Anthea McTeirnan: I do take thy surname . . . Hang on a second, no I bloody don’t

Broadside: Why, in 2015, are so many women still dropping their own surnames when they get married?

Amal Alamuddin ditched her own surname to become a Clooney. Photograph: Mike Coppola/Getty

Amal Alamuddin ditched her own surname to become a Clooney. Photograph: Mike Coppola/Getty

 

It was “take that, Ronan Keating, but hello, George Clooney” this year as two women said “I don’t”, and then “I do”, to two famous men.

Yvonne Connolly, as she once was and forever shall be (I hope), ditched her married name of Keating, while Amal Alamuddin ditched her single name and became a Clooney. However many cups of coffee George Clooney makes you, would you change your name for him?

Maybe this is not an easy question to answer, but goodness knows how the matrimonial discussion between the top human-rights lawyer and the actor went. “Now that the tables at airport security have turned and they are turning up the heat on a whole new demographic,” Clooney might have said, “I think it would be really cool if you ditched your majestic Arabic name for my Irish moniker.”

“I do, George, I do,” Amal might have answered.

An insider told British magazine Grazia that “a lot of people wondered if Amal would take George’s name because she’s such a strong, successful woman in her own right. But it’s precisely because she’s so secure in her own position that she’s not precious about her surname. She loves George and is proud to be his wife. Why hide that?”

Oh please.

If you’ve read the New York Times lately, you might think the feminist tide is turning. You might think that in spite of signing up to the quaint, archaic institution of heterosexual marriage, women are standing proud at the altar and keeping their own names. According to a survey, 20 per cent of women have kept their own names in recent years, a significant increase on the 14 per cent of women who did so in the 1980s. That means, however, that 80 per cent of woman there took their husbands’ names on getting married.

The Irish situation

It’s similar here. Sarah Geraghty interviews couples about their weddings for The Irish Times Magazine. In most couples she talks to, the woman takes the man’s name.

“I think it is sensitive for a lot of people, but it jumps out at you. I noticed that as soon as the wedding was done and dusted, the name a woman was using to email me changed.”

One woman asked Geraghty not to write about her changing her name because she “didn’t want to be criticised for it.”

Listen

The whole thing is a quaint conundrum. So why are women still doing it? “I think that some people like the idea,” Geraghty says. “They’re totally in the throes of the ‘honeymoon period’.”

It’s a little bit traditional, a little bit wrapped up in the all-consuming love affair and a little bit weird. Ladies, this is 2015.

Geraghty will not be changing her name (although she might reconsider for Daniel Craig), but many of her friends have done it.

Fortunately, the question does not arise in the same way when it comes to civil marriage, where anything goes now and everyone can do it their own way. Your tradition is what you make it.

Even in situations where the bride has flagged her intended name switcheroo, the overnight change in her Facebook status can sometimes be done with what seems like indecent haste, straight after the wedding and before the blue garter has even left her thigh.

Remember when we embraced the term “Ms”, as it showed that we women have a place in the world that is not linked to a man?

Changing your name can be a wonderful tool to signal to the world how you want to present your gender. It is, however, a lousy instrument to assert your identity and your basic rights in a partnership with a man. Remember that, technically, women are equal citizens now. (Please note: this is a work in progress.)

Geraghty says that brides tell her they are taking the husband’s name “because we’re a family now”. Even if offspring are only a twinkle in the couple’s eyes, they want their putative family to have the same name, she says. Here’s an idea: give the kids the woman’s name. She will be the one giving birth, after all, so what is the issue with giving them her name?

If the answer is “tradition”, the question is surely “whose tradition?”

It has never been an issue for my sons, who have my name with their dad’s inserted as a middle name. That they have a different last name from their dad hasn’t impeded them.

Different countries have different traditions anyway. In Korea women keep their maiden names, while their children take their husband’s surname. In Italy both spouses also keep their own names. Ditto Greece. We might insist on economic globalisation, but culturally the world is all over the place.

This is one response to a Men’s Health magazine survey on the matter: “One family, one name. If she didn’t take my name, I’d seriously question her faith in us lasting as a couple.” I think many of us would question our faith in lasting in a couple with this man.

The website Mrs2Be.ie advises that, “to avoid upset in the future, let your husband-to-be know your plans and your reasons for your decision [not to switch to his name] as early as possible”.

I would advise you to avoid upset by not marrying the Neanderthal in the first place.

The final word goes to Guardians of the Galaxy actor Zoe Saldana, who not only kept her own name but now shares it with her husband, Marco Perego.

“Why is it so surprising, shocking, eventful that a man would take his wife’s surname? Women have never been asked if it’s okay for them to give up their names. Why doesn’t that make the news?

“Fathers, sons, brothers, men everywhere: your legacy will not perish if you take your partner’s surname, or she keeps hers.”

Amen to that, Zoe.

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