Tuesday, 18 September 2007

The accidental feminist

Married, living in the country, basically barefoot and pregnant, relying on her lord and master to bring in the bread - an unlikely proponent of feminism.
And yet I find myself championing the right for women to retain their surnames after marriage should they wish. It is sort of accidental; I did not mean it to happen. In fact I never really thought about it until the day after I got married.
My father-in-law greeted me with the words: “Aah, here comes Mrs ------ junior!” I was horrified, I had completely forgotten to tell everyone that I would not be taking my husband’s surname. To be honest, I had never thought about changing my name anyway.
What a pickle – I looked about me and everyone was beaming beatifically as if I had achieved a great feat – all I had done was get married and yet everyone looked at me as if I had become something new and exotic. I was exactly the same person as I was the day before.For the rest of the day I was slightly lost for words and the enormity of what had happened with those six silly little words gradually sunk in. Society expected something from me that I was unable to give.
At first, I let it ride. I still had my job where I continued using my own surname – changing it would only cause confusion, and besides my husband’s surname was far too long. It is triple barrelled, totals 15 letters when used fully and is definitely not Anglo Saxon.
But as time went on I did get annoyed about it. However, I did not change my passport, banking details, tax details or any other form of documentation. It was not needed and after a while I found out, quite by accident, that there was no legal requirement for me to do so. It is just custom.
But going against a custom, means taking on society and causes much hurt and heartache. My family and indeed my husband’s family were horrified. They could just about swallow the idea that I needed to keep my own name for ‘professional’ reasons but that I wanted to keep my own name was an anathema.
What shocked me more though was the attitude of friends. Especially girlfriends. Only the other day I was presented to some new people. I had briefly met one of them for a fleeting moment at a drinks do some 10 months previously. I introduced myself using my own name to be immediately contradicted by my hostess who said: “Oh, you will know her better as Mrs ------!”
I was furious and said without hesitation that I did not use my husband’s surname and pointed out that I never had. There was an uncomfortable silence. It was rather drawn out before conversation resumed again with me being studiously ignored. In order to maintain relations I had to apologise and suffer a lecture on how inconvenient I was.
But that just about sums up the problem, society does not like inconvenience. Me keeping and using my own name is inconvenient. I mean how do you introduce people with different surnames? What do you say to ones children? It’s so terribly embarrassing…So now I have to make a stand. I don’t want to, I am not good at it and quite honestly I am rather scared. But all I would like is to be respected for who I am and that does include my right to be called by whatever name I choose. My husband has no trouble with it – so why should society?

15 comments:

Pondside said...

Why indeed? It's your business. In the province of Quebec it is actually the law that women keep their birth name - been that was since the 80's, so children all have parents with different names. For a woman or man to take the spouse's name costs $$s and is on the same basis of any other change of name.

lampworkbeader said...

Tattie, one of my biggest regrets is that I didn't keep my birth name when I married. It's a name that means a lot to me. I'm happily married and have been for years. I guess you could also call me one of the original feminists, but it never occured to me not to change my name.My battle was the right to be called Ms instead of Mrs. I was even taken aside at work and warned that using Ms would jepodise my promotion chances!

Suffolkmum said...

So agree with you. I'm the opposite though - always fiercely believed in the principle of keeping my own name, always swore I would - but secretly always hated my maiden name, which I always had to spell for people, and married a man with a surname I much preferred and went better with my first name! So, being shallow, my principles died a death! One of my closest freinds is continuallly referred to as 'Mrs - ', even though she has never changed her name, and it drives her mad, in this day and age. I have to confess though, that I do quite like having the same surname as the children - although there's no reason why they should have the father's rather than the mother's name ....

Milla said...

It didn't cross my mind not to change my name although now I am saddled with CCC and my writing is very angular and uppy downy and doesn't suit Cs (you can see what a large part principles play in my life!) I don't see it for one minute as being owned by my husband. I was also pleased to be getting a more normal surname than my old one which people never could spell, despite it being fairly straightforward (just unusual), plus I gabble so had to repeat everything a hundred times. But my "new" surname is STILL spelt wrong all the time by people trying to insert a y for an i. Tedious. Was surprised to find recently that my mother has never "liked" her married surname since too soft. It's where I get my principles from. I never react to Mrs anything much, not feeling like a Mrs type of person. But, anyway, completely your business and not your in-laws!

Potty Mummy said...

Dear Tattie Weasle, I totally agree with the name change thing. I stuck it out with my maiden name all through the first few years of marriage - partly, I must say, to piss off my in-laws (what a shocking thing to admit) - but then caved after Boy #2 arrived and realised that both children would have their Dad's name and not mine when we travelled. For some reason that got to me - but then so do puppies on tv these days...

On the Ms issue, I leave you with this; aged 14 I was off on my first international solo trip and having heard of this new-fangled 'Ms' thing, thought I would label all my luggage accordingly. My mother spotted it before I left and made me change all the labels back, because, she said 'Only a certain type of woman calls herself Ms'.
I aspired to be one ever after...

Hannah Velten said...

What an interesting blog! I have an unusual surname and one which will die out in my side of the family (if my brother is not found, and doesn't have children) so I feel fiercely proud of it - I would always be Velten for professional reasons now, but if my boyfriend and I were to get married how would that leave me? Hum....we could be double-barrelled, I guess; although Velten-Sherriffs would be a bu**er to have to spell out all the time. I think that the crunch would come if we had children as I would like us to all have the same surname...so would that be Sherriffs - probably...that's kind of sad...better not get married and save us all a load of bother!
Mootia x

Posie Rosie said...

It seems to be so 'expected' doesn't it. I remember getting back of honeymoon and paying for something in a local shop, a lady who always gacve me frosty stares and had never spoken to me before, suddenly looked at the cheque, and then at me, before saying accusingly 'you aren't changing your name then'...I was I just hadn't got round to telling the bank. Automatically I was introduced to my class as Mrs ...., no one ever asked, just presumed. Now I was changing my name but did find all of the assumptions a bit much.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

I agree you should be able to keep your name! I changed mine, but the one i had before had some bad memories (that makes me sound mysterious!). Does it make it tricky with children's names? I've never understood why the children should have the father's name? All very patriarchal and outdated..
Pigx

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

Berludy good for you . . .with you all the way. It never occured to me that I needn't change my name so I did. But I don't wear a wedding ring. I have one but it irritated my finger and hand . . any rings do cheap, or not . . .so I don't wear them . . that has been frowned on. HS doesn't wear a ring either, but we aren't anyless married . . .and neither are you. And as you say your husband is ahppy for you to keep your birth name - so POKE anyone who complains IN THE EYE . . .

Frog in the Field said...

Don't beat yourself up so much. First Blackberries, now your name? It's your name for you to do as you and your husband choose. If other people have a problem with it, tough.
I have a friend who tossed a coin with her husband to see whose surname each children would have, she won both times and her husband has to constantly explain himself!

@themill said...

No-one's business but your own. I was quite happy to change my surname, but then I never had a high powered job that relied on my maiden name.
But please tell me in the ways of etiquette - how does one address a letter to a married couple with two different surnames. I'm never quite sure how I should do it!

Tattie Weasle said...

How to address people with different surnames - I usually go for the: John X and Sarah Y therefore not using Mr or Mrs. My sister just drops the surname altogether; my Mum ignores it, my bank accepts both especially if it is money coming in, the tax office uses numers and passports are only interested if you look/sound foreign!and I just answer to everything!

LittleBrownDog said...

A thought-provoking blog in many ways, Tattie (the mind boggles at a triple-barrelled name which is difficult to spell - is your husband Austro-Hungarian aristocracy or something?) I thoroughly agree with you on principle about the right not to change, although my family are all a bit batty and I was keen to distance myself from them as much as possible, so how shallow am I? One added convenience of having the same name is not having to explain who's mum you are at school and at the doctor's surgery, which many of my friends find themselves repeatedly doing. I have a friend who has a different name to her partner, and has given her children another different surname. I think it's totally up to the person in question and would not dream of making a judgment on someone's choice to take their husband's name or not.

countrymousie said...

Just found this Tattie - here in Suffolk it will be a shock to fooks!! What am I now to do I wonder if I divorce - I quite like my name - I quite like my maiden name - its all a puzzle.

elizabethm said...

This one really spoke to me tattie. I changed my name unthinkingly when i married my first husband but when i came to remarry I didnt have the luxury of not knowing what was going on. In the end I chose to keep my first husband's name so as to have the same name as my children. Thought it was not a big deal at all, neither my children's father not my husband minded at all and I thought they were the only ones with a stake. Astonished at how much aggro it brings with it. children now left home, married to Ian for far longer than my first husband, but now just feel like this name. This is the name I have been an adult by, had children by, achieved in work terms with. some times wish now I didn't seem to be making a statement because invisibility is desirable but probably wont change again now.

Go on you know you want to...

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