On a cold winter day I sat in the office of the local wedding registrar, excitedly waiting for my appointment to sign the official documents for my upcoming wedding. I had been with my then fiancé for nine years, engaged for two of those and our big day had been meticulously planned, all that remained was to do the official paperwork. Our appointment went without incident until the final moments when I brought up the issue of my surname post nuptials. I explained that I wanted to retain my maiden name and have a double barrelled name, combined with my husband to be. The registrar peered over the tip of her glasses, pursed her lips and shook her head in an almost violent reaction.
“No, I wouldn’t recommend that at all” she discouraged. “So many brides these days choose to do that and come crawling back within weeks, asking me to have it changed… it’s just too much hassle.”
I was dismayed. Along with every other part of my wedding, this had been a decision I’d come to after much thought and knew that I wanted. I had discussed it with my friends, family and fiancé beforehand, weighed up the pro’s and con’s and had set my mind on it but… in the excitement of wedding planning and just wanting to get things going, I relented. I agreed that legally I would take my husbands name but I could chose to be ‘known as’ the double barrelled version I had chosen.
“Much simpler, more traditional” the registrar explained.
My stomach sank a little and I couldn’t help but feel I had gone against my values as I left but I pushed it aside and focused on the positive. I would be marrying the man I loved, who cared what my name was. What’s in a name? Well, a lot as it turns out.
Afterwards, I broached the topic with a friend. I explained my reservations and my regret at having been railroaded into the decision and to my surprise, she agreed with the registrar.
“It’s traditional to take your husbands name, whats the point in getting married if you don’t?” I decided that this particular moment wasn’t one to go into how I was not an object belonging to my husband as soon as I said ‘I do’, that I wouldn’t bend to some old fashioned ideals but I had no argument – I had done it.
On my wedding day however, my surname was the last thing on my mind as weird as that sounds. I was so happy and excited to take this next step in our relationship, to celebrate together and to have all of our friends and family with us as we did. I’ve been married a few years now and my name has never been an issue. Yes, legally my husband and I share a surname but I chose to go by my double barrelled maiden name and married name combination.
I’ve spoken to others to see how they feel on this issue and I truly never realised what a personal one it is. Each one of us have different backgrounds, different ideologies. Some of us have careers in which our names are extremely important and attach us to the work done thus far in our lives, others have personal reasons for wanting to retain their sense of self. Relationship’s are so much more varied and open than they were fifty years ago.
I spoke to two ladies, each had gotten married in the 60’s and 70’s and both conveyed their feeling about the issue that it just never came up. In those days, they were to take their husbands name and that was the end of it, no thought to how they might feel about their own personal identities going forward. That was how it was done. It made me think back to the registrar I had encountered and wondered, what if I’d gotten someone younger that day? What would my legal name have been now?
To get an opinion from others around my age, I spoke to some friends for their opinions on it. One, in a same sex relationship expressed that she and her partner had talked about what their last names would be if they got married, they both felt they would change their surnames to acknowledge their coming together and that they would consider blending them both to create a new surname. Another friend who has children from a previous relationship told me of how she would feel a bit alienated from her children having differing names and for that reason might not even take her husbands name when they marry.
Each person had their own feelings on it, each person their own conclusions. One of my friends put it perfectly, “I think that there can’t be and shouldn’t be one correct answer”.
At the end of the day, none of this matters in the grand scheme of things. Our name is totally arbitrary and doesn’t change anything about our real being. For a woman, her maiden name is representative of her past and present, her whole life up until that point. From birth, through school, first days at school and university, Doctor and dental appointments, this was who she was. It gave her a family connection to her parents and siblings and to have that taken away is a big thing. It is almost like a period of grieving for some people. If you sit reading this as a newly engaged person, eager to marry the love of your life but feeling like you want to keep your surname, do it! If it’s important to you, keep your name. Just because it’s tradition doesn’t mean you have to do it. If you love the idea of sharing your partners name, joining a new family then do it! The decision is yours and yours alone.