|Edmund Blair Leighton "Signing the register"|
So recently there was an article in the Guardian by Lauren Apfel about how she wished she had given her daughter her surname. It sparked quite a lot of interest - what women decide to do with their names when they co-habit, get married or have children is tricky. All, yes ALL, my married friends, many of whom I think of as having feminist leanings, simply switched to their husband's surname. No debate, no inner turmoil. Just the simple, straightforward route. What was the reason? Mainly because they wanted a "family name"; something that would unite the couple and their children, creating a sense of identity and belonging. One friend said she just "sleepwalked" into it.
Whether you think of yourself as a feminist or not, it's worth taking a look at some of the options. After all, there might be unexpected associations or practical considerations to think about!
- Take husband's name - essentially straightforward, traditional, conservative. Boring? Essentially means losing your previous identity, literally.
- Keep maiden name - defiant, feminist? Might be perceived as individualistic?
- Go double-barrelled - adding your father's name to your spouse's name is actually not that revolutionary when you think about it. And it is massively cumbersome. After much inner angst I went for this option and now my first name and surname add up to 7 syllables, 11 syllables if you throw in my middle name. I tend to run out of space on forms and it's not great repeating myself on a phone call with a dodgy line! However, it is quite a nice merging of two strands of your life. Can you tell I'm a Gemini??
- Keep maiden name for your professional life and take spouse's name for family life where it's easier if you have the same surname as your children. This could be good but also leads to confusion. My mum chose this (Feminist Mum OBE) and I could never remember who to ask for when I phoned her up at work. More amusingly, when we turned up at Buckingham Palace to collect her honour, her OBE is in a different name to her passport causing much drama at palace security!
- Spouse takes your name - just trying to think of a single man I know who has done this. Men seem pretty determined to hang on to their surnames, unless their new wife has something particularly appealing like Greenwood or Ducasse which might be preferable to their own.
- You both go double-barrelled - I think this is becoming a more popular option and is definitely fairer in the double-barrelled stakes than just one partner doing it.
- You blend both your surnames together in a new name - I know one couple who did this and coincidentally their surnames were quite similar anyway so it totally worked. This will potentially lead to confusion in the family tree though as neither of you now share a surname with any of your ancestors but hey, who cares?
What to call the kids:
- Father's name - again, simple, expected. Mother's input is obvious through birth so way of confirming patriarchal lineage.
- Mother's maiden name - just asserting the maternal grandfather's name over the father's name. Seems to happen more often if mother has beautiful surname she wants to preserve.
- Double-barrelled - again cumbersome and simply asserting two patriarchal lineages. Could also lead to generation of epic names. One friend suggested that if her daughter, already wielding a hefty double-barrelled name, decides she wants to add on a future spouse's name, then she will be dragging along a triple-barrelled surname, clearly needing "stabilisers" to remain upright!
- The blended name - creating a whole new family lineage! Or would a new name be created with each new generation? Surely this would cause panic and horror amongst genealogists? But then it is very creative and gives each new generation the opportunity for self-expression.
- Using a female name as a way of linking women. Lots of people do this. My mother's first name, Elizabeth, is my, my sister's and my daughter's middle name. Similarly grandmother's names seem to feature heavily as first or middle names. I think this is an important way of honouring women within the patriarchal system - I wonder how many generations can keep the name "Elizabeth" going in my family?
- Giving one child the mother's maiden name and one child the father's surname. This does totally flout the traditional idea of creating belonging through naming. Personally I find it a step too far as I am eternally trying to create a sense of unity between my children and I think a shared name helps that. In practical terms it could also be a real headache in school or whatever. But then, why let the confines of society limit you? You have the right to give your child the name you feel is right. And it challenges the automatic patriarchal naming system.
Even now, I wonder if I made the right decision with my naming choices for myself and my kids. But I'm really glad I thought about it. Both my children have a name from my side of the family and I like that. Lauren Apfel talks about "excuses" women make - one side of the family cared more, you didn't want to upset anyone or rock the boat, it was easier to go with tradition. Well that's up to you, but if you stand up for yourself in naming, be it naming yourself or your offspring, it may well make it easier to stand up for yourself in other areas of your life which continue to be dominated by patriarchal tradition. After all, your name tells the world who you are.