Six Women On Why They Kept Their Name After Marriage (And How Their Family Reacted)

'It’s an intrinsic part of who I am.'

02/06/2017 16:28

For some women, deciding whether or not to change their name after marriage strikes up an internal struggle. For others, it’s barely a decision at all.

Regardless of where you sit on the spectrum, the name you choose should be down to you and you alone, but that probably won’t stop friends, family and colleagues commenting on it - especially if you decide to shirk tradition. 

A Mumsnet thread recently went viral after a woman said her mum objected to her decision to keep her first surname, claiming she wouldn’t have “a real marriage” unless she took her partner’s name.

The thread is a reminder that even in 2017, this is still a contentious issue. Yawn.

In light of this, we spoke to six women who chose to keep their name about how their spouse and wider family reacted to the decision.

Jenny Laville 

Comedy writer, 40.

Jenny Laville

“It never occurred to me to change my name. It’s not my maiden name it’s my name. Why would I change it? 

“My surname is unusual and is a big part of my identity, I have a close family and having a different name would have made me feel less a part of it. I have never thought it is romantic to change your name. Just an inconvenience.

“I am a feminist, but I can’t honestly say that the idea of ‘ownership’ was an issue for me, I don’t think that women who do change their name are less feminist. I just think it is one of those marriage traditions - like wearing white, or being given away - that some people do and some people don’t. I couldn’t think of a single reason why I shouldn’t.

“My husband couldn’t care less, why would he? No one has ever taken issue with me for keeping my name. A couple of people chose to call me by my husband’s name for a couple of years, which I found a bit rude, so I just wouldn’t reply until they used my name, which they now do.”

Pragya Agarwal

Researcher at University of Liverpool and business owner at hedgeandhogprints.com, 40.

Pragya Agarwal

“My name is a huge part of my identity and my family lineage and I did not wish to lose that. I also am an academic with several publications and am known by this name professionally and therefore it did not make sense for me to change it.

“I think it is such an outdated notion for women to change their surnames and as a modern woman and a feminist, it is something that I do not agree with.

“My husband had no issues with it and in fact, he expected it from me that I wouldn’t want to change my maiden name.

“I think a good compromise can be having a double-barrelled surname so it means that your children can have the same double-barrelled surname as yours, otherwise it can become a tricky issue.”

 

Berenice Mulvanny

Barrister, 31.

Berenice Mulvanny

”It seems to be the unwritten rule that all barristers go by their maiden name. Unlike other professions where clients/colleagues are expected to get used to a change in name, it appears as if the Bar, judiciary and the type of clientele I deal with as a criminal barrister are unable to cope with such a change.

“We spend a long time building up a reputation in our maiden names and don’t want to start from scratch. I am plastered across Google for successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully defending or prosecuting some unpleasant crime and a change of name would be very counter-productive to my career development. Besides, my husband’s name is Paul Bigmore and Berenice Mulvanny has a slightly better ring to it than Berenice Bigmore!

“Paul was disappointed and said ‘I’m not happy about it but I understand’. He hopes I will change my mind eventually. The only thing that makes me question my decision and whether I will maintain it is we are now the proud parents of a baby boy and plan to have more in the future.

“Paul loves pointing out that I will have a different name to my children at school. There is also the presumption that people are judging you when you say you have a different surname. I always have to fight to urge to shout ‘I am married to his father you know!’” 

 

Isabelle Demaude-Yau

PR consultant, 27. 

Isabelle Demaude-Yau

“I‘ve always been very attached to my maiden name. It’s unusual and harks back to my French heritage, which I didn’t want to lose touch with. I saw it as a large piece of my identity, and I didn’t see why my identity needed to change because I was getting married.

“Everyone was very supportive of my decision to double-barrel - it’s a good compromise, embracing the coming together of two families. That’s what marriage is after all.

“I absolutely intend to hold on to my maiden name. It encompasses my history, my present and I believe my future. I’m the person I always was and I think double-barrelling is enough to acknowledge that I’m moving forward with someone special by my side.

“On my marriage certificate, driving license and other official documents, I applied to have my name amended. On my passport, however, I made a specific request to be known by both my married double-barrelled name and my maiden name, which I use professionally and in most other circumstances. It’s a relatively simple process, but it did feel like a lot of effort for adding three letters to my name.”  

Lizzy Harley

 Writer and blogger at songofthestitch.com, 30. 

Lizzy Harley

“I don’t remember making a conscious decision to keep my maiden name as I was growing up, I just knew that I wouldn’t ever change it. My mum kept her name after marriage, so for me changing your name wasn’t a big feminist statement so much as one of the many choices you make around marriage, such as where to live, how to manage finances, or what flavour cake to have. A woman could change her name if she wanted to, but it wasn’t mandatory. 

“What I have come to believe very strongly is that whether a woman keeps her name or not is entirely her choice and I would be a pretty rubbish feminist if I didn’t support that choice. Some of my dear friends have changed their names because they wanted to and I fully support them in making that decision. 

“My husband has known me for almost twenty years and has always been my biggest advocate and champion, so he wasn’t surprised in the slightest and has entirely supported my decision. I did (cheekily) suggest that a true demonstration of equality would be for us both to change our names - perhaps a hybrid of the two? - but he wasn’t so keen on that idea. To be fair, our names do not hybridise that well.

“I don’t think my friends and family were surprised at all. I’ve always been quite outspoken about my views and they were all extremely supportive. I occasionally get post addressed to me under my husband’s name, but it’s not unkindly meant.” 

Charlotte McCandlish

Bibliographic data manager, 45. 

Charlotte McCandlish

”It’s not my ‘maiden’ name (such a patriarchal word), it’s one part of the name my parents gave me when I was born so it’s ‘me’. It’s an intrinsic part of who I am, it’s my identity. Our marriage is an equal partnership and I wasn’t going to willingly lose part of my identity just because I’d signed some legal documents. 

“Initially my husband was slightly taken aback – purely because it’s a centuries’-old tradition and he actually hadn’t thought about it. But pretty much immediately he understood and even started a conversation about the possibility of him changing his last name to mine (which I vetoed because he has three children from a previous marriage so changing his last name away from their last name wouldn’t be a wise or nice thing to do). 

“My family didn’t bat an eyelid, probably some of my more traditional extended family were confused by it, but who cares?

“My husband’s family is generally very conservative and they weren’t comfortable about this – I was questioned about it and it was made clear this was unusual, it provoked discussion. Luckily my future stepdaughter has the same first name as me, so I was able to placate them by using that as an excuse: that there was already a Charlotte Ward, so it wouldn’t do to have another one. 

“Kind of ironic that by not making a change, I caused such upset. To be fair to them, they totally accept it now, although one of my sisters-in-law still insists on addressing greetings cards to me as ‘Charlotte Ward’ – part in jest.”

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