meet a man who can seriously entertain the thought of taking on my surname, then perhaps I shall give consideration to taking his. Most men cannot fathom taking on a different name, and their arguments – "it's my name! it's who I am!" are exactly how I feel about my own. That said, though I have no intention of changing my name, I wouldn't pitch a fit if someone called me Mrs Husband.

  16. Posted February 28, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Really great post Susie! This is something that I still haven't sussed out 6 months + after the wedding. I also can't see how I'll ever resolve it unless my feelings change and mellow after a couple of years.

    I'm the same as Penny, changed my name on Facebook but nothing else. I changed fb straight after the wedding in a combination of peer pressure and excitement at being newly married. But in actual fact I feel really strongly against changing my name and wish I'd never altered it. Now I want to change it back to my maiden name but fear all my fb friends will think we've gotten divorced already!

    Whether it is wrong to associate myself and my identity with my name or not, I can't help feeling that to give it up for my husband's name I would be erasing my identity. I love my unusual and impossible to spell surname and the links it gives me to my family and feel so relcutant to give that up. I'm also in the situation that our family name will die out with my generation (I do like the idea of using it as a middle name for any kids we have though!) and to give it up feels like I'm disowning my family to be part of his. I don't think it helps that his mother always calls me 'Mrs husband's surname' everytime she sees me even though I haven't changed my name!

    Husband wanted me to change my name to his and didn't consider making both our names double barrled seriously when I asked. I don't think he realised how much it meant to me. He was adament I should change my name as soon as we were married but once he saw how upset I got a few months after the wedding when I was trying to decided what to do and feeling the pressure, he backed off and hasn't really mentioned it since. I love being a team with him but I want our names to reflect that we are our own family rather than being another set of The…..s like his parents and his brother and wife.

    I remember reading a post by Rebecca of Florence Finds on Love My Dress about how she was adament she wouldn't change it then felt differently about it after a couple of years of being married. So I'm hoping maybe I'll feel differently about it once we've been married for awhile and I'll change it then if I feel comfortable about it. But for the moment I'm clinging onto my name…

    Sorry for the epic comment!

    xXx

  17. Posted February 28, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Also, what do those who've kept their own surname put on forms, Miss or Mrs? Or Ms? I've been caught out by this a couple of times so far and just gone for Miss to be safe but ideally would like to acknowledge that I'm married (without having to take his name!)

  18. Sharon
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    I was adamant that I wasn't going to take my husbands surname. To the extent that on the wedding day itself, when I was signing the register and the registrar said that's the last time you sign with that name, the little voice in my head said (very loudly)'No, it f***ing isn't!'
    We'd been together for 13 years come W day and I was happy with my name, plus loved sharing the surname with my niece and nephew. However, I wasn't prepared for how differently I would feel after W day, obviously I knew I wanted to get married, but I did not realise how much I would love it, how proud I was to be my husband's wife, just a huge raft of emotions that I wasn't ready for and that my inner feminist wasn't sure about either. That, plus lovely Italians using my married name when we went on honeymoon, I decided by the end of the trip away I loved the idea of taking my husbands name as it felt like the start of a whole new chapter, a big journey for the two of us, and the name just fitted. Why did he not take mine then? My Dad and brother and husband all share the same first name, adding another to the collective seemed a bit much!!!

    Its such a personal thing, you can only do what feels right, just be prepared for everyone to have an opinion (the everyone that comments on your wedding plans even though its nowt to do with them and then asks about babies as soon as you get hitched! )

    Sharon

  19. Posted February 28, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I'm curious. Those of you who have changed your name, would you change it back if you ever got divorced?

  20. Posted February 28, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Jenny – I go by Ms. Miss doesn't feel right any more (not that I ever much liked it), and Mrs Gibbs makes me sound like my mum (and like I'm having an affair with my husband…). I got called Mrs Emma a lot when we were in Mexico last year which I much preferred – not sure it'll catch on here though…

    Really enjoying reading the comments here today!

  21. Anonymous
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    @Jenny, as someone who has kept their surname I go with Ms. It wasn't much of a decision for me as I used it for business before I even thought about walking down the aisle, because I found that if I used Miss people seemed to treat me as though I was a 15 yar old girl with no clue.

    @Catherine, I often think about that myself. When my mum and dad split up she kept his name. When I asked her about it once she said she wanted to avoid confusion (because of me) and actually liked the name. Also, that her maiden name was difficult for most people and they sounded like they 'had a mouth full of marbles' when trying to pronounce it.
    On the other end of that, when my aunt divorced my (ex) uncle she kept her married name until she met her now husband. She changed her name back to the maiden version for about a month and then took her new hubby's name when they married.
    It all sounded a bit bonkers to me, but she explained that she wanted to start 'fresh and from square one' with her new love.

  22. Posted February 28, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    I don't object when other women change their names but it's definitely not for me. We've been together for 17 years, I'm in my mid-40's and I have a professional reputation with my name – changing my name makes no sense to me. Besides, I like my name. My guy doesn't care either way, so it's not an issue for us.

  23. Samantha
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    I have just found your blog after a friend posted the link on International Women’s Day on facebook. I have just gotten legally married in a foreign country to my now husband (yay!). We are both from the UK, teaching English out in a male dominated society, but certainly not a cruel to women society (although that might depend on what your definition of cruel is!). The country is incredibly modern, but think 1950s England in their attitudes towards women!!

    Actually, here women don’t take their husband’s names, but that’s in more of a ‘you still belong to your father’ and are not ‘important’ enough to be given the credit of joining your husband’s family kind of way, rather than anything ‘feminist’. That’s how I interpret it anyway. So, as yet I have not changed my name because the paperwork involved would be way too much hassle. For a start i don;t have a British marriage certificate so would need to change my name by deedpoll, then apply for a new passport which the British embassy here won’t process without sending to another nearby country and then I would have to change my local domestic identification card which would confuse the hell of out the authorities upon request!

    I have a couple of years to think about if I want to change my name, but to be honest I don’t. My father has 3 sisters and 3 daughters. It’s just me, my parents and grandparents that have the name now and it’s pretty unusual in the UK. I like it. Lots of people have told me over the years they LOVE my name and how unusual it is.

    My husband does not care either way. He does not want to own me and understands that the ownership thing is part reason for my not wanting to take his name.

    I know many women makes their own choices regarding names, but I also have friends and both my sisters whose husbands expected the name change, partly through tradition and partly through the ‘man is the head of the household’ old chestnut… I would say both my sisters fell into that category, and that was (still is) because both of them are in Christian marriages. And certainly for one sister, a very old fashioned Christian marriage.

    Like you Susie, I hate the way men assume we will change to suit them but they wouldn’t consider changing for us; i hate the way men assume the children will take their name and not ours when as you said ‘i pushed em out i should choose their name’!!

    Anyway, we will probably not have children (through choice) so that won’t be a problem. If we changed our minds or one came along by mistake… then I’d have a hard time giving them his name and not mine….

    I don”t know, maybe I need to get over it?!

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  • By The perfect name on April 24, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    [...] spoken about the politics behind changing your name for marriage before on AOW.  It’s a fascinating topic; everyone’s got their own reasons for why [...]

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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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