Perhaps one of my biggest flaws (a laundry list that includes a tendency toward hedonism and also being disorganised) is that I am susceptible to the idea that life is a trajectory of trying to better yourself. That everything will improve if only I could reach that goal or lose that weight or buy that thing. That I could somehow be better and that the opportunity to do so was just around the corner.
So of course when I got married last year the thought occurred to me that I could change my name and thus change myself. Perhaps Annie Brown will be more confident than Annie Stevens, I speculated. Perhaps she will write saucy romance novels and not be afraid of small talk at parties and suddenly start liking dogs. I would probably be, I thought idly, as I went about planning my wedding, an entirely different person once I was married.
Of course I was wrong.
It turns out that just like trying on a wedding dress doesn’t magically make you look like Carolyn Bessette Kennedy in that slip dress, changing your name after you get married does not really leave you a changed woman. Just a woman with a hellish amount of personal admin to do and a tendency to stare blankly when someone says “hello Mrs Brown.” Oh that’s me now, I’ll say after a beat. Still the same, still trying to be different. Decidedly happy to be part of a team with my beloved husband. A man who didn’t much mind whether I changed my name, but I think is pleased that I did.
The thing about changing your name when you get married is that you can’t really win. It is of course now terribly old fashioned to change your name after getting hitched. Especially when you are a feminist who has read all of the articles about women not being the property of men and about not losing your identity, and what about all that work that you did under a different name? I probably wrote some articles about how women shouldn’t change their names when they get married, and of course one pleasing thing about having a new name is that I can pretend that I didn’t.
You either keep the name that (in most cases) came from your father or you take your husband’s. A lot of women do, 80 per cent in fact, according to new research. And up to 96 per cent of children are given their father’s name. Most men do not want to take their wife’s name, or at least that is according to a study conducted by Men’s Health magazine.
It is romantic to take your husband’s name, I think, but I understand why the thought of it gets under people’s skin and why so many people don’t think that you should.
I asked my husband if he would have taken my name when we got married and he puzzled it over and said that he probably wouldn’t. I think he suspected me to rage about the inequality of it all, but I didn’t. Hmm, I said.
Because I have realised something as I have gotten older and it’s that you need to cut people some slack. That the older I get, the less I care. Not in an apathetic sense. More in a way that I’ve realised that people are fallible and life can sometimes disappoint you. Most of the time, we’re all doing our best. Or if we’re not, that might be OK too. I forgive people easier. I try not to judge as much as I might have done.
My husband was there when my sister died too young of cancer, he’s been my biggest cheerleader, he said in front of everybody that we love that he wanted to marry me. He cried when we said our vows. Does it matter that he wouldn’t take my name? Not really. Not in the scheme of things.
I could go on about changing your name after marriage being a “personal choice,” but nothing really is – the personal being political. And I could ask, ‘but does it really matter?’ Not changing my name would still be a token nod to unshackling from the patriarchy, there’s so much more work to be done.
I often return to something that author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said of her love of make-up for British Vogue, “I think that for a while I just thought that I couldn’t possibly wear the lipstick I wanted to wear because I felt that I would be judged. I think that changed just with getting older, getting more comfortable in my own skin, and realising that life is so damn short. There is just no point in living life based on what you imagine people expect.”
And so I changed my name, and I also realised that I can’t change who I am. Not really. And another thing about getting a bit older is that you get a bit more comfortable with that too.