It’s quite annoying when a woman selling wedding rings takes down your fiancé’s details and then laughs in your face. The joke? I was going to have to take his surname and it’s such an awful name.
First of all, the love of my life hasn’t actually got a particularly rubbish name. It’s a bit awkward because he always has to spell it out but it’s not Cockburn, Bumstead or Shufflebottom.
But of course, that’s not my point. I was horrified that she thought that in 2014 I have to take my fella’s surname. We didn’t buy rings from her, in case you hadn’t guessed. Once we were married, a new acquaintance heard I hadn’t changed my name and said, “Really? So is he your bitch then?”
I can’t tell you how opposed I am to women taking their husband’s surname. Oh, wait, yes, I can. Why the hell should I lose my identity just because I’ve got married? Anyone who’s ever known me or ever Facebook-stalked me now no longer has my name. I’ve become someone else apparently, just because we’ve simplified the legal aspects of our joint life together. Oh, he’s still the same guy. I’m the one who’s become somebody else. Why would I sign up to that?
And even worse, changing your name is a total ball ache. Every piece of ID has to be altered. Every bill. Every email address. Every personalised fountain pen. Surely if the moral grounds don’t convince you, the administrative ones do?
So why do women do it? Tradition is apparently a biggie. But it’s traditional to hang out your blood-stained sheets the morning after your wedding and we don’t do that anymore. Well, I didn’t. And we don’t exactly have a strong tradition of women’s rights in Britain. It’s traditional to ban women from voting or owning property too.
One friend told me she wanted to take her husband’s name to express her love for him. I wonder how he erased his identity in order to express his. She also pointed out that the great benefit of women’s lib is the right to choose, including whether to take your man’s name or not. I’m afraid I don’t accept that either. People choose to take heroin but it’s still a really bad thing for society. Some women say they choose to wear burkas. Anyone who’s ever watched Derren Brown will know that we don’t actually make choices based on our own freewill. We’re coerced by forces that we don’t understand and it requires huge awareness to break these forces.
Perhaps the clincher for many women is the prospect of everyone in their family unit having the same surname. Granted, I can see that might be convenient if you want to appear as the Mycock Family on Family Fortunes one day. But I say other people should just get your names right. How hard is it? Millions of families don’t share the same names, as a result of divorce, death, choice, lack of marriage, remarriage, and also tradition. In Iceland, Svarvar Magnusson’s child’s surname would be Svarvarson. Just ask my friend Svarvar Svarvarson. In Spain, women don’t change their surnames, so María Sanchez Grande and Jesús Navarro Gonzalez’s children’s surnames are Navarro Sanchez and everyone just deals with it. You should see their personalised post boxes!
It may not surprise you to hear that I’m not OK with using your husband’s name ‘at home’ and your maiden name ‘at work’, which is the oh-so-helpful advice of the author of the baby book I’m pretending to read. As an obstetrics professor and a published author I think she has more reason than most to celebrate her identity. But apparently her dual identity “has never given rise to any uncertainty for [her] children.” Phew! Because that’s the issue here – whether a five-year-old is confused.
And then even worse than having two separate personas must be adding your husband’s surname to your own. Jessica Ennis-Hill, I’m looking at you. Surely this is the worst of both worlds? You haven’t respected tradition and you can’t go on Family Fortunes. You’ve still suffered all the admin and you’ve still compromised your identity. And if you then get divorced, you have to announce it to the world through your name. Radek Stepanek’s trophies all bear the same name regardless of misfortunes in his personal life. Justine Henin isn’t so lucky.
Now that I’m up the duff people are asking which name we’re going to give our children. Well, guess what? I wasn’t OK with giving up my name and I’m not OK with my kids having just my husband’s name. So we’re going to double barrel the sprogs.
“Ah,” people say, “but what will they do when they come to have children? Treble barrel? Quadruple barrel?” And you know what? They can figure that one out for themselves. They can exercise their right to choose. I can’t think of everything!