This post is, of course, mostly directed at the ladies, but if you’re a man who changed his name feel free to put up your hand!
I told my first husband the most I would do was hyphenate my last name, and I felt that was a generous compromise. He thought hyphenation was stupid and told me to keep my maiden name. This was convenient, and saved me a lot of hassle, when 6 months later he took off!
I told my second husband the same thing, and he accepted that, although he was a little taken aback. Like most men, he just assumed I would change my name, and that’s not his fault, it’s society’s fault. Men are conditioned to expect their wives will change their names.
But why should we?
If you suggest to a man that he should change his name when he gets married, most of them would be horrified. So why exactly is it they think that we, as women, should be less attached to our names? When I first married, I’d had 24 years using my maiden name. It was a part of my identity, and when I changed it for my second marriage, I felt I’d lost a little part of that identity. Who was this woman with the strange name? It took me twelve months before I answered my office phone with my married name.
The reality is that the tradition of changing names goes back to times when women were chattels. Changing her name was really a way of labelling her as the property of her husband. If you go back far enough, in some societies, a man was responsible for the actions of his wife the same way a dog owner is now responsible if their dog attacks someone.
The whole concept is antithetical to who I am. I do not belong to anyone. I am not owned by anyone. I am most certainly not the property of anyone. I was born with my maiden name, I’m proud of my heritage, and yes it’s a defining part of my identity. No matter how much I care for someone, I shouldn’t be required to give up those parts of me or my life. I particularly hate being addressed as Mrs [insert husband's first name][insert husband's surname]. I am NOT a man and my name is NOT Matthew!
I have a friend who liked taking her husband’s name, but she freely admits to being old-fashioned. So I guess maybe this makes me a feminist (although I dislike labels as well).
In a perfect world, I believe a couple would both hyphenate their names on marriage, with their birth name appearing first (to avoid arguments about who gets to go first) – kind of like a wedding ring, it would indicate the marital status of each partner. The mother could pass her birth name on to her daughters, and the father could pass his birth name on to his sons.
Of course, this is completely contrary to hundreds of years of cultural conditioning and isn’t likely to happen in the near future (if ever). The same friend mentioned above also noted there are often negative connotations made about children who have different surnames to their mother (now see my post Judgements: Do You Make Unfair Ones?) because assumptions are made about that woman’s sexual habits. Of course, it wouldn’t just be she is a professional career woman who chooses to keep her maiden name....
It may not be a probable system but it would certainly be a fair system.
What do you think? Did you change your name? Did you want to, or did you want to keep your maiden name and instead bowed to societal pressure and husbandly expectations? Did you hyphenate, and if so, why? Did you keep your maiden name? What did your husband think if you did? Are you a man who took his wife’s surname?
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