I Do … & I Don’t: A Feminist’s Guide to Being a Bride – Changing Your Name

Can you believe it, our real bride’s penultimate column! We can’t wait to share how Rachel’s Tolkien inspired garden wedding turned out in our next issue, but for now, she’s discussing a topic that pickles every feminist bride’s brain at least once – should you change your name when you marry or not?

People often get my surname wrong. Even though I’ve spent my life spelling it out for people down the phone (‘B – E – Double T – E- S – Worth’), over the years I’ve been Butterworth, Butterscotch and even Battleworth. But, despite the 31 years of typos—and the fact that I often just say ‘Jones’ when making a booking to avoid confusion— Bettesworth is my name. And I’m extremely attached to it.

I always liked coming first or second in the register at school (unlike Kat, who hated coming last and then married a man whose surname was even further down the alphabet than her own! Sorry, Kat!). I like my name’s uniqueness. I like that it connects me to my beloved late Grandpa, to my parents, to my own family tree.

And yet, by the time you read this, I am going to become someone else on paper… because I have chosen to take my husband’s name when we get married.

I find this phrasing so interesting. Traditionally, the bride ‘takes’ the name of her new husband. Not ‘is allocated’ or ‘is given’. She ‘takes’ his name, implying that she had some say in it, when actually it was more to do with the ownership of the woman exchanging from her father to her husband, by name; a non-negotiable component of the transaction of marriage.

For me, the use of the word ‘take’ suggests that the ‘she’ in question gains something. But what? And, in turn— because where there is gain there tends to be loss— what is ‘he’ losing? He holds onto his own name, his prior identity, while she becomes someone else. What is that implying; that before becoming someone’s wife she was without meaning; that her years as a Miss are irrelevant now she is a Mrs?

And excuse me, his title doesn’t even change. From now on, each time she introduces herself to someone new it comes with a relationship status notification. Roughly translated, ‘Hi, I’m Mrs So-and-So’, means, ‘Hi, I’m married’. His introduction is ambiguous; it doesn’t matter either way whether he is married or not, while she is defined by her status as a married woman from the start. Is that not oppressive? Is that not the covert patriarchy chip-chip-chipping away?

Whatever your gender and whoever you’re marrying— whether you’re changing your name or not— like so many wedding traditions, we have to admit: the origin of this one is sticky. Right?

Obviously, nowadays and in the developed world, there can be a freedom in the name-change that didn’t used to exist. I have friends who couldn’t wait to change their names, simply because they preferred the look and sound of their spouse’s name, which is an entirely valid reason. I have friends who delayed the name change, but then double-barreled once they had a child; another valid reason (apparently, it makes things easier in airports when an adult travelling with a child shares their surname. I can’t help but wonder which end of the gender spectrum came up with that little incentive.)

I have married friends who have no intention of ever changing their surname. Also, entirely valid. I have a friend who uses her own surname professionally and her married surname personally. She actually regrets this decision now and wishes she had changed everything, which I find interesting, but this too is a perfectly acceptable choice to make.

I don’t yet know of any hetero couples who got married and the man took his new wife’s surname, but I’m sure it’s happening somewhere, and it’s totally valid. I do however know of a couple who recently tied their names together and made a new one, which is a great idea. I’m actually hoping that if my Best Man, Alistair Hardy, and his boyfriend, Alistair Slaughter, get married one day, they’ll mash up their surnames and both become Mr. Alistair Laugh-Hard.

Three days before my fiancé and I matched on Hinge in January 2019, a friend and I were talking about marriage. She asked me if I would ever change my name. ‘Possibly,’ I replied. ‘But it would have to be a really amazing name if I did’. A week later I was on my first date with Mr. H Darwin… Charles actual Darwin’s great great great grandson. Hmm. Maybe the universe is the one who should change its name to Laugh-Hard.

H is the only male in his branch of the Darwin family tree to carry on the name, which feels quite significant to us both. If we have children, they will be the 4x great grandchildren of the person responsible for proving and publishing the theory of evolution. It’s a weird concept— and also completely irrelevant in many ways, because where you came from does not/should not define where you’re heading — but it also feels hopeful to me somehow; a reminder that, with enough determination and hard work, one person truly can incite change that helps humankind develop, and grow… and, dare I say it, evolve.

I’m not one to champion the conveniently vague, catch-all term of ‘choice feminism’, so I don’t have much interest in justifying my choice as a distinctly feminist choice purely because I am a woman and I chose it. But after 18 months of forensic contemplation, with full support of my fiancé either way, I have decided to change my name to Rachel Darwin when I marry H next month. Not because he owns me. Not because of the ancestry thing. But for very personal reasons which, like all those listed above, are entirely valid. I just hope I no longer have to spell my name out and still end up with something incorrect at the end of it. Honestly, that should be reason enough for anyone!

ABOUT RACHEL

Rachel is a writer, singer and singing teacher. She has performed in vintage and swing wedding bands since 2015. Rachel lives in South West London, where she is currently writing her debut novel. You can find Rachel on Instagram via her brand spanking new handle @rachelbdarwin

This article originally appeared in issue 41 of Rock n Roll Bride magazine. You can purchase the latest copy here, or why not subscribe to never miss an issue?

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