Arlene Hunt. There you go, that’s it. That’s the name I’ve had for nearly 38 years. It’s on my passport, my driving license, my books, my mortgage paper work, oh, and my birth cert. Suffice to say it is as much a part of my identity as my grey eyes and my height.
So much a part of my identity is it that when I got married I kept my name. It wasn’t a big decision, there was no major discussion, I never thought to take Andrew’s name, he never expected me to do so. I’m me, he is he, together we are we, but individual wees * .
It comes then as something of a surprise to me that in 2010 the keeping of one’s own name might cause an eyebrow raise. I have caused some confusion. Why did I not take his name when we became man and wife? Was he ‘okay’ with this? ( no, really) What if we have children? What will they be called** And my personal favourite, ‘why get married at all if you’re going to keep your own name?’ ***
I might point out that my husband’s family never subjected me to this kind of questioning, nor my own family for that matter, rather it seems the unease exists in people who are in no way connected to me on a personal level, and thus it makes me ponder all the more why my surname should trouble them so unduly.
I like my surname. It is the same surname my daughter has, I use it professionally. But all of those reasons pale in comparison to the real reason I am still Arlene Hunt, and that is because I find the notion of trading in my name for another to be old-fashioned and frankly not something I would care to do.
I get that for some people marriage is the start of a new life and new family, but Andrew and I lived together for many years before marriage, keeping happily our names while sharing a life. Once the rings were exchanged neither of us gave any real thought to the politics of a name change. He was still him, I was still me, our we had a more legal basis, but still much the same.
A friend recently told me that her husband would have been grievously hurt had she not changed her name after marriage. It might even have been a deal breaker. I said ‘I see.’ And I did see, but part of me also thought, well why did it have to be you who capitulated. Why not him? What if you had been hurt about the loss of your name? Oh that’s right, it was expected that she would change, after all there is the small matter of that great sleeping dog, tradition. Let it lay slumbering.
Anyway, far be it for me to disparage any woman’s decision. If she was happy to change her name for the sake of peace and quiet so be it. Also many women actively want to change their names to create a new family/identity. I did not. There ought to be room for all of us, without the raised eyebrows and the quick reach for the fainting couch upon learning that the sleeping dog just had its tail trod on.
If I may borrow Shakespeare for a neat little ending,
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
* yes I know how that sounds.
** Dear lord if I discovered I was pregnant names would be the very least of my concerns.
***er tax? Love? Tax?