What’s in a surname anyway?

March 19, 2012

This journey – writing the blog – has made me come to realise many things about how society, and in-turn my family, has raised and shaped me. I’ve reached moments where decisions I want to make for myself, are not as easy to make as I originally thought or simply can’t be made at all because – that’s the way it is.

It’s at these moments that I feel the most ineffectual and helpless – because ‘that’s the way it is’ means it cannot be changed.

Or can it?

This post is just looking at the simple issue of – what’s in a woman’s surname?

Main problem: As I mentioned in my previous post I was Suzie Home Maker, so when I got married I started the usual ‘procedure’ of changing my surname to my husband’s. Now, my parents had two daughters (yes, only token males to create more females in my family *wink*) so our maiden name ‘dies’ with my sister and me; and although she kept our maiden name when she got married – I knew the buck stopped with us.

Before children were even a thought, I kind of broached the subject with Hubby about our kids having my surname. His brother already has two sons that will keep their surname going – so I thought I’d give it a shot. No can do – because that’s the way it is and that was OK.

I remember that when I first signed my ‘new’ name, my sister saw me write it and said, “You’re not changing your name, are you?” and I replied that I didn’t want my (future) children to have a different surname than me.

Well, I don’t know now.

Two years ago, I had to officially change my surname to be able to get a new passport. When I finally got the certificate from Births, Deaths and Marriages with my husband’s surname as my own – I felt a tiny pang of ‘identity loss’ – even though it had been a LONG time since I had been using Hubby’s surname. Silly, I know – I guess it bothered me because it was so official.

It was then that I questioned the future for my daughters (well, all children really). If women are the ones who go through a pregnancy, give birth and are the primary carer for our babes in the early stages – if not until they leave home *wink* – then:

Question #25: Why don’t children carry their mothers’ surname?

1. There’s never a doubt about who the mother is – 2. She is the one who (generally) cares for the child, should the partnership dissolve – 3. Dad could take off – it doesn’t matter, that child will officially carry the father’s surname (unless changed, of course).

I know, I know – What can you do? Right? But it sits wrongly with me.

The reason this post has come up is because I decided I’m writing this blog under my maiden name. Although Hubby understands my reasoning behind it, his initial reaction seemed tinged with offence. I found that so interesting. None of us really seem to give much of a thought to our tradition of someone dropping the surname they’ve had their whole life for another – yet not using his surname on my blog seemed to hurt Hubby a little. But, like I said, he understands why I’m doing it and he never asked me to change my name when we got married – because I just went ahead and did it. Stuck to the tradition.

Funnily enough in my country of birth, Uruguay, (I was 3 months old when I came to Oz), your name stays the same regardless of marriage. You have two surnames – the first being your father’s and the second being your mother’s. That’s pretty cool – you have the same name your whole life. But the country that goes one step further is Spain – it’s like Uruguay, except you can reverse the order of the surnames to mother first and father second, under gender equity law.

We need us some gender equity law happening here! *smile*

Minor issue: Women shouldn’t have to announce whether they’re married or not – Ms should = woman, just as Mr = man.

Sounds fair, right?

But only we can make the minor changes – easily – before they can lead to bigger and better things.

I wonder if it’s a change that married women want…

x

10 Responses to “What’s in a surname anyway?”

  1. Kristie said

    I totally agree. I remember going through many of a debate with my husband about having a joint name but as you can see I lost that arguement. At least at work though I can still identify with who I am without feeling I have lost my established identity. Interesting as there does seem to be a fair few others that have officially changed their names, but are still addressed in their work environment by their maiden name. I cant see any reason to change this even after nearly 12 years of marriage.

    • questionsforwomen said

      I agree, Kristie! My job at the school was the first teaching job I got after I got married. If I had gone back to my old school, I was definitely sticking to my maiden name as it was easier to pronounce – but I just figured I would start the new job with my new name. It’s not a massive big deal – just a niggling issue. Nice to hear from you! x

  2. Sharon said

    Hi Paula my dear! Have been reading your posts….and enjoying them…..(WELL DONE YOU!!!)….however this is the first one I am replying to. (Not really sure why?!?!?) I happily changed my surname when I got married, as it was the done thing nearly 20 years ago….am not sure I would do it now though. It definitely makes it easier for the kids but as women are establishing their careers and vocational identity, I SOOOO get why they choose not to. An interesting/difficult/personal choice!

    • questionsforwomen said

      Helloooo! Yes, I happily did it too – I guess as things change in your life, you start to question what you decided when it was the ‘done thing’. It’s one of those tricky ones that probably won’t ever change. We should have the same name our whole lives, though. I know it sounds silly, but I find it MUCH harder to find old friends because they most probably changed their name when they got married. Thanks for commenting, Sharon! x

  3. MsLJ said

    So many things I to say about this topic. Apologies if it’s a bit all over the place.

    I am unmarried, childless and the youngest of a family of girls. I know that my surname dies with me and it makes me emotional at the thought of it, so I know how you feel.

    I have a friend who, when into a second marriage, was not going to change her name but did, blaming her children. That it was all too hard at school for people to know what to call her. Yet my sister, bless her, never changed her name when she got married. It was her professional name and her hubby, kids, teachers, other parents and the world generally have coped just fine. Sure she gets some mail addressed to Mrs His Surname but it really makes no difference to society carrying on merrily.

    I have been a Ms since as soon as I could be. The Miss thing was just way too girly. I remember, I had a fabulously feminist teacher at school who was a Ms. My mum would ask “Is she divorced? Only divorced women are called Ms”. She wasn’t. She was happily married! I admired her strength to be her own person. Seriously Mum, get with the times, I thought! (yay for being young in the mid 70s). Yet I never saw myself as ‘A Woman!’ I just wanted to be independent.

    I had an ex who grew up with an abusive father who eventually abandoned them. To avoid the continuation of the despised ‘family’ name, his brother legally changed his name to his mother’s maiden name before he married and my my ex took his wife’s maiden name when he married. And this isn’t the first case I’ve heard of this happening. But funny how it takes something horrendous for it to be OK for the men to change but perfectly acceptable for the womenfolk to hand over their personal history/identity at I Do…

    So for me, no one should be expected to have a name that holds little meaning to them or indicates they are beholden to anyone. Women are not chattels to own. If you wish to show a family unity by taking his name that’s OK too but you are right, we do not have to accept that ‘that’s the way it is’. Go with what feels comfortable for you not because it’s always been like that. Sure it might get a bit tougher to join the dots on who’s connected to whom but I’m sure we’ll cope.

    Actually I am astounded why anyone would want to go through the palaver of changing their name. I changed bank accounts lately and the list of people I had to notify just to sort out direct debits etc was a pain in the arse. Changing every piece of documentation? You can keep that!!

    • questionsforwomen said

      Wow – thank you for your stories! They were not all over the place, at all! And you’re right about the guys and changing THEIR name – over something dramatic. The funny thing about all this, is that I’m sure my husband would love it if, through me, my daughters end up keeping their (his) surname when (if) they get married. Probably won’t hear any protests then. Ha! *wink*

  4. lamehousewife said

    ahhh, but “a rose under any other name would smell just as sweet” or something like that…i guess i will put my two cents in…after my husband left us, i decided to keep his surname because he would not let me change their name to my maiden name…i kept it so that i would still be connected to my boys and keep things as simple as possible…his new wife, i think, does not appreciate that at all…thanks for another thoughtful post…

    • questionsforwomen said

      Thank you for sharing. I completely get your reasons for keeping the name – my initial reason was to have the same surname as my kids; for that exact connection.
      That quote is great – it just seems a bummer that women have yet ANOTHER factor in their lives, that confuses ‘who they are.’

  5. sarah:) said

    i like having the same name as my husband regardless of whether it’s mine or his we’re a new family now… a name’s a name to me… i don’t read so deeply into it 🙂

    • questionsforwomen said

      I agree with you, in that I don’t want to change my name because I love that it’s our ‘team name’ *wink*
      I just found the reaction interesting – to using my maiden name as my pen name. 🙂

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