family

'When I got married, I took my husband's name. Two years later, I'm changing it.'

Let me start by making a disclaimer: I am aware that discussions about changing your name after marriage are not groundbreaking. I am certainly not the first person to have had detailed discussions before getting married, and I won’t be the last to change my mind during a marriage. Still, I think it’s a worthy conversation for women to continue to have.

When I got married over two years ago, I was in a rush to the altar. I was very keen to make my commitment to my amazing partner and best friend official, and after months of me trying (and failing) not to mention the pending proposal daily, he produced a ring and I said yes. A date, a venue, and a dress were promptly organised. Four months later, we were married.

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I certainly consider myself a feminist, so I did have a fair few discussions about the concept of name-change after marriage. Is it outdated? Is it anti-feminist? Why am I expected to change my name but my partner isn’t expected to change his?

I had conversations with my husband-to-be who heard me out repeatedly, and rightfully challenged me with points such as: ‘where is your line with traditions?’ This hit a nerve: I had wanted and been granted my desire for a traditional proposal from my male counterpart, so what exactly was my point of contention with the surname component?

After several conversations with friends, family and acquaintances (sorry!) I decided I wanted the whole shebang: white dress and surname please. I had several reasons of varying weight, including that I really liked my fiance’s surname and that a change is as good as a holiday. My brother and I were raised by our strong independent mother with whom we have never shared a surname, so I didn’t feel that I was severing any particular sentimental ties there.

There were also a few practical considerations. For one, hyphenation gets lengthy, and not to mention complicated. What would hypothetical future children do when they got married? Will double-barrel surnames turn into quadruple-barrels and so on? The thought was too exhausting. Maybe if I changed it, people would finally stop mispronouncing my surname! Please note, this was an absolute fail: names with a higher consonant than vowel count often don’t roll off the tongue.

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Also, it certainly wasn’t a big part of my childhood but I do remember a few specific occasions where adults in my life asked questions such as “who is Ms _____” and “why does your mother have a different surname?” Truthfully I think I actually regarded this as an interesting point of difference about my mum who has always been a wonder woman, but when trying to find arguments to support a tricky decision, I’m not above grasping at straws!

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It’s been two years since our wedding, and since all the paperwork that allowed me to get my fun new surname – which had been intended as a symbol of unity with my husband. Now, we have a beautiful one-year-old daughter.

But.

I want her to know the world is her oyster, and she can be anything and everything she wants to be. And that got me thinking: have I made an error here?

Logically I know that my surname does not define me. I believe that we are all allowed to choose who we are on a daily basis, and what we want to be called is just one part of that. I certainly don’t want to pass judgement on any person’s decision to change their name before, during or after marriage, or for any other reason. But for me, raising this wonderful little girl has made me reconsider my own decision.

I want my daughter to know that we are made up of a whole lifetime of experiences, including all of the memories I made before I married my wonderful partner and her amazing dad. I reserve the right to change my mind, and I want my daughter to know she’s allowed to choose her own way and change her mind, too. I completely acknowledge that a notion as literal as changing your surname to reflect your identity isn’t for everyone, but for me it feels important.

Call me sentimental, and you’d be right! That’s why, two years into a really wonderful marriage and partnership, in a beautiful little family of three, I’m going solo on the lengthy route: introducing Ms Petra McLean-Wintzloff!

Petra McLean-Wintzloff is a Queenslander currently living in Melbourne with her husband and their daughter, Olive. She is a speech pathologist, musician, aspiring greenie and bread enthusiast.

What are your thoughts on changing your surname after marriage? Let us know in a comment below.

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