I don’t want to alarm anybody but I am a feminist. I know, I’ve lulled you all into a false sense of security because I hadn’t mentioned bra burning or Germaine Greer in any of my other blog posts, but it’s true. I was actually going to start a feminist blog but then I got pregnant and it got put on the back burner and eventually it made more sense to start a parenting blog! The reason I mention it now is because I have been thinking about surnames again recently and it reminded me of something I wrote a while back on all the arguments I had to come up with for why I kept my own surname when I got married.
I revisited the original writing and I have adapted it and updated it to reflect our new status as parents. This post was originally written in a slightly angry ‘must write about this or I will explode’ way in response to all the people who were entirely baffled by/furious with/refused to accept my choice to keep my own name. Hence the tone may come across slightly aggressive. I want to point out here, in case there was any doubt, that I don’t think it’s a bad thing when people change their name! Many of my friends and family members have done this (including my own mum) and I completely understand and respect that decision. To all the people reading this who have changed their name: I am not judging you or saying my choice is better than yours. I understand that for many women it is a joyous thing to change your surname when you get married and having the same name as your partner or children makes you happy. I also know that some women don’t have such happy connections or associations with their own family as I do and I’m very fortunate in that. Or maybe you just don’t like your surname very much and your partner’s sounds better?! Regardless of the reasons you changed your name they were the right ones for you and you should be proud of that decision. I am simply exploring why I personally felt so strongly about keeping my name and how frustrating I found it to have to continually defend that choice. If this comes across as judgmental, bitter or rude please know that it’s not intended that way and any anger is not directed at you!
Traditionally and usually, women take the surname of the man they marry. I didn’t want to do that, because I don’t understand why I should change my name merely because I am legally bound to someone I love. Nobody was expecting B to alter his name, so why would I alter mine? A lot of people said they find it a bit offensive “What’s wrong with being Mrs B? Why don’t you want to be part of their family?” and the answer is that I am part of their family, and I absolutely consider myself ‘one of them’, but that to me didn’t mean I had to change my name. Nobody has ever, to my knowledge, asked a man why he doesn’t want to become part of his wife’s family just because he doesn’t change his name when he marries. Because that would be a ridiculous question. We are family, whether we have a marriage certificate and the same surname or not, and I am so proud of that. My name doesn’t affect my feelings for B’s family. I have changed my title to reflect the fact that I am married but my surname will always be my own; I love it, it’s a part of me and it’s how I know myself.
One of my reasons for keeping my name is explored in an awesome article by Bianca Franqueira Hanks on The Vagenda blog – your name is often the first thing you ever learn about yourself and it’s the first thing you learn to tell other people to identify you by. Further, my name is an inescapable link to my parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and ancestors. I am so proud of my family and so happy to be who I am, so lucky that I have been shaped and continue to be shaped by these 5 incredible, beautiful people, as well as all those amazing ancestors who went before us and those in our extended family. My name is a badge of honour, part of who I am, something I am proud of and that makes me happy. That seems like a lot to give up. My husband and son are my future but I am not willing to discard my name as something that is my past.
The tradition of changing a name (which is excellently summarised in this post by Dr Sophie Coulombeau on the BBC) is also a homage to a custom that I am entirely uncomfortable with; that of a husband having ownership of his wife. A woman was ‘given away’ by her father, to be taken by her husband. Her name was her father’s, then her husband’s and her whole life was probably dictated by either one of those men. All of the negative and archaic connotations surrounding marriage, obeying and owning are things I want no part of, and almost put me off the institution of marriage altogether. We are a partnership, and a legal document that officially binds us does not alter that dynamic. In essence, changing my name would have felt to me like sacrificing a part of who I am and no longer being an individual recognised in my own right. That’s not what marriage means to me, and I don’t think that’s how it should feel. I appreciate this is quite extreme and I am not suggesting that all the women who change their names are somehow subordinate, but I personally couldn’t ignore those connotations.
When we first got married I was a bit of a coward in certain situations and often said “Well, I’m keeping my name for now” to people that I felt would react negatively to this choice and also because so many people told me I would feel differently when we had children that I didn’t want to look like an utter twat if I suddenly did a U-turn. As it is, I don’t regret my decision in the slightest, even now that we have started our own family. TM has my family name as a middle name and his Dad’s family name as his surname. This suits everybody and I can’t say I have lost any sleep over the fact that we don’t have the same surname. He grew inside my body. I birthed him, I feed him and I am his mother. That is an undeniable fact and whether we share a surname or not makes zero difference to my bond with him. When he is old enough I will explain all of my reasons for keeping my surname and that he has my name as a middle name. I really don’t care if people assume that our different surnames means I’m not married. Their opinion of my marital status is irrelevant to me and I don’t think it’s a big deal. So when people told me I would change my mind about this, I’m sure half of them believed I would cave under the MORTIFICATION of having a different surname to my child…but we don’t live in the 1950s and that doesn’t feel like a problem to me. I suppose there is a bit of a contradiction in that I am passionate about keeping my own name but unconcerned about having the same surname as my son…I’m not really sure what to say on that as I can’t quite resolve it myself but it is what it is!
And in case anybody was reading this and wondering… B completely supported my decision to keep my surname!
If you’ve stuck around until the end of my musings – thank you for indulging my more serious, politicised side. I’d love to know your thoughts on surnames.