The name game is increasingly a touchy subject especially as women get more assertive and more educated. Most brides say ‘I do’ in a flurry of lace, confetti and glee and a name change ‘naturally’ follows. Many a time, it’s not a decision, in this society there are no options. It’s just a sequel to the vows, a hardwired imperative. It starts long before the nuptials, or even before the decision to get hitched.
Society speaks it to you early enough that your current name is only temporary by virtue of being female. It asserts that your male siblings will ‘carry on the family name’ as it goes without saying that someday you’ll be married off and enveloped by another family.
So it’s seared in your psyche over the years, and with marriage, a name change is imminent if not inevitable. In fact, gifts and cards at the wedding are addressed to the new ‘Mr and Mrs’. Like it’s default.
But what’s the big deal? What’s in a name?
In truth, it might be a bit hard to swallow, to change the most obvious marker of your identity, especially now that women marry later, and live most of their adult lives with their maiden names. Some women see it as a vile obliteration of their identity and distinct self, and these are everyday women, not bra-burning second wave feminists. It becomes even more of a dilemma if you have made a name for yourself and might even be professionally damaging to change it.
While some might feel women holding on to their maiden names is a fad, something dernier cri, that’s not the case. Ever since Lucy Stone refused a name change in the 1850s, many women have stood up to question this hitherto unchallenged tradition which in their opinion defies equity principles and the ethos of equality (women who keep their names are called stoners).
Methinks the argument is moot as the names they so tenaciously hold on to belong to men, to their fathers and grandfathers.
However, proponents of post-nuptial name change proffer some arguments. One reason is constructing a unique, new cohesive family unit. Although family is not defined solely by a name but by shared values and a shared life, one identifying factor of a family is a shared last name. Cheesy as this might sound; it’s a ‘team name’. Most often, this is the reason, not the Neanderthal perspective that a name change depicts ‘ownership’ by the husband.
For the self-assured modern bride quite a few options exist; keep your last name, take his, make your last name a middle name (Khloe Kardashian Odom style), hyphenate both (Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala style), or the enlightened compromise of creating a new family name altogether (yeah, people do that) although nuptial portmanteaus are still unheard of in our society.
And who says you can’t joggle. You can be Mrs-someone at church or your kids’ school yet retain your maiden name at work as is common with women in media or academia.
Only for the sake of completeness will I mention the option of husbands taking their wives last names. In Nigeria, needless to say, the man will be branded a spineless ‘woman wrapper’ and the woman dubbed a ‘potion-brewing witch’.
There’s no universal rule to the name game, it’s a conscious decision women have to make. Whatever you choose there will be criticisms, but hold your ground! Taking your spouse’s name does not signal the demise of your independence and keeping yours in no way suggests that you’re not committed to your marriage. It’s much ado about nomenclature. You must choose substance over form.
And be rest assured that your true identity is not in your name, it’s in your mannerisms, your personality, your idiosyncrasies – those little things that make you yourself. What is truly important is determining which elements of marriage and naming are most significant to you and your relationship.
While this might sound like a feminist rant, for yours sincerely it’s a no-brainer. Come August, I will toss my bouquet and my last name (love you daddy). I’d even like a new signature, this time a proper one with an elaborate swirl, not my current irregular signature which makes every banking transaction a nightmare. It’s not giving in to conformity or slipping into a normative societal construct, it’s a conscious decision. And as we ride into the sunset, I’m taking all of him, his heart, his essence, his name.
PS: To all the stoners out there, good luck with uber-moral receptionists when checking into hotels with your husbands, donning your wedding bands.
Photo Credit: ynaija.com
Annette Bazuaye is a Medical practitioner, writer, researcher and UN Millenium development ambassador. She holds a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Benin, and a Master of Science in Global health from the University of Oxford. She is committed to preventive medicine, health literacy and community development.