What’s in a name? A feminist’s right to choose…

When I got married, I joked that the reason why I was adding my husband’s name to the end of mine was because I’m a hoarder and appreciate any opportunity to collect things…

My name… is my name.

That’s just part of the truth. For as long as I can remember I’ve admired the example set by photo-journalist, Jacqueline Bouvier, who went on to become Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and then Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis; abbreviated by the press to “Jackie O”. It appealed to me because I felt that her name captured her cultural identity. As anyone who has lived overseas may relate, when you pick up another language you’re not necessarily replacing the ones you knew before – you accumulate and are broader in experience for it. I felt that her growing name reflected this.

I also like to think that marriage has evolved from being a business transaction where women, animals and slaves took on the surname of their husband/owner. In that same vein, I think that changing a surname is more a reflection of partnership and cultural heritage. I’ve chosen to take on an un-hyphenated double-barrel that I feel references the person I’ve become to date as well as the heritage I’ve now married into. Though when discussing this with my husband, he expressed his thought that I shouldn’t have to change my name even to add on his. He’s the one who felt that replacing surnames was like a loss of identity and adding on was an un-required change. We didn’t updated our Facebook “relationship status” when we started dating, got engaged and hitched; so why did we have to change our names now that we are legally-bound?

Trying to fit it all in.

Last month I celebrated the business chic style of Amal Alamuddin, an internationally-acclaimed human rights barrister who married actor, George Clooney. According to this piece discussing her name change, she will be known as “Amal Alamuddin Clooney” in the press but the website of her employer crashed when they updated her professional name to “Amal Clooney”. The writer of that piece felt that by doing this, Amal was covering up her cultural identity – which I can understand – but on a practical level, imagine picking up the phone and saying “Amal Alamuddin Clooney” everytime! Keeping all of the names can be impractical, it takes longer to say and forms take longer to fill out. Or is the solution that forms need more boxes and we just need to take the time to say all of our names?

For the time being I’m keeping all of my names but then my maiden name is significantly lighter in length than Amal’s. That said these days I answer the phone as “Cheryl” (I find myself pondering whether this is more my identity or a lessening) and while I have changed my name on Facebook, each time I leave a comment on something I practically roll my eyes at the sight of my name – “who is she? Trying to be fancy, using ALL of her names”. Can I ask here, does anyone think that or care? And I have wondered whether I should keep my maiden name for professional use and then my full name for everything else; however in the day and age of social media where these lines are blurred, I find it easier to have the same across all channels…

Who else has done it?

I’ve been meaning to do some research on Hillary Rodham Clinton. She ran for the 2008 Presidential Campaign as “Hillary Clinton” but Wikipedia has her down as Hillary Rodham Clinton. Locally writer/skincare creator, Zoe Foster Blake, is a fellow name-hoarder and although her husband has not officially changed his name; I was tickled by this image he shared on his instagram:

mr zoefoster blake

Image taken from Hamish Blake’s Instagram.

 

What about the kids?

I like that Jackie’s kids were Kennedys. I like that John and Yoko were the Oko Lennons (John had “Ono” added to his middle name via deed poll) and their kids each Lennons. My husband disagrees with me somewhat on this point, arguing that any potential kids should take on my surname too – but to be honest I feel like that’s when it gets confusing for even me. I feel like I’m happy for them to start with their father’s surname and build on from their own heritage from there…

What about death, separation?

I don’t know. My friends who have separated have changed back to “maiden names” but I was interested to read this piece by blogger, Andrea Michelle on her name change. I also know of another great dame who divorced the father of her children, re-married then when that marriage finished; changed back to her previously married name to have consistency with her kids.

If you need to change your name after marriage, here’s the process:

This applies to marriages in Victoria only. Did you sign a pretty Wedding Party certificate on your wedding day? It is NOT a legal document and in order to change your name due to marriage, you will need to apply for a marriage certificate once your celebrant has registered your marriage.

Paperwork for getting married in Victoria:

  1. Notice of Intended Marriage form is completed by the registered celebrant using relevant proof of identification provided by the couple.
  2. On the wedding day: the registered celebrant will get the couple and witnesses to sign the Wedding Party Certificate. It’s pretty but has no legal use. Boo.
  3. Within a few weeks of the wedding day: the celebrant registers the marriage in the Victorian Registry (within BDM-Vic)
  4. After the marriage is registered, Victorians need to present proof of identification (AGAIN!) to apply for the marriage certificate to use for legal purposes like changing one’s surname.
Cheryl Lin Rodsted can't believe the level of duplication in Births, Deaths and Marriages, Victoria (BDM-Vic). Even once the celebrant has registered a marriage in the Victorian Registry (within BDM-Vic), Victorians need to apply for a separate marriage certificate to use for legal purposes like changing one's married name.

Cheryl Lin Rodsted can’t believe the level of duplication in Births, Deaths and Marriages, Victoria (BDM-Vic).

Once you have the legal marriage certificate, you’ll likely want to get your passport and drivers licence changed too. I was interested in the options given by DFAT for passport name changes:

What changes can I make to my family name following marriage?

The bride or the groom may choose one of the following family name options in a passport due to marriage:

    • retain your existing family name; or
    • adopt your spouse’s family name; or
    • adopt a combination of your family name and your spouse’s family name with or without hyphens.

For example if Lisa Smith marries Tom Jones her name after marriage could be;

First name      Family name
Lisa                           Smith
Lisa                           Jones
Lisa                           Smith Jones
Lisa                           Jones Smith
Lisa                           Smith-Jones
Lisa                           Jones-Smith

In Victoria when updating your name and signature on your drivers licence with VicRoads, you only have FOURTEEN (14) days to do it within receiving your legal marriage certificate. Someone had told me that it was one year of getting married!

What did you do with your name? Or what do you plan to do?

I like to think that being a feminist means that we accept whatever people choose to do. So if you took on your partner’s – good for you! Or did you make up your own completely new one?

After writing this piece I’ve come across my articles on the topic of Amal’s choice to change her name. Some of the criticism- particularly in the comments from readers- is pretty harsh. Name-changing (or not name-changing) is an area that shows how harshly women can judge each other – and for what reason? Why can’t we all calm down and respect that we each have the right to do as we want to?

I like hearing about the various ways that women have exercised their choice – like what they wear, it is an expression of identity. I don’t need to be the fashion police or the name one; they don’t need my approval and I think it’s more important that we’re free and exercising our own rights. Nor do I think we actually need to stop talking about name-change. I think it is a fascinating display of character and how we create our own identity; for example Susie Annus who chose to keep her maiden name. However calling other women “pathetic” is unhelpful so can we elevate the conversation to one of Show & Tell rather than mud-slinging? And to that end it’d be great to hear thoughts on what men think on the matter and do as well.

Comments

  1. I love reading other peoples reasons for changing, adding to or keeping their name. Thank you for sharing – after reading what I need to do to change my name maybe being a little lazy has contributed to my decision 😛

  2. I couldn’t WAIT to change my name when I got married. For me, my maiden name was linked to my old life and meeting Dan changed my life, my mindset so massively, that I wanted my new surname to reflect the change. 🙂

    It’s fascinating to hear why/why not women change their names… love that you’re a name hoarder 😉

  3. I think this is a really interesting discussion of a fraught topic, Cheryl. Like Lara, I love the idea of the accumulation of experiences, recognising that life is not static and that experiences change us. I agree that it doesn’t help to call out women who change their names or don’t or hyphenate or don’t. To me the real issue is that this is only a discussion about women (although I acknowledge the shout out to Hamish Blake). Why aren’t people calling out Clooney for not taking Amul’s name? Until we start asking that question, this remains a gendered issue and ultimately that is the reason why I didn’t change my name when I got married.

    • Thanks for your comment Andy- I also tried to capture some of the discussion with my husband but you’re right in that I didn’t include our discussion of how he could change his name which he is open to.
      And I certainly would love to hear from more male BusiChics on the matter.

  4. Love this piece, Cheryl! As someone who is not married, or even close to it, and a self-proclaimed feminist who feels uncomfortable with the old tradition of a woman adopting the name of her husband, and losing her own… these discussions are invaluable and definitely need to be held in a space of non-judgemental exploration and sharing. Mud-slinging is never helpful. People should live and let live. What’s good for one person isn’t good for another and you can never assume you know the reasons behind people’s choices. xx

  5. Well done Chez. I wrote a piece about this when I got married too and it attracted plenty of commentary. In the end, I’ve kept my maiden name, because I didn’t want to feel like I’d been existing in beta until I got married. I’m already a complete person and I thought my existing name fitted me best. That said, I really like way you describe adding to your name as you accumulate experiences, including Tim’s history. I’m quite obsessed with Marcus’ family heritage and I’d love to find a way to formally acknowledge that. Each to their own I say. Isn’t it great that we have the freedom to decide what suits us best! X

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