Saturday, 9 February 2013

What's in a name?

Cornel Pex (Barcelona 2007), Wikimedia Commons
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

So says Shakespeare's Juliet, but she's just kidding herself when she says names don't matter. When she's stabbing herself in a tomb because she married a man with her enemies' name, she'd probably take it all back, and admit that names matter a lot.

Beyoncé Carter née Knowles

This week Beyoncé announced that her upcoming world tour would be called 'The Mrs Carter Show'. This is a reference to her husband Jay-Z, whose given name is Shawn Carter.

This has led to some consternation that someone so iconic that she doesn't even need a second name has decided to subsume her identity into her husband's, adopting a name that even he doesn't use.

'The Mrs Carter Show' is a joke of course, a soppy reminder to the world that she's in love, and a tongue-in-cheek nudge that this woman is so fabulous that she only really needs three syllables, styling herself 'Mrs Carter' is just for fun.

Choosing a name

For the rest of us, who aren't quite as fabulous as Beyoncé and so are required to go through life with two names, this is a big decision that we have to take.

These are the most popular four options in my circles, and their associated difficulties:
  1. Take your husband's name - but why should the woman always compromise? If women and men are truly equal why should she give up her name when she marries him, why not the other way around?
  2. Keep your own name - you go through life with a different name to your husband, but are you Miss, Mrs or Ms?
  3. Have two identities - one for work and one for home - can be confusing and some people aren't comfortable with feeling like they are two different people.
  4. Double barrel your name - all very well for you, but if your daughter takes the double name and follows suit when she marries, within a few generations we will end up with a string of names.
I know different people who have chosen all of the above, and of course there are different options, he could change his name, or you could choose a new name together. 

Selling out

After I married, I chose dual identity, keeping the surname I was born with for professional activities, and gradually changing my name to my husband's on official documents as they came up for renewal.

This week I crossed the final frontier in changing my identity as my new passport arrived. 

I have mixed feelings about this, and I know I'll never quite lose the lingering feeling that in changing the name on my passport and bank statements I have 'sold out' to feminism. 

I decided to sell out because I saw myself as choosing between men's names, after all my birth surname wasn't the name my mother was born with - it was my father's name. I was choosing between one patriarchy and another. 

Although I am attached to the surname I was born with, it doesn't seem to me a huge feminist statement to keep a name that came from my father instead of taking the one that came from my husband. 

Agreeably, my new passport contains the statement 'The holder is also known as...' with the name with which I was born given in full. Having both names displayed officially is some compensation for the choice I've made.

Maids and maidenheads

One other thing: when I explain my two names, I hate having to use the term 'maiden name' to describe the name with which I was born.

'Maiden' is a word loaded with outdated concepts about virginity, and I am uncomfortable explaining to officials which name I used before I started shagging, which is basically what I'm saying.

There is no male equivalent for being a maiden, reflective of the high price put on female virginity, and the subservient role women played in marriage, shown when the woman lost her entire identity to become 'Mrs Joe Bloggs'. 

The only thing for it is to go to a single name, and avoid the whole problem. I hear 'Beyoncé' might be up for grabs...

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