Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Getting married - changing your name? Why?

The short blog post would read - there is no need to (change names). But, as this is often one of the continual hot debates in feminist circles - along with 'why get married anyway?' and 'why wear a wedding ring?' - I guess I should write a bit more.

For the record, I've been married for quite some years to the same person, and I didn't change my name on getting married. I have a wedding ring which has not received good use, although as a piece of plain and simple jewellery it is quite nice.

I don't know why we decided to get married - but that's for another post. This is about why I decided to keep my name. Or, why I decided not to change my name. There is a big difference between the two. One is the default, the other is not.

When I was a not-so-weeny cub reporter on my first newspaper I was rather impressed that the two married women on there had kept their birth names. I think they were originally single when they joined the paper, and their reasoning was they thought it would look rather confusing to readers to change their names. I am not sure that was such a plausible reason, but it suited me. A professional name. Maybe that was what it was about, a slight sense of elite snobbishness coming through.

Because what did they do about their personal life? Yes. They were Mrs Husband's Last Name. They were only Miss Individual Person when a byline was called for. Everywhere else they were a subservient shadow. This struck me as being stupid. Especially when the bank, or whoever, rang the office for Miss Single Person, and was then told by Miss Single Person that they were also Mrs Husband's Last Name. They were the same person. How utterly confusing. Far easier not to change your name at all, I thought, to my naive self.

Moving on a few years....... and I had, for some unknown reason, agreed to get married. One of the immediate stipulations was, of course, that I was not intending to change my name. Being cantankerous and argumentative, I suspect I was subconsciously using this as a testing ground to see if I had agreed to spend my life with an ok-ish man. "I'm a journalist you know. It's important to retain my professional name," I added convincingly. My soon-to-be Nigel had no interest in any of that. He had no interest in whether I changed my name or not. There was no discussion, no argument, nothing really. It was a non-issue to him. More on the lines of 'Well, why would you? Who cares?'

We opened joint bank accounts. We argued with staff both in Australia and the UK that I was entitled to retain my birth name. At one point I was told it was not legal. What a load of garbage. I loftily referred to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor. If she didn't need to change her name, why did I? Not saying that I was the equivalent of a world famous Hollywood actress but the principle still applies. If she could do it, so could I.

We won our battles.  Everything we did was in separate names. Oddly enough, in those days we didn't even need to provide the marriage certificates to prove we were married. As we changed jobs and moved around the country and met new people and made new friends, people stopped asking if we were married. The odd few discovered we were, most thought we weren't. In my last job - when I finally left - a few of my colleagues said "But I never knew you were married."

And that's the whole point. Why should anyone know my marital status? Why should it even be relevant to be judged by my relationship to a man? That I have managed to catch one? Vomit. At this point I have to say that I did take pleasure in explaining to people that yes I was married and no I didn't have the same name as my partner. Wow!! Did this take a long time to compute or not? I'm not even sure it did compute, but I still enjoyed going through the whole routine. And seeing the looks of surprise on people's faces as they wondered what on earth was going on.

I should add very quickly, that the pleasure was not in announcing that I was married, but that I was married and Shock! Horror! did not have the same name as my husband. Thus disproving an incontrovertible fact - that all women lose their identify on gaining a man. And, even if for some unfathomable reason I did get married, why should I change my name? There. Is. No. Need. I am not a possession to be passed from my father to my husband.

Ironically, one of the reasons I wanted to retain my birth name was because my sexist misogynist father imbued in me such a sense of pride in his name. I was of his lineage and I was so lucky. But in doing so, he unwittingly started off the makings of a radical feminist. How ironic. My mother was mortified. She was incapable of writing letters to Her Daughter With Her Own Name and Her Daughter's Husband With A Different Name. She must have thought the whole postal service was looking at the letters and judging her terrible daughter for living in sin. I joke not.

In the nearly 20 years that we were married before my mother died, she never addressed an envelope to Ms Daughter and Mr Son-in-Law. Every envelope said the same thing. My first name and his first name eg Jill and John.&

And now, I have a confession. At one point in my life, I did decide to change my image and become a mature woman, maybe I wanted to get my dad out of my hair. So I tried to change my name on one of my bank accounts to that of my partner. Well I have only one thing to say. It was a huge mistake and don't even think of going there. It caused more problems that trying to set up bank accounts in separate names in the first place.

So my dears. All I have to say is, I recommend not doing it - even if you are lumped with your father's name. And if you end up thinking about marrying some guy who does want you to take HIS name. DTMF. He'll be an arse ever after. And there ends my post on changing names. Or not, in my case.

1 comment:

Bren said...

OMG I could swear my daughter wrote this post and for the very same reason.... that her name meant something.

B x