Get widget

Friday, March 13, 2015

What's in a name? -- Guest post

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father, and refuse thy name;
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

~ Juliet Capulet, Romeo and Juliet,
Act 2, Scene 2, lines 37-38; 42-53,
William Shakespeare.

She makes a good argument for it, doesn't she? You love someone, and it's a reasonable thing to ask them to surrender their name for you. Their name, that carries with it their history and sense of family honour. It's easy to say that when your two families are at war, and you'd give anything to see their bloodline extinguished anyway. Harder, when it's just the ordinary decision of whether or not to change one's name upon marrying, as I am currently debating.

Those of you who know your Shakespeare may have noticed the lines I deliberately omitted earlier:

Deny thy father, and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

(Ibid, lines 38-40, emphasis mine)

so there's no dispute that she intends this to be a mutual surrendering, although it is interesting that she spends seven times the length of those lines asking him to change his.

So, if Shakespeare is relevant today, is it valid to ask our men to change their names for us? I am hoping it is.

In my particular case, I have a sister but no brothers, no uncles on my Dad's side, my Grandfather is long deceased, and my Dad can't even remember the last time he saw or spoke to his male cousin (whom, I believe, had only daughters anyway). So, in the ordinary course of events, my Dad's surname will be extinguished after this generation, and there will be no one who was close to either him or my Grandfather who will be able to carry it on.

That being said, why shouldn't there be? It is entirely a cultural matter that us ladies surrender our family name and heritage, when our men do not have to do likewise, but, culture can be changed. At least, I personally do not consider cultural reasons by themselves to be enough to continue a tradition, especially one I don't agree with.

And I don't agree with it. I side with Juliet on this issue.

To lay out all of our options:

1) The traditional route, I surrender my name and family history and honour, and take on that of my beloved as if I belonged TO him (rather than, WITH him). The fact that for me, this is socially a climb-down, and I would be surrendering a surname from the English aristocracy for an American one that... isn't, also makes that suggestion unpalatable to me (although I concede that maybe it shouldn't).

2) What's good for the goose is good for the gander: he completely changes his, as, in fact, Romeo himself was eager to do:

I take thee at thy word.
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptiz’d;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
(Ibid, lines 54-56.)

And also:

Juliet: Art thou not Romeo, and a Montague?
Romeo: Neither, fair maid, if either thee dislike.
(Ibid, lines 66-67.)

However, how can I, with fairness, ask my beloved to do something I am not to willing to do? No, this is not an option, not for me.

3) Nothing changes, nobody surrenders anything, we both keep our family names and heritage and just make do having to different names. In many cultures, this is still the norm. I'm not completely against the idea, but to a certain extent, I say, “Well, what's the point of getting married, then? Don't we want to look like we belong to and with each other?” For some paperwork, this actually is the way we will go. For example, I don't see any reason to pay quite a lot of money for a new passport when my current one is only a couple of years old, just because I've got married. I'll just leave it in my current name and travel under that, and then when it runs out, get a new one in my married name, but I personally think it sounds a little cold-hearted that we'd never be introduced by the same name in the flesh.

4) Use the American tradition of adding the maiden name as a second middle name, even though they then go by their husband's surname. To be honest, I can't really see the point of that. If I'm not going to continue to use my surname as my surname, why bother?

5) Hyphenate. Either one or both of us. I'd prefer both. The feminist in me is crying out, begging, that we take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prove to the world that in this marriage, we really do intend to be equal partners. BOTH of us matter. Both of our families, and histories, matter too. We're BOTH changing our identities when we get married, and why shouldn't our name/s reflect that?

My beloved isn't in favour of that, for a few reasons:

a) hyphenated names (apparently) cause issue with automated forms, and such. (Eh. The technology around automated forms was designed by humans, it could therefore also be redesigned, if needed...)

b) which way around would we do it? Personally, I'm a fan of both of us just adding the other's name to the end of our current name, because that points to more equality; we're both doing the same thing. He thinks that's making things unnecessarily messy, which, I have to admit, I don't think is nearly as important as he does. Were we to pick one version over the other, there's also the aesthetics argument: which way looks/sounds better? I'd argue, mine first, because otherwise there's five consonants in a row, which makes it a bit difficult to say, and also, mine's the longer name, so it does sound better that way, but that's another (small) reason he isn't up for it.

c) He – correctly – points out that the process of changing our names will be a hassle. He forgets that I'd have that hassle either way (unless we chose option 3), and thinks we ought to avoid options that create more hassle “for the sake of it”. I think it's for the sake of him showing that he doesn't think he's better than me, but he can't quite connect the dots yet.

d) But what would we name the children?? Aren't we making life intentionally more difficult for them, especially if they then want to do the hyphenating thing themselves?? Well, for starters, we are no where near a firm decision on if there even will be any children, and if we do, by the time they get to marrying, they'll be able to make their own choices about this, but why can't we just cross that bridge when we come to it? Flip a coin or something, to see which one of our names will get passed down?

This decision feels really large to me. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really stand up and be counted, to take a decision that will lead to multiple conversations, and maybe, in a small way, be part of changing the world! To deliberately not take it, I have to admit, does feel... cowardly. And I am not a coward. My own deep-seated family values, which half of this conversation is about, are “be kind, be brave, be fair, be loving.” Brave, and fair, is more important than cowardliness or wanting to make life easier for oneself.

I didn't create this unfair patriarchy, although given the hand I've been dealt, I do feel obliged to play my part in dismantling it.

And yet.

My beloved didn't create it either. How far is it fair to mke him fight this battle, when it's not his personal fault? I love the man, and I want him to be happy. I think that means, not continuing to pressure him about it, even when it frustrates every bone in my body.

I can only influence myself. I can take my choices on, and I will hyphenate my name. He will, in all likelihood, not change his at all, but I will hope and pray that I'm wrong about that. It feels somewhat anti-climatic, but what other choice do I have? As my beloved himself often says, “A good compromise leaves everybody mad, right?” And, of course, in the words of Juliet, our marriage will still smell sweet, regardless of what we end up calling ourselves.


Sarah Fountains

An accountant living in the UK, who's engaged to an accountant living in California. Currently she lodges with/housesits for/nannys for/freeloads from close friends with two extremely boisterous sons. She's been reading parenting advice in books and on the internet as a hobby since she was sixteen, and cares particularly about adoption issues; she's probably also the only voice in the feminist crowd insisting that sexism goes both ways in different circumstances. She loves dancing and sewing, fails at one but not the other, and struggles continually with things that other people refer to as "common sense." Her lifetime ambition is to be organised enough to justify baskets in the refrigerator, and has yet to meet someone who doesn't laugh at it. Most days, though, she still has laundry on the floor. Read about her international adventures at:

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...