number of women changing their name after marriage has tripled in the past decade. In 2006, 12,923 women formally changed their names, up from 4020 in 1996. This is one of those subjects that just keeps on keeping on. I received the following email from a MM reader recently and I knew everyone would want to pile in and give their opinions :
Mine is women changing their name and I thought it might be a topic for a post on your site.
I’ll preface this by saying that I have absolutely no problem with women who choose to change their name to their husbands name. I’m a bit old school about everyone doing their own thing, making their own choices and nobody batting an eyelid (even when I heard a woman call out to her son, Rainbow, last week)
It never occurred to me to change my surname when I married. My mother didn’t and neither did four of my five aunties. Its only in hindsight I realise that this was much more difficult for my middle class, catholic, small community mother in the late 70s than I ever realised as a child. I went to a small catholic school where from my (slightly hazy) memory there were no divorced parents and every other mother had the same name as every father. The stupid questions I get must have been even more magnified for my mother.
I have had accountants, bank staff, medicare and other random people repeatedly tell me that I’ve ‘accidentally’ ticked the married box. A quick ‘no that is right, married’ doesn’t cut it when they start to slowly explain to me that I have put my title as “Ms” and there are two surnames. Do these people live under a rock? Did the sexual revolution that happened two decades before I was even born completely pass these people by?
I won’t even start banging on about children. ‘Won’t your children be confused” was the most common question. I desperately wanted to respond “I’m hoping to raise stupid children”, but was too polite and just used to mutter that I managed my whole life with the concept without any trouble. And anyway, if all my kids have to complain to a shrink about when they are 21 is that they had a double-barrelled surname, I reckon we did a pretty good job quite frankly.
People still ask me, five years into marriage whether I might change my mind – or more explicitly – my name.
Which brings me to my beef this week. Why do women in public life who start out keeping their names, change them later, and don’t ever let anyone know.
Hilary Rodham was herself until Bill ran for the Governor’s position. That apparently became some kind of political problem (can’t run Arkansas if you are spending all that time trying to remember your wife’s surname) and she went double barrelled. My potted memory of Bill and Hillary’s time in public life was that she then went double barrelled and then very slowly lost the Rodham, ending up Hilary Clinton by the time she ran for the Democratic nomination for President.
I’ve always been a big Hilary fan and felt disappointed by this. Is it not enough that the woman has to make her hair and clothes ‘people pleasers’ without having to choose a name that least offends?
I’ve always been a bit of a closet fan of Sarah O’Hare/Murdoch. Closet because models married to billionaires aren’t normally high on my people to admire. Sarah always seemed so warm, down to earth and genuinely happy that I developed a soft spot for her. Now again, relying on my memory isn’t a great thing, but I thought she was still Sarah O’Hare well after she got married and was shocked a couple of years ago to see her referred to as Sarah Murdoch. I fired off a complaint letter to the publication (old lady in training over here) and got a response that they had checked that was the name she was using.
Now if I get bored of the stupid questions from Medicare and family friends saying ‘but when you got married, didn’t you want to create a family?’ (personally, I think the curly, red headed toddler is a pretty good indication that yes, a family was on our list), I can only imagine what it is like when your in the public eye.
Which is why I have the utmost respect for our PM’s wife, Therese Rein. That’s right, the clever lady married to Kevin Rudd. I’m not sure if its because the Australian electorate is less ignorant than the Americans or whether after managing to hang onto her name for 55 years it was not negotiable for her, but whatever the reason its wonderful to see.
It seems to me that for very successful women, with equally as successful husbands (and success is often high profile), its easier to start a global empire or appear in the High Court than it is to keep your surname if that’s what they want.”
All my girlfriends in their 40s kept their name when they married. All my friends in their 30s changed theirs. Now I have friends in their late 20s who are getting married and it seems to be a bit of a mix. I didn’t change my name when I got married because as a journalist, your name is your by-line and thus your reputation (and income). I also felt very strongly back then that it was the right thing to do. For me.
As I get older, I feel less strident about all kinds of things and this is one of them. I really think it comes down to personal choice. I also believe you can change your name and still be a feminist. I do. And I respect the decision of women to do either. And sometimes to change their mind down the track, perhaps when they have children. Or get divorced!
Which is an interesting point in itself. Now that the divorce rate is so high (1 in 2? 1 in 3?), are women thinking more carefully before they change their names just in case they have to change them back again? And do you change it back afterwards? I know some divorced women who have and others who haven’t.
Where do you stand on the whole name-changing debate?