A rose by any other name
I remember when we were choosing names for each of our two children that the sense of responsibility and the burden of ‘getting it right’ weighed rather heavily on me. I did not find it fun at all, and there was this blasted six-week deadline to register the wee bairn, and by that time you needed to know what you were going to call them. With the second one we changed our minds at the last minute, i.e., when he was five weeks and six days old. A friend of my mother’s had even knitted him a little jumper with the rejected name embroidered on it.
I much preferred the concept of calling the baby a somewhat silly and non-gender-specific name such as ‘Piglet’ and deciding over several months what name might suit him or her. Some friends of ours did name their child something sensible, but we all referred to her as ‘the Weed’ for at least her first year, because that is what they actually called her.
I was delighted to find out that in traditional Native American culture, a child was given a name at birth, but often took another at adolescence as their personality developed. This could extend into adulthood, so an individual could have several different names in the course of a lifetime.
And names are very powerful things. They are our identity. Some cultures keep names secret from outsiders, in the belief that by giving away a name you are also giving away power.
For married women of course, it’s not just a question of their first name – there is the whole issue around the surname, because it’s really not that long since a woman passed from being the property of her father to being the property of her husband, which included taking his surname. And until fairly recently the wife would be referred to as ‘Mrs John Smith’, for example. My mother-in-law sometimes sent my birthday cards addressed to Mrs (first name of husband) (surname of husband).
Today, even in the most apparently equitable relationships, and I am of course referring to heterosexual ones for the purposes of this blog, once marriage is on the agenda, most brides-to-be are likely to be asked if they are going to change their name. Nobody asks the husband-in-waiting this question, but why not in an age of economic, social and gender equality? If, of course, that is what we have…
Well this dame did change her surname when she married, and kept it following her divorce until the time when the FH informed me he was remarrying. I got up the next morning and started the name-changing process to revert to my original or ‘maiden’ name. Reader, I can tell you this is not something for the faint-hearted. Forget just changing your passport or bank account: I had to contact some 50 separate institutions: financial, legal, retail, social media, DVLA, the Land Registry, gym and club memberships etc. etc. I do not intend to marry my partner, but if for some unforeseeable reason we do, there will be no further change of name. I don’t think I could cope.
If only we had used the Spanish system where each child at birth is given a first name and two surnames, i.e. those of both parents. Traditionally, the surname led with the father’s but nowadays the parents decide between them. Problem solved.
And lest you still think it appropriate for the wife to take her husband’s surname, be warned by the decision faced by a friend of one of the dames: her future spouse’s second name was Twaddle.
I rest my case.