When I first started thinking about the ‘name change’ issue – whether or not women and children should adopt their husband/father’s surname – I thought it was a simple matter of personal choice and nothing more. But that opinion’s changed over the past six years.
My wife (Reservoir Mum) has kept her own surname. It was a very simple ‘matter of fact’ decision that we were comfortable with way before we were married. But then I think back to how we decided what name our children would adopt. There really was no discussion about it. I was very adamant they’d be named after me and Reservoir Mum was very quick to be okay with it.
Why did I feel so strongly about it? And why was Reservoir Mum so blasé?
I’ve heard many men say that there is no choice in the matter; their wives and children will take their name – no hyphen, no name combinations, no discussion – and they will scream and pout and fall to pieces if they don’t get their way. I understand the way they feel. Many of us are trapped in a long history of social conditioning. Serious thought is put aside on many gender related issues because we inherit the ideals of our parents and grandparents. Even in these modern times the meaning of manhood and womanhood is still fixed and limiting.
And I keep coming back to the main reason women take on their husband’s surname; because it’s traditional. Sounds very nice, doesn’t it? But the tradition is as warming in its origins as the tradition of slavery – the ownership of women being passed from one man to another. It comes from a time when women were seen as second class citizens, were denied basic rights and even considered genetically inferior to men.
But times have changed. Modern couples should be able to take a more flexible and fair approach in their decision making, free from the assumption of gender roles.
I’d like to think that if Reservoir Mum and I started again that I’d be more open about our children’s surnames but to be honest I would still struggle with it. I don’t like that about myself.
There’s still a level of inequality that makes pure choice unavailable to many people and I feel that, in many cases, there may be more coercion and relenting to social pressure in a woman’s decision to take on her husband’s surname.
When we see just as many men taking on women’s surnames, more name combinations, even some new surnames appearing, we’ll have a clear indication that gender role pressure is no longer impacting on the decision.
Have you kept your name or do you intend to? What about your own mother?