Sunday 23 October 2016

What's in a surname?

Would you change your surname to suit your husband, or even society? As broadcaster Mairead Farrell takes her new husband's name, Vicki Notaro asks what it means to take on a new identity

Published 05/06/2015 | 02:30

I do: Broadcaster Mairead Farrell has announced she will take her husband's surname when she ties the knot. Photo: Mark Condren
I do: Broadcaster Mairead Farrell has announced she will take her husband's surname when she ties the knot. Photo: Mark Condren
Rebekah Brooks
Cheryl Cole
Cheryl Cole's Mrs C Tattoo
Dawn O'Porter

When it comes to getting married, there are several big questions that need to be answered. The first is nicely taken care of by the proposal itself, a simple yes or no. Then there are the vows, till death do you part.

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Of course there's the first dance to decide upon, and the honeymoon destination. But there's also another question, mostly applied to women - will you take your husband's surname?

This week, broadcaster Mairead Farrell made headlines when she revealed on Today FM's Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show that when she returns to work as a producer on the programme after her wedding, she will be using a new name.

Mairead, who marries partner Louis Ronan this Friday, will go by the surname Ronan personally and professionally after the nuptials, explaining her decision by saying on the show "I can't be two people."

Her reasoning is an interesting take on the decision all brides face, even more so because this is the second marriage for Mairead - she was previously wed to Eamon Fitzpatrick yet still used her maiden name, at least professionally.

She has made her mark on the radio and television world as a Farrell, but seems to be happy to move on in her career as a Ronan, describing Louis as the 'man of her dreams'.

In modern Ireland, the choice whether or not to take your husband's moniker is a topical one. There's no legal obligation to change your name by deed poll after marriage, and anyone can do so at any time.

However in the past, it was practically a given that a wife would take her husband's name. Nowadays though, many feel that a woman having to adopt a different family name through marriage is old-fashioned and that it's even anti-feminist to discard your own birth name.

In the earlier decades of the 20th century, it mostly came down to tradition, and also a family being under one name in the eyes of the church.

However, when the marriage bar was abolished in 1973 and more women entered the workforce and gained independence (coinciding with the global women's liberation movement), tradition relaxed a little and changing your name has become more of a choice over the following decades

In 2015 it's still a personal choice, or at least one for the couple in question.

Many women take their husband's last name, but use their own one professionally - however, this can indeed result in feeling like two people.

Some women struggle with the transition after the fact, like Niamh Hopkins.

"With all the excitement of the wedding, I changed my name on Facebook to Hopkins-Kelly the morning after. I changed my email in work on my return too, but I couldn't get used to it and found myself never quite able to say it, so I stuck to my maiden name Hopkins when introducing myself and making appointments.

"I then decided to keep that for work, but it's Kelly on Facebook.

"If we have kids I'll definitely give them my husband's name, and maybe in time I'll become a fully fledged Kelly, but as I spend most of my time in work I still feel completely like a Hopkins.

"My husband hated the double barrel and has encouraged me to keep my own name as it's such a part of my identity," added Niamh.

It's a politically charged question, and disagreeing with your intended is a real possibility. For some, the issue can be a near deal-breaker - husbands-to-be offended by any hesitance or reluctance on the bride's part, and fiancees outraged by even an enquiry on their fella's part as to whether a name change is on the cards.

I'm sure it's true vice-versa, and now with same-sex marriage about to be on the books, what are the politics involved there?

For every engaged couple in the country, the question of who takes whose name; is a double barrel likely; or do you just stay as you each are is on the table. What's in a name change?

I'm not engaged, but I'm certain that I won't ever modify my name - I wouldn't even entertain the thought.

Firstly, I have a pretty cool name - Dublin taxi drivers often tell me it sounds like I should be a pop star, singing talent notwithstanding.

More than that though, it's just a massive part of who I am. My identity is tied up in the title given to me at birth.

I always have to spell my surname out for others, answer questions about its origin and laugh at people's attempts to pronounce it (it's Italian and phonetic, just FYI). I'm proud to be a bit unusual, and I think my name makes me stand out.

Practically, it would also be completely pointless to change things like my Twitter handle and Gmail address, or go between two names officially and professionally.

That might sound really silly to some, but as a journalist, my byline is my business and so it shall remain untouched.

Yet I can see the romance in taking your partner's name too. Becoming somebody's wife is such a special thing, adopting your beloved's moniker has a certain beauty to it. It's also a sign that you're in it for life, and part of a new family - although for some people, the latter might be off-putting.

Like me, Jennifer Stevens built a career as a journalist using her birth name, and when it came to getting married, she wasn't going to give it up.

"I didn't change my name for lots of reasons but mainly because it's my name and I'd got all the way into my thirties with it," says Jennifer.

"My husband didn't feel that strongly about it, but it seemed like lots of people did - people who were almost strangers to me had an opinion on the matter.

"At the end of the day I have a career in the media built on Jennifer Stevens and I felt it would be confusing for everyone to change it. That was my official line anyway, but really I just like my name!"

Jennifer has a point - if our names were tricky, we might just be chomping at the bit to change them, like engaged journalist Claire Byrne.

No, not that Claire Byrne.

"The main reason I'm changing my name is probably that I have the most common name in Ireland. There's already a broadcaster, a stylist and a politician with my name and as a journalist myself, you wouldn't believe how many interviewees I've disappointed who were expecting a call from the 'other' Claire Byrne.

"I've never been able to get my actual name online for anything, so I'm already excited to use my new married name email address next year," says Claire.

Danielle McMenamin is getting married this year, and is excited to change her name to Lynch after the big day.

"I believe when we get married we are a team, so changing my surname to my husband-to-be's name reaffirms that fact that we are both a team and a family, I'll be honoured to take the surname."

Similarly for Saidhbh Moore, it was about becoming a new unit.

"I happily changed my name. My kids all have their dad's name and I felt if I had it too it would be the icing on the cake for our family unit. I know my eldest, Sam, loves it. The first time I signed my new name was for his homework journal - he reminded me to write Moore!"

A big part of the debate around name-changing seems to involve children, both those present and wished for.

Sarah Breen got hitched a few months before her daughter arrived a couple of years ago, and didn't think tradition was a good enough reason to change the name she relates to personally and professionally.

"My daughter has my husband's name. It would be nice if we all had the same one but I couldn't curse her with a double barrel and don't care about it enough to ask him to change," says Sarah.

Is it a feminist issue though - are those who choose to take their husband's name going against the sisterhood?

Sarah doesn't think so: "Women are free to change or not."

Therein lies the rub - the entire point of feminism is seeking equality for the sexes, and for women to be able to make their own decisions, traditional or otherwise. So actually, it seems it's more anti-feminist to judge other women for their choices.

Jessica Campbell is still pondering the decision.
"My daughter has Dan's name and he wants me to take his name when we get married in less than a year. It's still under debate.

"I'm struggling at the idea of losing the name I've had my whole life. It's part of my identity in every way."

That said, Jessica grew up with a different surname to some of her family, and feels like it mattered little.

"I have a different surname to my mum and two sisters. It hasn't changed my relationship with any of them. I guess if you think about it it's just a name.

"My partner holds a lot more value to a name than I seem to, but in the same breath I struggle to change mine. It's a tricky one," says Jessica.

Ciara Cosgrove hasn't made any concrete decisions regarding her name, but for now remains as she's always been despite being married.

She says: "I didn't change my name because it felt really strange to all of a sudden be called something else. It just didn't sit right with me, and my husband didn't mind at all - it's no reflection as to how I feel about him.

"Our children will certainly have his surname. I'm not a fan of double barrel names, but whether I'll take the leap then? Time will tell."

Like many marital decisions, this appears to truly be a personal one between each individual couple, with no hard and fast rules anymore. It can be confusing and cause debate, but the answer seems to be to go with your gut, and with your partner's.

Sadly, some marriages end and bring up the whole question once again for much more upsetting reasons, so perhaps we should just take pleasure in the fact that the root of the argument here is love and commitment.

It seems we have left behind the fear that taking your husband or wife's surname somehow means you become less than.

We're doing it for more romantic reasons, and the sake of our families.

Similarly, those who opt to retain their names aren't in fear of being possessed; it's more that they're unwilling to give up a part of their own personal identity.

If all else fails, you could always come up with your own name for your new family unit, like Layla Dartry and her husband Shane.

"We both changed our names. I didn't want to take his and he didn't want to take mine, and mine was already double barreled.

"So we came up with a new one to share."

Who knows? Perhaps the Dartrys have the answer.

Famous faces with changing names

Rebekah Brooks

Originally Rebekah Wade, the former CEO of News International changed her name to Brooks when she married writer Charlie in 2009, much to the dismay of many staunch feminists who looked to her as something of a glass-ceiling smasher and champion of womankind.

What seemed to irk the detractors most was the fact that Rebekah hadn't changed her name when she married actor Ross Kemp in the 1990s, yet this time had decided she would. Modern-day feminism allows for women to do what they desire, not what they feel they should - so perhaps news like this would have been better received in 2015 than it was six years ago.

Cheryl Cole

Formerly Cheryl Tweedy, she not only changed her surname when she married footballer Ashley Cole - she got an enormous tattoo that covered the entire back of her neck that read "Mrs C".

When their marriage ended in 2010 she went on to forge an even more high-profile career for herself using his last name still. When asked by The Times last year why she kept her philandering ex's surname and didn't return to Tweedy, she said "That feels like the old me. Old old me. That would be like going backwards another stage, and why would I do that? And it doesn't feel like his name."

Now known as Cheryl Fernandez-Versini since her marriage last summer to Jean Bernard, she goes by just Cheryl for her recording career (and reportedly wants to modify her Mrs C inking).

Dawn O'Porter

When Dawn Porter married Chris O'Dowd, she didn't want to entirely give up her given name, so thought a slight modification was in order.

She saw it as a compromise, writing in Glamour: "I am lucky that I have the option to keep Porter prominent and take a tiny letter that, for me, expresses the unity with my husband that I am proud of."

However she did receive a backlash on Twitter, where she responded: "My full name is now, Dawn Roy-From-The-IT-Crowd O'Porter #easy".

Irish Independent

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