What’s in a name? Musings on marriage, surnames & feminism.

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!

Black and white image of bride and groom (me and B) sitting down and signing register. Beams are behind them as they are in an old barn. There are flowers in the corner of the picture. The bride has a lacy-topped dress and the groom is wearing a lounge suit with waistcoat and cravat. The bride's hair is down and slightly curly and the groom is bald. They are both smiling and holding hands with the bride holding a pen over the marriage register

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.

4 tier wedding cake with 'all you need is love' written over it in lots of different coloured icing with different shapes. There are icing flowers, butterflies and other decorative items and some of the writing is iced onto different coloured backgrounds. the decoration is all on top of white icing directly on top of the sponge. There is an iced VW camper van on the top and a heart which has the word 'all' on it.
How awesome is the wedding cake my mother in law made?!

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.

Bride and groom ( me and B) walking outside with confetti thrown on them. Lots of wedding guests visible in the background. Groom is bald and wearing a dark grey lounge suit, waistcoat, cravat and yellow buttonhole flower. He is holding hands with the bride who is walking just behind him holding a blue bouquet of delphiniums, she is blonde with curls in her hair wearing an ivory wedding dress with a lace top and a big skirt. They are both smiling.

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.

Diary of an imperfect mum

 

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35 thoughts on “What’s in a name? Musings on marriage, surnames & feminism.

  1. Ed, you can do no wrong in my eyes. You’ve presented your viewpoint fantastically well and of course you’re entitled to keep your name, just as nobody is entitled to foist theirs on you purely because you’re married. I was keen to get shot of my maiden name because it’s a bit silly and people always spelt it wrong, but I have friends who have kept theirs. A guy I work with actually took his wife’s name which is pretty cool and a bit woah even for 2016. Genuine question – when people send you something in the post as Mr and Mrs, do you consider yourself Mrs X (as in your husband’s surname) in that context? My dad remarried a couple of years ago and my stepmum opted to keep her previous name. I’m never quite sure what to write on the envelope when sending something to both of them, as Mr X and Mrs Y sounds a bit foolish but Mr and Mrs X isn’t quite right either as she’s not technically opted to be Mrs X. Anyway, so glad you published this one as it clearly needed some airtime! Have a biscuit and a breather now 😉 Moose xxx

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    1. I love it when men do that! I know some people who have both double barrelled so they’ve got the same name still. And it’s funny cause some people send post to Mr and Mrs B’s First Name & Surname – eg Mr and Mrs Bob Smith. That REALLY annoys me because even if I had changed my surname I didn’t become him!! I don’t mind too much if people put Mr & Mrs B but it’s a little annoying.. I would just put first names in that situation. But my friends because they know that we often get lots in B’s name and I find it annoying always send it to Mr & Mrs Ellen and my surname because they are hilarious haha.
      Well this is a long reply! Soz, thanks for your support as always Moosey ❤️ xxxxx

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      1. Never been a fan of Mr and Mrs Bob Smith! Think I’ll stick with “Dad and Y” on the envelope which is highly unprofesh but hey, it’s a modern world. Xxx

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  2. Ooh this is one of my favourite thoughts. Mr Wawa and I are not married but often wonder if we it’s time now, seeing as we have a mortgage and child and everything. We do keep getting stuck at surnames though. He was happy to consider changing his to mine as I have an excellent surname compared to his rather bland one, or double barrelling. When Squeak was born, I felt it was important for him to have his dad’s name, which surprised me. However, if we have another which turns out to be a girl, she should definitely have mine. And if marriage is in our future, that shouldn’t change our names at all. Mr Wawa feels weird about us all having different names and thinks it would be difficult from an admin point of view, but how often do you have to write people’s actual official names? I don’t mind people making mistakes and feel very strongly that I get to pass my name on to a child of my own gender.

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    1. Ooooh that’s really interesting! I’d not really considered that as an option but can definitely see why that would be attractive. I suppose the possibilities are endless; it’s your family and your name. I totally agree that really most of the time it isn’t relevant anyway. I think as long as you’re aware some people will get it wrong it’s fine! Thanks so much for reading and for your thoughtful comment, Ellen

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  3. Ellen this is a superb post and so engaging too. When I was younger I did think I would keep my name. I too was proud of the link to my grandparents it brought and was conscious that the name will probably die with me. It felt like a big weight and something really rather sad. I share your reasons on the historical background behind changing your name and that too was a part of why I wanted to keep my name. But and its a big but I always knew, even when I was younger, that I would want the same name as my children. Although we are not married my children have both our names and we have forced a double barrelled shananigans upon them. Will it change when/if we get married? I don’t know. Watch this space and truth be told I do really rather like my partners surname – and am not overly fond of mine …perhaps vanity isn’t the best reason to make that decision. I also know someone whose husband did take her name, kind of, they both took each other’s and double barrelled both their names. I did quite like that idea if I’m honest! Anyway lovey you have fabulous reasons for making your decision one in which you are more than entitled to, why people feel the need to think otherwise is beyond me. So good on you darling for putting your thoughts out there I loved the post …. Your photos are gorgeous by the way. SO SORRY about the essay – basically wrote my own post there xxx #ablogginggoodtime

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    1. Darling I love an essay especially from you!! I think it’s lovely that your kids have a double barrelled name and I would have liked that I think but our surnames are both long(ish) and I didn’t think it would work. I definitely like the idea of both double barrelling, some friends of mine just did that and I think it’s the perfect compromise. I suppose even if you double barrelled yours that would be quite nice. Oh and I like your surname haha!!
      Thank you for the thoughtful and brilliant comment! Ellen xx

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  4. My Mum has kept her married name even though she has been divorced for over 18 years. She says she is still married in the eyes of the lord. (that is a whole other story I’ll never blog about!) I’ve no interest in being married. I am happy that a mortgage and a baby unite me and my partner (i say partner instead of boyfriend, it sounds better. Although he still says girlfriend! (i feel 18!)) as a family. My son has my surname as a middle name too, makes it so his last two initials are BS. Good choice I think! #effitfriday

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    1. I think a lot of people of our parent’s generation did that. That’s totally fair enough, I honestly don’t feel like marriage is as much of a commitment as a mortgage and baby are 😂😃 I often call B my partner too. Love that – BS are great initials!! Thanks for reading and commenting my lovely. Ellen xx

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  5. Excellent post, you make your points really well. I’m not married but I agree with most of what you’ve said, and I also wouldn’t have changed my name – I’m one of two daughters and it would have bothered me a lot that changing my name would mean the end of our “branch” of the family name.

    Although I’m not married, my partner and I do have 3 children together – we decided to give the children both of our surnames double-barrelled.

    This was fine – but when we on holiday a couple of months ago we actually ran into some problems at customs – because both myself and my partner have a different surname to the children.

    Even though you’d think the fact that the children each have both of our surnames would be enough to demonstrate that they are our children – apparently, it wasn’t enough not to raise some red flags.

    When we got home, my partner & i decided to change our own surnames to match the boys – so even though we’re not married, we have a shared family name now. I’m glad that we’ve done that and that our family name is the joining of both of our surnames together, because isnt that what having a family is?! xx

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    1. Thank you for your lovely, kind comment. I think if our names had been shorter we might have gone down that road but we thought it’d be too much. I think that’s the perfect compromise though and having a family name is nice. I’m surprised you ran into problems at customs!! How strange.
      Thanks so much for reading, Ellen

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  6. Love this. I feel exactly the same way as you. My name is a part of me, and as the only one of my generation with my surname who has a child, I also feel a weight of responsibility for continuing the family name, so to speak, but even if I didn’t, as my son has my name I think it’s highly unlikely now that I would take a different name if I was to get married, and I’m glad, as had that not been the case I fear that I would have just taken my husband’s name without question, purely because it is what people tend to do. #effitfriday

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    1. Ah thanks for the fab comment Min! That’s interesting I never really felt like that about passing the name on but perhaps as my cousin already had children? I don’t know. Yeah I think so many people just do it because they don’t even consider that it’s not necessary!! Which seems a bit sad to me. Thanks for reading lovely, Ellen x

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  7. Love this post! I didn’t change my name when I got married – Adrian and I had been together for 7 years by the time we got hitched, and, as he said, “Why would your name all of a sudden be different just because we signed a bit of paper?” I also kept my last name for practical reasons, since my visa was in my maiden name, and I didn’t want to have to go through the hassle of trying to change it with the Home Office!

    I kind of wish the Popple had both of our surnames, which is customary in Puerto Rico, where Adrian is from – the man’s surname is first and the woman’s is second. But we thought that would cause confusion here – it’s been a bit of a hassle for Adrian at times. We talked about giving her my surname as her middle name, but it has multiple syllables and so does Adrian’s, and we didn’t want to saddle her with a long, awkward name.

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    1. Ah thank you Katie! Yeah it’s definitely easier to keep your name on the admin front haha. I like that custom of two surnames, but I can see how it could be annoying. I felt the same about the length of our names that double barrelled would be too much but I figured as most of the time you only have to write your first and last name that long middle names would be ok! Thanks so much for reading, Ellen x

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  8. This has made me think quite hard – thank you. I did take my husband’s name but to be perfectly honest, there is a huge part of me that wishes I was still called my maiden name. I am used to it now but if I didn’t have a brother continuing the family name, I’m fairly certain I would have done what you have. Good on you, and very well written. Also AWESOME cake – how bloody talented is your MIL?! #fartglitter

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    1. Ah bless you that’s lovely to hear – thank you! It’s a difficult one and I think for some couples it’s hard to find something which everyone is happy with – one of my exes when I told him I wanted to keep my name was adamant that he would make me change my mind if we ever got to that stage! Pretty lucky we didn’t 😂
      Oh my gosh I know that cake was incredible! She’s fab.
      Thank you for your kind comment and for reading, Ellen

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  9. I changed my name when I got married but worried about my family name dying as I have no brothers. I wanted to do it though and as a compromise I kept my maiden name and added my husbands surname at the end. Both my children have my maiden name and my husband’s surname. I’m glad you stuck to your guns and did what you felt was right for you and that your husband supported you 100%. Great post and you have your view has come across really well and balanced and not at all like a rant or negative. x #triballove

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    1. Ah that’s lovely – it sounds like a great compromise. Thanks for your gorgeous comments, I’m so glad it came across well! These topics can be so emotive and it’s hard to get the right tone. Thanks for reading and for your gorgeous comment my lovely! Ellen xxxx

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  10. Good for you for making a choice which others might find unusual but felt good to you. I changed my name in order to buy into the antiquated tradition and I do think people accept our same sex parents family a little more readily as we all share the same surname. But live and let live, aye? What ever works for the individual. Totally get your reasoning too.

    #fartglitter

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I was thinking about that after I’d written this actually, sorry for omitting any mention of same sex relationships. I guess that in a same sex couple there would be discussion over who (if anyone) will change their name rather than there being an assumption that one person will change theirs as there often is in heterosexual relationships. Thanks for having me and for your lovely comment, Ellen x

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  11. First, that is an awesome cake! Your MIL is very talented. Surnames – that is a very personal decision and there could be a lot of reasons why someone keeps or takes someone’s name. I personally agree with you – there is so much personal and professional history with my own name and I didn’t see why I had to take my husband’s surname. My kids did ask me when they were little why I had a different surname to them but now that they are older, they understand. #bigpinklink

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    1. I know, the cake was incredible! I agree, there are so many things to consider and it’s different for everyone (as I have seen through these comments 😊). I’m glad your kids understand, I hope mine will too – I always think that if we weren’t married he’d probably have a different surname to me still so it’s not that big a deal. Thanks for your comments and for having me at #bigpinklink! Ellen X

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  12. Thoughtfully and well written post my darling I love how balanced you write, you consider all viewpoints and perspectives. As you say it is your personal choice and it is a shame people judge us for that; your hubby supported you and love is love whatever surname you pick. If I get married I would want to either keep or double barrel my name as my family is very important to me and whilst I will be my OH wife I would not ‘belong’ to him so think double barrelling would be my perfect middle ground, I am with him have his name but also have that name tied too my family. I have my grandfathers second name as my dad left us when I was a baby so we never kept his name, so my surname represents so much to me. If we are all for equality why is it that men shouldn’t be considering changing their names the same as we do?Thank you for linking to #ablogginggoodtime xx

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    1. Ah even your comments are gorgeous Jade ❤️ That’s lovely that your name is so important to you as a link to your granddad, so it sounds like keeping it in some form would be the best option. I do think it’s a shame that a huge majority of men would never even consider changing their name, and many would assume their partner will change hers. Perhaps when our boys are adults things will be different?! Thanks for having me and for your lovely comment babe! Ellen xx

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  13. You’re a gal after my own heart. I am also a feminist – a standpoint feminist more specifically. I’ve had almost the exact same musings as you have. Unfortunately for me, I am still undecided about this issue even after 4 years of marriage and two kids. Our kids have my last name as one of their middle names and I have retained my maiden name so far. Honestly, I have no intentions of changing it but I do use my husband’s lastname as an alternative when I need to. Because we are from different cultures, countries, and religions, I feel all the more compelled to keep my lastname. AND YET….I have my doubts sometimes. I wish I had better clarity that satisfied everyone. Love your blog.

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    1. Thank you for such a lovely and insightful comment, Suchitra! It’s a big decision to make and these things often aren’t as clear cut as we would like. I can see how you have lots of reasons to keep your maiden name and how important that must feel to you. thanks for reading, Ellen

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  14. I love this post and found it so interesting to read about your reasons for keeping your own name. I never thought about the fact that no-one asks a man whether not changing his name means he doesn’t want to be a part of his wife’s family – it makes it sound so ridiculous when it’s put that way around doesn’t it? I did change my name when I got married (although MIL telling me I had to nearly had me changing my mind!) but that was because I wanted us all to have the same surname when we had children and our surnames would have sounded ridiculous double-barrelled. I quite liked my husband’s surname so was happy to take it. I did keep my own name at work though (which ended up causing difficulties with getting CRB checks – I have no idea why as it surely isn’t an uncommon scenario!) I can never understand though why it has to be a big deal over whether a woman takes her husband surname on marriage or not – it’s personal choice at the end of the day and what difference does it make to someone else what your surname is?! #ablogginggoodtime

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    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, Louise! Yes, I know lots of people who kept their names the same for work but changed them in everything else – you’d think the bureaucrats would be able to cope but it appears not?! And I totally agree, it doesn’t make any difference to anyone else what our names are, does it? Thanks for reading my love, Ellen xx

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