THE BLOG

Why Changing My Name Shouldn't Be the Marital Norm

18/12/2015 11:11 GMT | Updated 17/12/2016 10:12 GMT

I'm deeply fascinated with the expectation that as a woman I should change my surname when I get married. I believe in choice. I believe that you should do as you wish but I do not believe that I should have to change my name because that is what tradition dictates. After all, even change is a tradition.

My interest is intensified because, like a soldier or football player, I am addressed by a large number of people by my last name. In fact, for all the people that call me by my first, Rachael, there are more that call me by my last, which as you may notice from the byline, is Bridge. Furthermore, there are those that call me Bridge and still don't know my first name. Then there are the nicknames spawned from that nickname: Bridgey, Bridget, and the latest one, affectionate but ridiculous, Pidge. For a grown woman to have a nickname grip harder than the fluffy fold-over clinging to Donald Trump's head, this is unusual.

I have always felt a ferocious loyalty to "Bridge", even before I was given this nickname. It courses through my DNA and reveals itself in my personality, in my behaviour, and in my sense of humour: a Bridge shows their affection for others by taking the mickey. So that's why when a friend shared a news piece about six Japanese women in court fighting to keep their birth names after marriage, and not succeeding, it strongly resonated. They have to choose between their personal identities, who they have been their whole life, and making a legal, loving promise to their partner.

The tradition of changing your last name when you marry isn't a customary practice in all countries but one that is deeply held by the majority of English-speaking nations. It is, as described by Cardiff University lecturer, Dr. Sophie Coulombeau, "a specifically English phenomenon" which "would make me first and foremost a wife". What would happen if I changed my name to my partner's surname Judd? Would I be "Judd" now and no longer be called Bridge? Or would I just be "Rachael Judd" and Bridge would leave the equation? Or would I be "Bridge Judd" and no Rachael? Who would I be? Where would Pidge go?

When British colonists descended on Canada their attempts to "civilise" the Indigenous people included forcing them to have new anglicised, Christian names. In native tradition people often had just one name but by way of forced assimilation they were given two English names: a step towards cultural genocide. When African slaves were brought to the U.S. part of their ownership included slave masters giving them an English first name and no last name. This not only devalued the person to a possessed piece of property, it also denied these individuals their African heritage. When slaves were finally freed choosing a name was one of the first truly autonomous decisions they could make for themselves. For transgender men and transgender women choosing a name is an important and positive decision towards a unity of self and inner peace. The small progressions occurring for the trans community makes this 15th century tradition of marital name change feel all the more archaic.

The unique thread that binds these issues is control. Control through assumption and expected tradition; autonomous control and control through outright ownership - which is what the tradition of marriage essentially was. The wife didn't need her last name as she couldn't vote, couldn't buy property, couldn't be anything but move from one man's ownership (her father) to another (her husband).

While bobbing around Facebook I noticed that the majority of my married British friends had changed their names and the majority of my married Canadian friends kept their last name. Perhaps merely coincidence but was this a reflection of liberal progression in Canada and the antiquated system of tradition and class we continue to uphold in the UK? I'm not sure but I asked a number of these friends why they chose to keep or change their names. From one friend who simply loves her name, to another whose mother and aunties didn't change theirs, to another who wanted to reflect the loving unity that she had with her family, there were compelling answers from all. Even how this would affect one professionally was sensibly explained, "Maintain contact with your connections, keep your LinkedIn profile updated and your new name will stick".

There is no correct answer: it's an individual choice that best suits the needs of that person and that couple. There are many factors to be considered. I think of my (future) children; an echo of us both. They are no more a "Judd" than they are a "Bridge". We are still individuals but in the course of our relationship we've become a little bit of each other, too, and maybe our wedded name will reflect that.