And why I’m considering breaking the trend…
Feminism is on the up thanks to global campaigns such as ‘#metoo’, so why is it that many women still change their name (and their identity) when they say, “I do”?
Let’s travel back in history and understand how marriage evolved into what it is today.
In early medieval England, only first names known as “Christian names” were important. These names were given during baptism and were used for differentiation. As certain names became popular, the idea of surnames arose. Women didn’t change their names at this point, it was not until around the ninth century that women became one with their husbands (due to the legalities surrounding marriage).
Surely a law set in the ninth century needs updating? This law was established when purely heterosexual unities were permitted, and the rise of the LGBTQ+ community challenges the archaism further.
Personally, I regard my name as my identity, I have worked hard on what defines me as an individual. The tradition that overnight my identity will change whilst my husband stays with his childhood identity, doesn’t sit well with me.
When I am to consider myself, I instantly think university student with successful employment prospects. Would I still think of me the same way if I carried someone else’s family name? Or would I become a wife before anything else? Before being the me that I’ve crafted over the last 22 years?
By contrast, changing my name would bind my partner and I, and our future family unit. It would simplify what to write on our child’s birth certificate and minimise family-based confusion. A friend once warned me that if I kept my name, I may be accused of kidnapping my child with a different surname when we board a flight together – surely this wouldn’t be the case in the 21st century?!
A study by Dr Rachel Thwaites found that in 2013, 75% of women took their partner’s surname (a decline from 94% in 1994). Apparently, this is due to young women and highly educated women breaking the mould. In 2017, the journal ‘Sex Roles’ found that people perceived marriages (where the woman kept her maiden name) differently to those where the woman took her partner’s surname.
This issue of name changing is of high importance to many, with George Clooney’s wife Amal Alamuddin receiving huge backlash when she declined the Clooney surname. Feminists argue that women’s careers are impacted when they change their names as they are the property of their husband, and hint at pregnancy (and maternity leave, and the staffing/financial issues associated with this).
Others are just not that bothered and choose to abide by tradition. To these people, this issue is very small-scale issue in their lives. The UK allows us to be called anything we please (within legal limits) so is taking a man’s name such an issue when birth names are no longer for life?
There is also the huge administration task of name changing to consider. Modern women are expected to focus on their future, often in the form of their career and also find time to change the details of every account that they ever created over their entire existence. This in itself is enough to put me off changing my name!
Another factor to consider is how men feel about women keeping their maiden name, many perceive that men feel disempowered. They may also face scrutiny from their families who may be very traditional, and not understand the woman’s reasoning.
I believe every woman should make the decision for herself but understand how deep-rooted traditions can be. I have still not decided if I will ever be prepared to lose my identity as Olivia Rostron.