The naming of things is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games,
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter,
But we’ve all had those long discussions on names!
Once, when I was little, I asked my grandma why she changed her name when she got married; perhaps I should have asked my aunt why she didn’t change hers, but to a child, lacking the social history and blind to the pressure of stigma and expectation, not changing it had seemed the default.
My grandma told me that her married name was more interesting than her maiden name.
She could have tried to explain, but she didn’t. And there was no denying the logic of this response: she had made a choice based on aesthetics.
And even though I grew up and learnt more about it, what she had said stuck. So I always imagined that if I got married I would change my name if I liked his more. And afterall, I wanted to change my name – it was an adventure.
It was also a graduation.
When I get my PhD, I will be able to use the title ‘Dr’. Not everybody who gains this privilege choses to adorn the title, I know, but I have only met one such individual – everybody else wears it proudly. At graduation, my facebook was swamped by people updating their statuses to ‘Charlie Chaplin BA’, ‘Hercule Poirot MChem’ and the likes – they were proud of their new letters. You see, changing part of your name to mark career progression is exciting and rewarding.
And I see no reason why changing my name to mark a romantic progression should be otherwise.
And then came along Mr Fletcher-Wood. Fletcher – common, Wood – even more common. Fletcher-Wood (including hypen) – obscure beyond belief! It would, of course, make my name impossibly long and prohibit it from fitting into any boxes on future forms, but I wanted to take Guy’s name, and told him so. Guy was pleased: unlike me, he felt it was important socially for a husband and wife to have the same name as each other and any children, and with respect to this priority would have changed his name. I value this very much because I don’t feel name-changing should be a woman’s responsibility. It isn’t anything to do with being a woman at all – except historically. It doesn’t even have anything to do with women as property, because women were definitely property in Roman society, and never changed their birth name.
I do think that being a woman in a society with the tradition for a woman changing her name opened me to the possibility early, and prepared the possibility in my mind. And I wanted to change because I didn’t want to stay the same name forever. My first name is special to me because it was something that my mother chose for me, but my surname is just a default. Nobody chose it. And now I had a choice.
I don’t believe that I am the same person I was born as: the world has shaped me; we are all of us changing entities. As a child I couldn’t understand things like ‘personalities’ because every action a person performs changes and evolves their identity. You can’t be just one thing – you grow. Yesterday is not the same as today. It’s scary – it demonstrates a lack of control, more information than you can contain and reason with (which is why we simplify things), but I embrace that. I want to change and grow, move forwards, do new things and become a new – and hopefully improved – me.
So I wanted my name to evolve too, and mark the changes in my life.
Nevertheless, I was put under a lot of pressure by friends and family members who disagreed with this choice. In particular, two people, who felt that
a) Your name is integral to your identity and your achievements; giving that up would mean giving up part of yourself and part of your independence.
b) Being an independent woman meant defying typically female ‘sacrifices’ like giving up a name, and that it was wrong to follow these traditions because it condoned the domination of women.
Given that I do not associate with a concrete name-tied identity and that I do not feel that changing my name will inhibit women’s rights, these arguments were not for me. To me, it was an act of independence to choose to change my name upon my marriage: I was at no point pressured by tradition into changing, and in fact pressure was exerted in the opposite direction!
And remember, you sign the register in your legal name at the time of your marriage, which is always your maiden name. The registrars will usually check this before your ceremony, just in case you’re overexcited – so your first signiature with a new name is usually on changing your documents!