Thursday, 25 June 2015

Taking your husband’s name

Many girls want to be 'Mrs'. They spend evening practising their signature with their boyfriend’s name. It’s something that’s always been a bit of a mystery to me.

Take Mrs Joe Bloggs. She was Deidre Smith, but then she married Joe and hey presto, her identity is entirely eclipsed by that of husband. Mrs Deirdre Bloggs, a slight compromise, is a bit better. But Mrs Joe Bloggs – really? What about her? Doesn't she matter?

Why are we queuing up to give up our appellations in the name of love?

The answer, of course, is tradition. Traditionally women were property. Marriage transferred us from our fathers to our husbands. The name conferred ownership.

The tradition has stuck, so in 21st century Britain, our concept of love and marriage is often inseparable from the idea of taking our husbands' names.

When I said I probably wouldn't change my name, one friend asked me why I was bothering to get married. As if that was what it was about. If that's  the only reason you're getting married, then you may as well just change your name to your boyfriend's by deed poll. It's way cheaper and you won't have to do the first dance.

Making the change

I changed my name, reluctantly after I married. I did it piece by piece, over the years. I wish I hadn't. It feels like a betrayal of myself (I changed it back).

The advantage of changing your name is that you become identified as a family unit. And if you decide to have children, then you can all have the same surname and so clearly identified as the same family. That’s nice. That’s why I changed my name – I wanted our children to have the same name as me. But it reinforces the patriarchy.

Of course, men could start talking their wives names when they get married. But as my (now ex) husband said, “why should I take your name if you won’t take mine?” I could have answered, "because my gender as suffered years of oppression at the hands of yours", but I doubt I’d have carried the point.

And of course, if you dig your heels in and refuse to take your husband’s surname, you are choosing your father’s name over your husband’s – one man over another. I mean, it’s probably not your mum’s name you’re clinging onto, is it?

Finding another way

I looked into what other countries do and was pleasantly surprised:
  • The Netherlands – you remain registered under your birth name, but can use your husband’s surname socially, or join both names
  • Italy – you keep your birth name, but can add your husband’s surname if you want.
  • France and Greece – you have to keep your birth name.
  • Spain – you keep your birth name. Children have two surnames – one from each parent.
  • Germany - a woman may adopt her husband's surname or a man may adopt his wife's surname.
It seems to me that all these countries, which include our closest neighbours, have a more progressive than our routine decimation of the married woman’s identity.

Even the term used to refer to the name we are given at birth - 'maiden name'- carries hideous connotations of matrimonial deflowering.

It’s easy for men to be cavalier about the name thing. They’re not expected to give up their identity – because that’s what a name is. They haven’t for hundreds of years been denied an equal place in society. Neither have I, for that matter, but the freedoms I enjoy today have been hard-won. And it seems wrong to me that we should still defer to men as our lords and masters (because that is what we’re doing) in this matter of what we are called.

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