Morning Coffee Feminism: It’s my name

On the way back from gym, I parked the car at the top of the driveway and got out to collect the mail. Water bill – no problem – misdirected mail – uh huh – and what’s this?

On the front of the envelope, I see this arrangement of details:

[Husband’s name] and Kate [Husband’s surname]

[address]

A wave of frustration hits me. I open the envelope and find out it’s a Christmas message from our estate agent. Since they are the agency that sold us our house, they should have an excessive amount of detail concerning our identities (and, at one point, our financial situation).

Just in case you aren’t aware or haven’t picked up on this, I did not change my name when I got married. I saw no reason to do so. It is my name. I feel very strongly that marriage did not change my identity and so there was no reason to change the label. Other people feel differently, and that is perfectly fine. Some women – and men – like to change their names so their family feels like more of a unit, and that is entirely fair. Some women find the change of name romantic, or enjoy the tradition for whatever reason, and that’s their choice. Some don’t like it, but give in to social pressure, thinking they would like to have the same surname as their child (although there is no legal requirement that a child’s surname match its father’s). That last one is, I think, a real problem; not the idea that someone would cave to social pressure, but that the social pressure exists in the first place.

Changing my name seemed like a lot of work for no real reward, and involved the sacrifice of my own name, of which I am very fond and to which I am quite attached.

If a telemarketing company calls and I answer the phone and they refer to me as “Mrs [husband’s surname]”, I hang up. Sometimes I will do them the courtesy of informing them that this is not my name, and maybe they should do their goddamn research next time, and you know what? Even if it were my name, I prefer “Ms” (whether I am married is really not the business of a telemarketer) or “Dr” (because I freaking earned it).

I can’t say this strongly enough. It’s my goddamn name.

I did not keep the agency’s little fridge magnet calendar or their brochure. They went into the appropriate disposal receptacles before I even backed down the driveway.

Yet, these people actually have the information about me, and my name. My name is on the loan documents, the applications, and queries. It’s all over it; and yet they were too lazy to check. I don’t care how many of these things they send out; getting someone’s name right is actually quite important.

You might think I’m overreacting, but identity, particularly an identity you have chosen, is important. I didn’t choose my name, but I chose to hold onto it.

If this happened to men – if someone assumed, just per social tradition, that they had changed to their wife’s surname – that would be considered insulting (or humorous, or both). If it happened to women who got married and went to all the trouble of changing their name (or the few men who do this also), it would be once again considered insulting, and no doubt frustrating considering the amount of detail-changing involved.

I publish papers under that name. Should I ever get a novel out, I’ll publish that under that name also. I apply for jobs and grants under that name. That’s the name I have on ResearchGate, on Facebook, on LinkedIn (alright, I haven’t updated that last one in a very long time).

It is my name.

It is not a whim. It is not a minor thing.

I am not “Mrs Husband”, for fuck’s sake. I could have chosen to be, but I specifically chose not to.

I think I will be calling the estate agent. They will probably think I’m overreacting, but that’s not their call either.

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2 thoughts on “Morning Coffee Feminism: It’s my name

  1. I used to get (ir)rationally angry when I got letters addressed to Miss [Old Name]. I was never Miss [Old Name]. Ever. I went straight from being Miss [Older Name] to Ms [Old Name] when I changed my surname at 18. I remember changing my name and going “You know what, they don’t need to know if I am married or not that is STUPID” and I ticked “Ms” on everything from then on because I never intended to change my name again regardless of whether I got married or not (but then I did anyway).

    But yeah… it’s your name. You WROTE IT ON THE FORM. Why is anyone making guesses about any part of it!? IF YOU AREN’T SURE YOU CAN LOOK IT UP.

  2. It’s a very individual decision what you (and anyone) does with their own name after marriage. I’ve heard of people minting a whole new “couple” surname in the past, and I’ve heard of men changing their names and then there’s the joint hyphenation route that we went down.

    I am hopeful that in the future there won’t be a cultural “default”, although it will take time. Stupid patriarchy. I also know that the presence of a “default” makes any decision you make seem like a protest of some kind, which it isn’t.

    Stupid patriarchy.

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