* PLEASE NOTE (added 14 Nov, 2011): After some feedback, I'd like to stress (especially to those who know me in real life) that the people referred to in the post below are NOT those whose opinions I actively asked, and whose opinions I therefore valued (regardless of whether they are the same opinions as mine). That would be extremely churlish of me. The people referred to are those (many of whom don't know me in real life,and only know me online) who judged me on a personal issue without being asked for their views.
Taking your husband’s name upon marriage – no other issue incites the same depth of emotion among others when a feminist enters the wedding arena.
When I announced my engagement in January, instead of saying “Congratulations”, several feminist women actually said, while looking disappointed with me for being engaged at all, “I hope you won’t be changing your name.” Like it was their business. I found it hurtful.
For eight long months, I debated ad nauseam the surname dilemma with my fiancé, my friends (feminist and otherwise) and my family. But the decision was mine alone, and my fiancé made it clear that my name was entirely my business.
We immediately ruled out hyphenation because (in our view) it looks clunky, and where does it stop? If double-barreled people marry someone else with a double-barreled name, do they become quardruple-barreled, and then octuple-barreled etc? That’s just daft.
My husband wasn’t averse to taking my surname instead of me taking his – except he’s an only child and I’m one of four (and all my siblings have children who are carrying on our family name).
We briefly entertained adopting a whole new surname. ‘Bowie’ was the top suggestion because David Bowie is a genius. But we knew we’d never have the temerity to actually do it.
Most people assumed I would keep my original surname (I hate the term ‘maiden’ name, as if I’m a helpless damsel), which - for someone as childishly contrary as me – could have been instigation enough to do the opposite. So when I announced in September that I had deliberated for nine months and I would be sharing my husband’s surname, everyone was surprised.
But what business is it of theirs? I’m stunned by how many people have felt entitled to pass judgment on my decision over what I call myself, and the number of times I have had to defend my own name. It’s extraordinary. And rude.
To me, sharing my husband’s surname has nothing to do with losing my identity – quite the opposite. I’m affirming my identity. I recently made a public and lifelong commitment with this man, and it seems bizarre that we would not share a surname. Many believe that marriage itself is an outdated patriarchal institution, and the figures for 2009 (the most recent available) confirm that the UK marriage rate is at its lowest ever. Others say, reasonably, that they won’t marry until marriage is equal for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. I understand this.
There are a zillion blogs where people have debated this, many musing it as a feminist concern. There’s even the Lucy Stone League devoted to it, which suggests 90% of brides take their husband’s name on marriage, and words it in such a way as to imply these women have been forced into “this tradition of name-abandonment”! I appreciate that when the LSL was set up in the 1920s women had much more of a struggle if they wanted to keep their original surname, but in 2011 this is less of an issue in the western world (except for women like Kate Middleton – I’d have loved to see her try to keep her surname). It’s clear why many think this IS a feminist issue, but in 2011 it is now so common for brides to keep their original surname that I think this is one area where women have made positive strides with our right to a choice.
Far from abandoning my old surname, I have consciously decided to leave it in the past and embrace my future. I love the idea of having a new identity and starting from scratch, it’s extremely liberating.
By changing my name, I’m neither conforming to patriarchy nor holding the feminist cause back. And for anyone to suggest that I am less of a feminist for having changed my name is insulting to me both as an independent woman and as a strident feminist. It’s been a carefully considered choice.