The Patriarchy and Me – or as Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?”

by Lauren Norbury

‘So what will your new name be when you’re married? Mrs…?’

The question is invariably asked whenever someone new finds out that Adrian and I finally got engaged. Now, I absolutely love how people are so keen to share in our joy, and I do love having a good gossip about the wedding and honeymoon planning.

But I loathe that question.

There’s some big assumptions that go along with that question, and the first is that I am automatically going to change my surname because my partner and I have formalized our relationship.

By formalize, I mean sign a form and have a party.

Rustic Wedding Seat Signs

We’ve lived together for five years. We own three stereos, an expensive couch, two dogs, and far too many penguin paperbacks together. We regularly sign rental agreements and other such important forms as a couple. I also thoroughly enjoy a party, and can’t wait for my 30th shenanigans next month.

Celebrating our relationship with our favourite people is going to be awesome. But in terms of its significance, I certainly don’t feel the need to suddenly change my surname as a result. Do I feel the need to drink champagne? Yes. Wear a sparkly dress? Yes. Dance inappropriately with my girlfriends to BonJovi? Absolutely. Fill out a form that changes the name I’ve always gone by? Um, no thanks.

Of course, I get the question, ‘but what about your children?’ and again, I think this has some big assumptions linked to it. We are not getting married in order to have kids. (We most likely will, eventually, and knowing us it will probably be entirely unplanned, but whether we are married or not is irrelevant. Actually, we were talking about kids a couple of years back, and I had always assumed we’d have kids before we were married, so moot point.)

When we do have kids, they’ll probably have my partner’s name, but this doesn’t bother me as much – they’ll forge their own identity with whatever names we give them.

What does taking on my husband’s name mean to me? It means that I fall in with a patriarchal system, where my identity is determined by my relationship to a man. I am labelled with his name. It’s a throwback to a time when women were given away by their fathers, like any other possession, to be owned by their new husband. Might as well throw in a few head of cattle as part of the dowry as well.

Antique Wedding Bands

People tell me times have changed, and it’s silly to think that my husband ‘owns’ me. If times have changed, it should be okay for me not to change my name.

I’m a pretty headstrong and independent person. I like who I am (most of the time) and I’m happy with how I’ve built my career, and the name under which I’ve built it. My year 12s have what I think is a fairly affectionate, albeit daggy, nickname for me (based on my surname) and I am incredibly proud of the family I have come from, the parents whose name I carry.

When I started to google this issue on the internet, I got pretty frustrated. There were forums that called women like me ‘selfish’, that decried me for ‘disrupting and undermining the family unit’, that said I would be perceived at a ‘stepmother and not a biological mother’, that my husband would be ‘sharing’ his name with me, and it’s just as difficult for him (did not understand this argument AT ALL), that I am showing a ‘lack of commitment’, that I am a ‘feminist lib communist’… One even questioned, “Why get married if you are only interested in yourself in the first place?”

I’m getting married because I love my partner, and we intend on spending the rest of our lives together. To find someone you love that much is exciting, and we want to celebrate that on a special day with our friends and family.

My surname has nothing to do with my marriage.

So, the patriarchy and me don’t exactly get along and I’m fine with that.

X

Lauren

Adrian’s (typically brief) thoughts on this – “It doesn’t bother me. There is no way I’m changing my surname to  Lauren’s; I could never demand someone do something I would never do.”