At the time of writing, it is exactly 295 days until I get married. Which means it’s exactly 295 days until Liv Woodward disappears forever, and someone new steps into her place, all shiny and new (and probably drunk from champagne).
See, despite being an ardent feminist–despite calling bullsh*t on pretty much every patriarchal tradition in existence–in 295 days I will be taking my partner’s name. I will be becoming Mrs. Wright.
Most of my friends are shocked by this. Whilst it’s still the norm for a woman to change her name when she gets married (at least, if she’s marrying a man), my reputation as an angry-shouty feminist means the first question anyone asks me when I tell them I’m engaged is ‘Will you be keeping your surname?’
“Whilst some people feel deep connections to their surnames, to me it’s just a name.”
But, much to the disappointment of people who want me to conform to a specific image of what a feminist looks like, I am not keeping my surname. Or at least, not for legal purposes.
I will remain a Woodward for my writing–mainly because I already have the Twitter handle and the website. Any children I have will also have Woodward as a middle name, because my children probably won’t look anything like me (I’m marrying a man with jet black hair and olive skin–his genes are gonna dominate my pale blonde ones) so they might as well have something linking them to me.
But for everything else? I’ll be a Wright.
It’s not that I don’t like my current surname. I like it just fine. It reminds me of my family, who I love dearly, and it’s unique enough that I rarely meet anyone else with the same name, but common enough that I don’t spend my life spelling it out to people on the telephone. It’s just that it’s not a core part of my identity. Whilst some people feel deep connections to their surnames, to me it is just a name. And really, what’s in a name?
Of course, this is not new or radical or even particularly interesting. Women have been changing their names for centuries, and they will continue to do so until the Glorious Feminist Revolution enslaves all cis men. No, while people who know me are surprised by my decision to change my name, society as a whole looks favourably upon my decision to take on a new identity. Women who refuse to change their name, however, are often looked down upon.
“[My spouse’s] last name is boring… I’m Italian American and feel very fond of my last name. I’m also a feminist and knew I would keep my name for that reason as well,” said Kate.
“When my in-laws found out, they were livid. [His dad] accused me of acting like my family was better than them and asked why we even wanted to bother getting married. Eventually my in-laws came around, but our relationship is very tense. But I don’t regret keeping my name for a second.”
But for many people, this potential conflict is worth it. Names are unique, and for many they carry a deep sense of identity that they can’t bear to part with.
“My parents weren’t married when I was born, so they joined their names to give me ‘Moffat-Wall.’” said Robyn. “They only had two girls, so me and my sister are the only Moffat-Walls in the world. I wouldn’t want to lose that.”
Aimee Leigh felt similarly:
“If I’m honest, [changing my name] felt like giving up the last of myself. Since having children, I’ve felt like I’ve had to give so much to them and my family life. The old, pre-child me barely exists unless I make a point of holding onto her… Changing my name felt like I would lose that last trace of me.”
For others, their names are even more powerful. For Clare, her name is a symbol of her strength of character, and she wouldn’t give it up for the world:
“I hate my name. It signifies my parents’ marriage and the years of emotional pain and stress my father caused until they split up. But I wouldn’t change my name if I got married,” she said.
“It is still my identity, and not something I’m prepared to sacrifice in marriage. I am proud of where I am now and my surname helps me remember that I overcame the trauma of my childhood to become me.”
This is, of course, a dilemma that only applies to women that are marrying men. When two women get married (or, indeed, when two men get married) there’s not much of a protocol. Who should take whose name? Should you create a brand new shared name? Is double-barrelling the only option? When you start looking at the whole issue in this light, it becomes obvious how bizarre the whole concept of changing your name is.
And yet… I’m still looking forward to shedding my Woodward skin and becoming a beautiful Wright butterfly. I’m excited to feel as much a part of my partner’s family as I do my own; and if I’m honest changing my name feels like a symbolic start of a whole new chapter of my life.
Plus, I get to be Mrs (Always) Wright. What’s not to love about that?