Kathryn Underwood was always last to be called in the school register. I’m not sure why it bothered me so much that I was stuck on the end every time, but it did. I felt like an outsider and I longed to be all snuggy in the middle with the Matthews’ and the Smiths’ and the Jones’. “It’s OK though”, I justified to myself, “when I get married I’ll never have to be at the end of a register ever again…”
And then I married a Williams.
When I married, keeping my maiden name was something I never even considered. I’m actually a little surprised with myself that this was one of the few traditions that I never thought to rebel against! I’ve personally never felt that taking my husband’s name had anything to do with me being an oppressed woman, and I certainly never felt it was an archaic tradition that made me somehow become my husband’s possession (just as I didn’t even consider that my father wouldn’t walk me down the aisle. I actually felt this was a really special part of our wedding). I know many people do feel this, but me? Nah not so much…
I love that we have the same name and we often joke about being ‘Team Williams’. I never felt particularly tied to my old surname. I didn’t dislike it but it didn’t define me. I defined me. However I think deciding people should call me Kat instead of Kathryn (when I was about 16) was empowering. I chose to be Kat, just as I chose to be a Williams.
However I really started to think about this topic when I received the following email last week. Charlotte has, without a doubt, the coolest surname ever and is unsure of what to do with it when she marries her boy…
Firstly may I say precisely how much I love your blog! Barely a day goes by when I’m not pawing over its beautifully designed pages. Thank you for existing!
Now on to my question. I want to make it clear that I’m not expecting a conclusive answer but I want to discuss this issue with someone objective who will share their opinion without rolling their eyes at me and telling me “that’s just the way it is – get over it!”
My fiancé and I planning to get married in 2014. We already have distinct plans and ideas for the day and wanted to get everything sorted as far in advance as possible so we can use our outstanding creativity to DIY the hell out of many many things. However, one detail we’re still confused about is our names. I have a pretty wonderful surname. My surname is Cloud. It makes me smile every time someone tells me how nice a name that is and it’s always bothered me that I’d have to drop it. I decided I didn’t want to drop it a while ago, but my fiancé won’t take mine. Although his argument isn’t that “it’s not the man’s job to take another name” (I have heard this opinion a lot recently!) it still leaves me wondering what on earth we’re to do. His surname (Fleming) is just a general English surname that a good few people will have. It’s not offensive, but it does become so when coupled with Cloud, so double barrelled is right out.
I then thought about each of us keeping our own surnames. I really don’t like this idea. I do feel that sharing surnames is an important part of being a married couple, and if we don’t share surnames then I won’t feel as married as I could. If we have children, I don’t want them to have a different surname to either of us; I want people to know that they’re ours, not just mine or just his.
I have heard of couples inventing their own surnames in situations like this but I’m quite lost now. I’m not really sure what I want to do and the easiest thing may well be to suck it up and drop my surname. Our families will be expecting it and if he drops his in any way they may feel betrayed. This does remind me though that many marriage traditions exist because a woman was property to be traded, and I don’t want to be branded as the property of his family name. I know that attitude might not fit in nicely within the ideals of someone who values marriage, but I’m full of contradictions!
Is this a situation you’ve come across before? I would appreciate some words of wisdom.
Charlotte Cloud! Yes, she’s right, that is the coolest name ever. It certainly made me smile as I saw it sat there, looking all cute and pretty on the page. Honestly though, I don’t feel well equiped enough to answer her dilemma on my own. My one tiny piece of advice would be that you have to do what’s right for you. In your gut you probably know what the right choice is and just because there are pressures from both camps (to change or not to change) you are the only person who can say what is right or wrong for you. After all it’s no-one’s name but your own!
To name oneself is the first act of both the poet and the revolutionary. When we take away the right to an individual name, we symbolically take away the right to be an individual. Immigration officials did this to refugees; husbands routinely do it to wives. - Erica Jong
Anyway, in order to get a more rounded idea of opinions on this subject, I took to twitter and facebook and asked my wonderful followers to help me out. And oh boy did you! In droves! I had literally hundreds of messages from you all (you can see the ones that were posted directly to facebook here). I wish I could post them all but alas it would equate to the worlds longest blog post so here are just a few of my favourites…