What's in a name? Our name is something parents give a lot of consideration to and field questions about before we are born. It's one of the first things we are taught, one of the first words we try to say and one of the first words we learn to write.
Our name becomes a key identifier. Most of us can't imagine changing it, we wonder what on earth we'd even change it to. I once told a friend she suited Kelly, inspired by the TV show 90210. She told me I suited Amanda, which was the name of her at-the-time irritating little sister. Not a fair swap.
Surnames indicate which family, tribe or clan you are from, and can tell a lot about you. Largely gender neutral, they can indicate your origins, family structure, class hierarchy, and can open or close doors for you. Surnames create familial ties and make it clear that you are a unit.
With some of our married friends falling victim to divorce and some young friends on their way to the altar, it got me wondering what the feeling is these days about women taking another surname? And, furthermore, how people feel about keeping the name of a family they no longer wish to be a part of? Do women ever really identify as a part of their husband's family?
My musings were nudged along by recently reading about some NRL and AFL ex-wives who, despite leaving abusive and unsatisfactory marriages, chose to keep their husband's surname. What was interesting was the amount of comments bagging these ladies for not reverting back to their maiden names - as if a surname is merely on loan irrespective of the length of marriage, definitely not a part of relationship property, and is something to be given back if things don't work out.
For guidance, I consulted a friend with a thriving family law business who also happens to be thrice married. Including her maiden name, there are four possible surnames floating around her household. It's something I discovered is not dissimilar to other women in blended families and can present a logistical headache. As testament to her capacity for paperwork, or perhaps a great PA, she has changed her name three times, a master of reinvention, somewhat like Madonna.
It's not surprising that women who marry later and who have a successful professional life are more in favour of keeping their own surname, perhaps adopting their husband's in a private capacity so that when they have children they are identified as one. No matter how successful and independent a woman is, it's natural to want to identify with our children, which in itself is the number one reason why women will retain the surname of their children.
When looking for trends to substantiate my findings, of course millennials keep us all guessing, oscillating between thinking that wedding rings and taking someone's name is grossly sexist and repulsively backwards, pouring scorn on every one of us who has done it, yet just as many hanker for tradition and want to do things the way their parents did. At least the first time around. I especially don't like the reported micro trend of combining surnames into an entirely new one, a civilian's version of Bennifer or Brangelina, only far more difficult to pronounce and spell.
So, what's in a name? A little or a lot, it seems, depends which way the wind is blowing, how we are feeling and how much admin we are prepared to do. What a great prerogative we get to have.