A rose by any other name...
Ask anyone and they will tell you that now is the time for girls to run the world. For the first time ever, we’re staring down the barrel of women running the USA and the United Kingdom at the same time. Women have never been more powerful. Or have they?
We all know that it’s a well-accepted tradition in Australia that when a woman marries, she “assumes” the surname of the lucky man who bagged her. This is a tradition that stems all the way back to a time when a woman “belonged” to her husband, and her husband wanted everyone to know it.
According to internet sources, more than 80% of women are still assuming their husband’s surname upon marriage (and yes, “assuming” is the right word). The same women who are shouting out for equal pay will take on an entirely new identity and they can hardly explain why they want to do it. This internet statistic is corroborated by a quick poll of my recently or soon-to-be married friends and family, with most of the twenty-or-thirty-something women, who have studied and worked for years to carve out professional identities for themselves, ultimately taking their husband’s surname.
Long before meeting Bill and standing dutifully by his side for many years, Hillary Rodham was politically active, driven, and had forged an intimidating professional identity for herself. When she hitched her wagon to Bill’s horse, Hillary Rodham was no longer. If Hillary wins the US election, it’s not going to Hillary Rodham calling the shots, but Hillary Clinton. Hillary has spent most of her life banking on the Clinton name, and no one could argue that it hasn’t helped her to get where she is today. But do you really think that Hillary would have had any less drive, any less thirst for the top job if she had stayed Ms Rodham instead of becoming Mrs Clinton? In the Hillary Rodham parallel universe, Hillary would have made all of the same important contacts through her well placed husband, and she would have worked just as hard to step out from his shadow, when the time was right.
Casual dinner table chat amongst friends turns robust at the mere suggestion that the groom takes on the bride’s name after marriage, even if it means the end of the line for the bride’s family name. So many times I’ve heard “I hope Sally and Bob have a baby boy, it would nice to keep Bob’s family name going”. But what about Sally’s family name? Why do we all just accept that Sally’s name simply cannot continue if Sally doesn’t have a brother who could himself sire a son (who in turn, of course, would carry on the name)? And yes, I know, some people might scoff at use of the word “sire” in a blog written well into the 21st century, but how is falling back on language like this any different to the anachronistic tradition we’re talking about now?
I agree that it’s nice to identify with your kinsmen, your tribe, your people, but I’m not sure why it’s so easily accepted that it needs to be the woman taking on the man’s name. One of the most popular responses when a woman is asked why she has assumed her husband’s surname is “I want my children to have the same surname as me”. But again I ask, why does it have to be your husband’s surname? And what, really, is in the name? I know many well-adjusted and successful human beings who did not share the same surname as their mother or their father.
I understand that the decision to take your groom’s name is, for many people, something that is considered with care, and that each individual ultimately makes the decision that’s right for them – but does it even really matter?
Why are people so quick to make assumptions or comments when a woman exercises her choice not to trot down to Births, Deaths and Marriages and get rid of the name that was given to her at birth? And why would a man’s decision to take his wife’s name be scoffed at by blokes (and ladies) around a dinner table?
Just like a woman and all of her achievements would not simply be erased by her decision to take her husband’s surname name, why should a man be regarded as any less of a man for choosing to make a new tribe with his wife, for choosing to accept that the world is changing, and for choosing to actually help it change?
And then there’s the other conversation we could be having about what happens when the honeymoon is over – if a woman chooses to take on her husband’s moniker and carves out a reputation and identity using her new surname, what happens if the relationship, and her connection to the man and his family, heads south? Don’t even get us started on that …!