Friday, October 15, 2010
Mulling over this topic in the last few days, I’ve come to learn that most people seem to hold very strong convictions regarding the issue of maiden names and whether or not a woman should renounce her surname to adopt her husband’s.
There are women who base their convictions upon solid, feminist ideals; women are marrying much later, building up a professional career attached to their original names and don’t see how a man’s name should have any more importance or significance than their own. Then there are women who nestle in the reverence for tradition, accusing others of being too radical or too sensitive, romantic or nostalgic about the idea of taking their husbands’ surnames and feeling warm and fuzzy about one day seeing their shiny, new names printed elegantly on the front of a wedding invitation.
Asking my male friends of their opinions, I’ve learnt also that there is no lack of men delicate about this issue, considering it to be deeply insulting and claiming that a woman rejecting her husband’s name would be an absolute deal breaker. This comes with little surprise of course; very few men seem to have detached themselves from the primitive fixation with marking just about anything. Climbing the Great Wall earlier this year, I remember watching almost every man in my tour group determinedly scribbling their names on the ancient bricks with thick, black marker pens. One of them, with a good humoured self-awareness, joked that he was waiting for me to turn away so that he could later pee on it. I still don’t doubt today that given the privacy, he might’ve actually done just that.
Today we see various alternatives to the tradition, with some women choosing to use their husbands’ names in their social lives and their maiden names in their professional. Some couples meet halfway and hyphenate their names, while others even blend the two names together to create an entirely new one. Then of course, some women choose to keep their maiden names altogether. However, with all these alternatives arise some very obvious complications, and as for the feminists who passionately argue (and quite understandably) that gender equality cannot be achieved until naming practices are ‘equal’, one cannot help but imagine the conundrums; how can we achieve this in a practical sense?
With separate surnames, there is the dilemma surrounding which one would be given to their children. Blended names not only require a good amount of creativity if your names are something other than Jones or Smithfield, they can also take away the resonance of cultural and ethnic heritage. As for hyphenated names, at which point would you finally stop linking name after name? Imagine a few generations down the track, signing your name on the dotted line only to have it spill right off the page. Our names, whether or not we choose to deny it, play a large role in identifying who we are, but with all the complexities nowadays, would it be so outrageous if we all just changed our names to our first names followed by the digits of our drivers’ licences?
In the end, it just comes down to compromise. At the moment, I plan on keeping my surname, not because of heated feminist ideals but because of how strongly I identify myself as being part of my family. As for the potential complications, I will cross that bridge when I come to it.
*Published in Trespass Magazine, 15 October 2010