Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mrs. Something-or-other

When my parents got married, they both kept their last names. And my sister and I – in the true spirit of the seventies – were given both names. For a couple that got married 35 years ago, this was very forward thinking  and more than once it has caused just a tiny bit of confusion. The lovely hostess at the campsite in Austria, where I spent most of my childhood summers, always referred to my mom as Mrs. ‘my-dad’s-name’. This caused a great deal of puzzlement in my little head back then, because – dude, that’s not her name! As a child I obviously thought that everybody’s parents had different last names, and – again, obviously – as a product of your parents, you had both names. Made complete sense to me. Well, it didn’t make sense to the very traditional folks in southern Austria. Then, several years later, when I spent my junior year of high school in the lovely town of Andalusia, Alabama, I found myself explaining the whole name thing again – except this time it was triggered by some horrified Baptist kid asking »So are your parents not married?«      
Now, while my last names have always caused confusion, my first name is in a somewhat different category – in fact, it is the single most common name among Danish women in my age group and I share it with roughly 40.000 other ladies in Denmark. So while I lived in Denmark, my last names were a way of standing out, distinguishing myself from the other 39.999 women. Having moved to England about 2 years ago, my first name is now equally confusing to people, but that’s a different story.
Anyway, what I’m trying to tell you here is that I’m pretty attached to my last names. And now I’m getting married. Do you see where I’m going with this? All my life, I have been adamant about not changing my name – ever. But now that it’s actually happening, I am actually getting married to the man (in exactly 2 months and 5 days, not that I’m counting…), it looks like I’ve changed my mind. Not completely, mind you – I’m not taking his name. But now that we’re going from boyfriend and girlfriend to husband and wife, my stomach is telling me that I would actually like us to be Mr. and Mrs. ‘the-same-name’. So we’re discussing possible combinations of our names – we do have four of them altogether, so it should be possible to find something that isn’t completely jarring.
Interestingly enough, this is a subject that most people have an opinion on. And when I look at my married friends and acquaintances, only a handful of women have chosen the traditional route of completely discarding their own name and taking their husband’s instead. Several have just kept their own names, while quite a few women have added their husband’s name to their own – assuming they only had one name to begin with, obviously. A few chosen men have taken their wife’s name – and while my parents may have been ahead of the curve in the seventies, this is apparently still extremely forward thinking in 2013. And to be honest, that brings out my inner feminist – why should it be less natural for a man to take his wife’s name, than the other way around? If her name is simply prettier, or more unusual, it makes complete sense to me. On the other hand, I have a friend whose last name involves the word c*ck – unsurprisingly, she is more than happy to give up her name in favour of her future husband’s. My point is, that there seems to be a never-ending number of solutions to this issue and in this day and age I simply don’t understand why one should be more acceptable than the other.
And how does the man feel about this topic? Well, his initial reaction when I suggested combining our names to form a, hopefully somewhat pleasant-sounding, unit, shows how well he knows me – he was shocked that it was even an option! So we’re approaching this whole name-changing business in a very democratic way – we have both been able to veto something (a name, a specific combination, a certain order) and we both have to make a strong case for our favourites. The discussions are ongoing and hopefully we’ll be able to find the perfect solution before the 18th of May. And then – welcome to the world of Mr. and Mrs. Hyphenated and Double-Barrelled!    

PS. Some very clever people have written about this subject recently – Jill Filipovic in The Guardian and William MacAskill on Quartz.