Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Call me by my name

Boris Johnson got into trouble in the House of Commons recently for referring to fellow MP Emily Thornberry by the wrong name. He called her 'Lady Nugee', as her husband is Sir Nugee, so this is a title she could have a right to, if she wanted it.

The story in the House of Commons was over as soon as it began. Johnson was admonished and apologised. And here I am still going on about it.

There were a lot of arguments about it. Some people said it was fine for Johnson to do what he did, because that's her married name, so what's the problem? Others were very angry about it, because that's not the name she uses.

Boris Johnson by johnhemming (Flickr) and Emily Thornberry by Rwendland via Wikimedia Commons.

Why do you get someone's name wrong? You might forget. It could be a simple mistake. We've all done it. Or it could be a sign of disrespect. It suggests you don't consider them important enough for it to matter. Why trouble your busy brain with someone so trivial?

Johnson's slight of Thornberry was rude for these reasons. But referring to a woman by the married name that she hasn't taken is also rude because you're taking their right to choose their name from them, and forcing them into a patriarchal convention that they don't want. It is sexist.

Name changers

I have friends who are kick-ass feminists who have taken their husband's names. There are lots of reasons to do this - tradition, and a sense of being a family together, and others. I have friends who have kept their own name, because that's who they are. I have friends who have double barreled. And I know women who have worked hard and built up a professional reputation with their name so they keep it for professional purposes.

The point, for me, is not whether or not Emily Thingummy chooses to go by her husband's name or not. The point is that you should call someone what they want to be called. It doesn't matter if that's the name on their birth certificate, the name they inherited from their husband, or a name they made up during a drunken weekend in Blackpool with a deed poll form. If they say their name is 'Knickety Split Split' then that's what you should call them.

Women criticising women

Johnson's faux pas drew the usual misogynist tits to social media, going on about crazy over-sensitive feminists, and man-hating. Though how you get from marrying to man-hating in such as easy step, I'm not sure.

I also heard some women defending Johnson (which, incidentally, he's smart enough to do himself).
When I hear women defending this behaviour, because they took their husband's name, so they think everyone should, I think that the problem is with them. It smacks of their own insecurity at the choice they made. It's a free choice, in 21st century Britain. Change your name. Don't change your name. Whatevs.

A married woman who doesn't take her husband's name isn't implicitly criticising married women who do take them. She's making her own choice, and it's really nothing to do with anyone else.

I've heard some women saying "why get married if you're not going to take your husband's name?" I am so utterly staggered by this, that I find it hard to mount a coherent argument. There are a trillions of reasons why one person might marry another. Names are really a very trivial part if marriage.

Just do what you want to do, and let everyone else do likewise.

Danny, which isn't my real name, but it's what I asked you to call me.

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