April 11, 2013

Why shouldn’t I change my name?

I enjoyed this interesting article on The F Word by Claire Rush. Names: first, last and middle, have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Around the age of ten I fell in love with the Earthsea series, in which names are given great importance. Characters have a true name and a use-name. Knowing something or someone’s true name gives you power over them. Knowing your own true name is part of finding your identity.

Naming my son was a huge responsibility. I wanted something that would be his, a name he could own. Karen has always felt like a pale and ignorable name that I barely hear when people say it. It’s just a sound. My posh relations used to put all the emphasis on the first syllable, because they thought it sounded common otherwise. My grandfather wanted to use my middle name, Rebecca, for the same reason. No wonder I have a lukewarm relationship with my given name. My original surname lent itself well to mean nicknames.

When I accidentally got married in my early twenties, we did in jest create a fused surname, since Hilditch-Williams nicely turned into Hillbilly. In fact I could never get my mouth round Williams, I found it really hard to sign my new name, it just didn’t run off the pen. I changed all the official documents, but decided, just for me, not to change it at work. Work had other ideas, and my email was changed for me, my colleagues laughed and corrected me to my married name. I was surprised by this. The only advantage was that it was now easier to book a restaurant table over the phone.

When the marriage inevitably ended, I reverted to my original surname with indecent haste, and started to feel more warmly towards it. On remarriage, I hung on to my original surname, and again my employer changed it on my email and in other official contexts, without asking me. Personal email was more of a thing by 2000, and I hung on to my unique hotmail address for dear life. Let’s face it, I was never really into that marriage.

Pete and I are not married, but I do have his name. It was a deliberate choice, not mindless compliance with “the patriarchal traditions of marriage and relationships”. It doesn’t make me his chattel, he didn’t ask me or tell me to do it, I asked for it when we got pregnant. It’s a team name. It’s a container. It’s a statement that we’re together, all three of us. I haven’t subsumed my identity into his, in fact I’ve never felt more me. Now I’ve got my common first name and my common surname, and they fit together nicely. My signature works. I still have to spell it on the phone, but it doesn’t take as long. The fact is, my identity is partly defined by my roles, and my true name acknowledges that. This is the name under which I have achieved my best things. This is me.


27 thoughts on “Why shouldn’t I change my name?

  1. Names are funny things, aren’t they. My ex-wife still uses my surname.

    Never have liked my first name, no Gordon every amounted to much and the mean nicknames (Flash, The Gopher, Twat… ) were legion.

    It still doesn’t really sit well with me, but I’ve never had a mind to change it.

    I am very glad that you have found your name though, and I love the reasoning behind the ‘joint’ surname. More power to you.

  2. Maria decided to double barrel her name when we got married. Which makers her Mrs MRS.

    We discussed me changing my name too. But that would make me Mr ARS. We left mine as is.

    Our kids will probably have her maiden name as a middle name and my last name. This has left me coming up with suggest first names like

    Barry Alexandra
    Mike Arthur
    Charles Alvin

    These have all been vetoed

  3. Curiously, when I think of comedy kids name I’ve only thought of boys names.

    On a serious note I think changing your name is very personal thing. It was a difficult discussion for myself and Maria.

    I said I would be honoured if she took my name, but was not obliged too. I also said that I understand it’s irrational, makes no sense why it should be one way and not the other. But that it was something that would make me happy.

    I did admit I understood it was silly, and I couldn’t explain why it was important to me, but it was.

    Old traditions are odd things, because they’re ingrained and often have no real value beyond being tradition. I guess I wanted to be a unit a bit like how you explained changing your name. But had enough ingrained tradition in me to want to to follow it, even if it’s a bit wrong.

    I’m probably waffling, and may be different from most of this group in wanting it.

    Like I said these decisions are very personal, which ever which you cut it.

  4. You sound like you feel you have to defend your feelings; so do I. I think there are people who consider my decision to be unfeminist, and the author of the original article obviously felt judged too. I think we’re coming back again to the fact that families come in lots of different formats, and for some of us it is important to share a name, whatever that name is; and for some of us it isn’t important, or it’s important not to. And all of the above are okay.

  5. Not trying to defend my feeling (came across wrong there)

    Emotionally I wanted Maria to take my name
    Intellectually I understood there was no logic behind this

    The difference between these two things, left me with some internal conflict.

    All this was long before this post. But this post is about taking names. So I thought I would contribute what I felt/feel and went through.

    No defence. No accusation.

    (p.s. nor do I consider the decision to do so unfeminist either)

  6. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with defending your feelings, I just meant I could see there was a conflict between the emotional and the intellectual, for you, as there clearly is for a lot of people.

  7. I’d never assume someone should take my surname (mainly because I don’t like it all that much anyway)

    My born forename got changed by me best part of twenty years ago now – the original was a nightmare for people to spell, invariably incorrect, and annoyed me more than is rational, let alone reasonable.

    I’m happier with where I am now, but equally I also answer to Lyle most of the time as well, which can lead to an epically confusing life.

    As for the marriage and ‘taking names’ thing, I don’t know, it just doesn’t worry me one way or t’other. Wouldn’t insist on the change, wouldn’t be bothered with double-barrelled, or taking on someone else’s name if it were a better one.

  8. Friends of mine got married a few years ago and he took her name, much to the shock of everyone in his family (he did become Benjamin Franklin by doing it though, which might have swayed him somewhat).

    I have categorically stated that there is no way I will take Neil’s name, but a significant part of that is because I hate his name, if he had a better one I’d probably have been much more inclined to take it.

    As it is, I’m keeping my name for now, and at some point in the future (particularly if there are ever kids on the scene) we might create a completely new name for us, something to unite the family unit.

  9. A friend of mine refused to take her husband’s surname, Winterbottom, citing the fact that she was a primary teacher and she didn’t want to be laughed at. So they both took the name Winters instead.

  10. Ooooh, I love this. I could talk about the emotional and intellectual politics behind name-taking and name-leaving until the cows come home, and then I renamed them, and then they left again in a huff.

    I struggled with my double-barreled-unhyphened last name my whole life. On my birth certificate and Argentinian passport, it is, correctly as per South American tradition, Corbett Cavouras (all my last name). But when I was granted my US citizenship, they placed Corbett as my middle name and it has been ever thus on my paperwork, which annoys me to no end, as it is NOT my middle name but the first half of my last name.

    For most of my teens, I hated Cavouras, because it’s cumbersome to spell and have understood and not even properly pronounced in English, nor is it properly spelled. (Astute readers will note that there’s no C in the Greek alphabet and it should be spelled Kavoura, but they screwed it up when my dad emigrated from Egypt and the fucks he could not give were legion.) And then I started publishing under that name, in my early 20s, and it suddenly became a part of me, prickly and complicated and full of my mixed up immigrant heritage, and I loved it.

    When Stuart and I got married, I couldn’t fathom taking his name (sorry dear) as I had no idea who Krissa Bridgett was, she sounds nothing like me. He truly could not have cared less – I’m not sure he had the same (understandable!) complexities that Adrian just described, possibly because he’s not incredibly attached to that name, but I will let him speak to that if he wants to.

    When it comes to our eventual kids, I’m a little adamant (to Stuart’s mild annoyance) that we give our kids both our names as a surname – Bridgett Cavouras or Cavouras Bridgett – but it’s so uncommon in this country that I expect the first of the two will generally be treated as a middle name, *sigh*.

  11. It occurs to me, Adrian, that Sevitz is a really cool last name AND you strongly identify with it. I mean, obviously, it would always be Maria’s decision regardless of your desire, but I give your self-identification and pride in your name its own weight, instead of just being a knee-jerk traditionalist response.

  12. Also, the fact that most people commenting here have given it thought and found it a difficult or complicated decision makes me think that it’s rarely done for reasons of mindless compliance with tradition anymore. This isn’t the 1950s.

  13. My better half decided to use her maiden name as the first part of a two-name surname, without double-barrelling. This does cause some confusion as people variously refer to her as:

    – Mrs Maidenname
    – Mrs Maidenname Marriedname
    – Mrs Maidenname-Marriedname
    – Mrs Marriedname

    plus all of those variations with Ms. as the prefix. I’m sure Krissa feels the pain.

  14. Karen, agreed. The culture is changing! Stuart’s main argument against giving our child(ren) two last names is that it passes the problem onto the next generation. But as I see it, for one, most of our child(ren)’s peers will also have new traditional last names, and we don’t know how sentiment will shift by then anyway. Our eventual offspring and their eventual partners will hopefully all be equipped with the brains and the sensitivity to figure it out themselves (and selfishly I hope they will be as proud as I am to have a little bit of both my parents in their name).

  15. Oh, whether to use Ms or Miss or Mrs has a whole new dimension when you use the surname but don’t have the marriage certificate.

  16. @Krissa,

    When my grandfather came to SA from Lithuania, our surname was Elijahsevitz (or some variation, in Hebrew). My grandfather couldn’t spell it and no one could pronounce it so it was shortened to Sevitz. (Jews shortening their names not uncommon when they left places trying to kill us (Russia, German) to places more friendly.

    I wonder how much the internet (blogging, tweeting etc) have contributed to my surname being part of my identity over my first name.

    Also the two last name thing works fine in Spain where it’s the way it’s done. It just doesn’t translate well to Britain and it’s colonies (Hello America) where it gets naturally read as a middle name. It’s a cultural mapping problem.

  17. For the record, quite adorably, Mark has been known to refer to me as Mrs. Bridgett, and to Stuart as Mr. Cavouras.

    (Less adorably, we had some friends-who-should-have-known-better send their wedding invitation addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Bridgett, which made me quite truculent. I pretended for weeks that I wasn’t attending, since I wasn’t invited.)

  18. Ooh, that reminds me of a ‘friend’ who likes to be frightfully correct, and addresses her christmas cards to “Mr P Hall and Miss K Hall”, with “stop trying to pretend you’re married” written in between the lines.

  19. You have a mortgage and a kid. That’s way more binding than a marriage.

    About two years ago when discussing our futures I said to M, “wedding, house, kids”.

    That was fine.

    I followed up with “because that’s the easiest order to reverse if things go wrong”.

    That was not so fine.

  20. >> “I followed up with “because that’s the easiest order to reverse if things go wrong”. That was not so fine.
    That’s the Sevitziest thing you’ve ever said.

  21. “Mrs Dot Nu” – and you don’t have to spell that? (I always think of Pete as Pete Dot Nu – he has no other surname).

    As for Gordons who amounted to something:
    Gordon Banks
    Gordon Brown (although you may not agree – but he got to be PM and not many manage that).
    Gordon Sumner – apparently, the tantric sex thing was a joke that he and Trudi played on the media.
    Gordon of Khartoum – ok, so Gordon was his family name, but he got played by Charlton Heston on the silver screen! What greater accolade could a Gordon want?
    Gordon the Big Engine – poop poop!

    Changing names upon marriage – I’m with The Sev on this and had similar feelings/thoughts. As it is, Hels actively wanted to take my name once we got engaged, so it wasn’t really an issue. She always says that she is no longer a [insert maiden name] any more, but is a [insert married name] now – part of our little family team.
    Of course, as part of the team rules, we do have to wear regulation strip, including a bright yellow version for away matches.

  22. Here’s how it went when we met, Graybo:
    Pete: Hi, I’m Pete.
    Karen: Which Pete?
    Pete: Pete Dot Nu.

    He is always Pete Dot Nu to me.

  23. I know so many people who changed their names on the event of a youngish marriage, achieved fame (even if just within their profession/field), ditched the husband, moved on, and kept the ex-husband’s surname. An old friend who’s extremely senior/media quoted uses the name she acquired from her last-but-one husband. And singers like Angela Gheorghiu and Joyce diDonato are using ex-husband surnames. And an acquaintance has reverted back from her *late* husband’s surname, which I know is not a straightforward decision.

    Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not being in the slightest bit judgy, what an individual does is absolutely their business, but I sometimes feel that people end up being painted into a corner

  24. Fascinating
    I never changed my name. Three reasons.
    I like my last name.
    I was fairly well known within my profession by that name and changing it was going to be a hassle.
    I didn’t like D’s last name. Still don’t care for it.

    We married in the province of New Brunswick where much to my surprise upon applying for the marriage licence the name options were :
    Wife keeps family name.
    Wife takes husband’s family name.
    Wife doubles- keeps family name and adopts husband’s family name . Husband keeps family name.
    Wife and husband adopt last name made of the two family names.
    Husband takes wife’s family name.

    When I told D he could take my family name, he instantly saw why I might want to keep mine. My mother never accepted it and addressed everything to Mr and Mrs D, or Mrs D. I pretended not to notice. My mother-in-law has never had a problem with it. Ha.

    asta on April 11, 2013

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