Friday, 12 July 2013

naming names

Romeo and Juliet
by Frank Dicksee
What's in a name?  Obviously a name meant a lot to Romeo and Juliet's families. If the poor loves had managed to get married back then, no doubt Juliet would have taken Romeo's name and become a Montague.

But what about if it happened now?  Mrs Juliet Montague?  Stick with Juliet Capulet?  Romeo Capulet?  Mr and Mrs Montague-Capulet?  Capulet-Montague?  Montalet?  Capague?  Smith?

A woman changing her name on marriage is not universal tradition.  Women in lots of countries around the world keep their father's family name on marriage.  Indeed there are sometimes (as in France) laws against changing it (although she may use her husband's name informally).

Even in places where it is tradition, there is a move away from it. Increasing numbers of men are changing their names, and of the couple taking a double-barrelled, or blended name.  And often the couple retain their birth names.  This is especially the case for professional women.

Where women keep their own name on marriage, the children still tend to get the surnames of their fathers.  In Greece, the father has to sign a document to acknowledge his paternity to enable the child to take his surname.  Otherwise the child has the mother's name.  In Spain children are given the double-barreled surnames of both their grandfathers (I'm not sure how that works if their grandfather's are double-barrelled, but I think they get to pick the one they want).

There are people who object to taking the husband's name, because it implies ownership of the woman.  They are right.  It does.  Women were handed over from their father's family to their husbands, usually in exchange for money or riches.  However, if you keep your father's name is that better?  Women are almost universally given men's surnames.  Even in Iceland, where they still use the patronymic system, girls are usually given their father's name (so I would be Cara Tonysdaughter), rather than their mother's.  Maybe this naming for the father's family originated in ensuring paternal responsibility, but surely we can get over that now?

The day I got a new name.
Look!  I was in a church!
I wasn't very happy with the idea of taking my husband's name, but I wanted everyone in my little family to have the same name.  I also wasn't very keen on keeping my father's name.  Nothing against my father, but my familial links felt stronger with my mother's side of the family.  That said I'm afraid it came down to what I liked.  I liked the sound of Cara McKee, and I like the random capital K.  So I went with that name.

After my brother and I had had our first children I heard my brother worrying that as he only had a daughter, if he didn't have a son, he might be the last of his name.  I'm thinking we can none of us know what's going to happen with names from now on.  So much has happened to improve women's situation in the last 100 years in our society, what's going to happen next?  Some people think we should invent new names for women which we can pass down with the mother's DNA, with all children getting a surname of Mumsname-Dadsname or Dadsname-Mumsname.  Whichever suits better.  I've had a think about this and would fancy Lilliesline I think.

If you're married/civil partnered did you take your husband/wife's surname?  Did you consider doing anything else?  If you were making up a surname to pass on down the female line in your family what would it be?

Thanks to Stuff Mom Never Told You for the inspiration for this blog post.  You ladies do a fine podcast.  My thanks.  

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