Sunday 23 October 2016

Sarah Caden: Taking on your husband's name is no longer such a feminist issue

More and more women are opting to change their surname after marriage for the sake of the family, writes Sarah Caden

Sarah Caden

Published 06/12/2015 | 02:30

SEALED WITH A KISS: Jennifer Maguire took her husband’s name, to become Jennifer
Zamparelli, after they wed
SEALED WITH A KISS: Jennifer Maguire took her husband’s name, to become Jennifer Zamparelli, after they wed

There was a time, and not so long ago, when as soon as Jennifer Maguire's July 2014 wedding occurred, her name would have changed. Post would have arrived addressed to Mrs Lau Zamparelli, RTE would have dropped the Maguire without even asking her. Hell, it wasn't so long ago that RTE would have had to drop Jennifer altogether, when the marriage ban was still in place.

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It was practices like these that made taking your husband's name a feminist issue and led to several decades of making a statement by keeping your own. But the tide is turning, albeit by choice rather than by societal force, and Jennifer Maguire is just the latest woman to say she's switching to her married name.

Of course, when it's by choice, you have to explain yourself, and while Jennifer has explained that she did it for her daughter, to create a family name, the trend towards name-changing can seem slightly strategic at other times.

As in, have you heard of anyone lately with a fine and dandy surname switching to something obviously lesser and dull?

There's still a ripple of "ooh, is this unsisterly?" when a woman goes for the married-name option, though.

One article on Maguire's name-change - which became apparent when she changed her identity online - mentioned that she had gone public with the "real" reason for the alteration. As if it was some massive turmoil or multilayered moral dilemma.

Jennifer's motivation for dropping her maiden name was her daughter, Florence, last March.

"I've actually been Zamparelli since I got married," Jennifer explained last week, "but I suppose it takes a while. I filled out a form during the week for Florence and realised I wanted to go the whole hog, so I changed it on Twitter and stuff. I know a lot of people don't do it, but I got my name because my mum took my dad's name and as a family, I wanted us all to have the same surname. I wanted to have the same name as my daughter. I use it in work now too."

When I got married, more than 16 years ago, no one dreamt of changing to their husband's name. The trend was to keep your own name, as a statement that marriage didn't make you an extension of your husband: that you were still yourself and distinct.

And then my generation had kids, and then it got messy.

It's messy at school when your children have a different name to you. Not troublesome, just a bit of a faff. Also, as has happened to me, if you go through passport control without your husband and with a child of a different surname to you, they want you to show a birth cert naming you as their mother.

The answer many people took to the children and school issue has been to go for the double barrel, but let's be honest, Irish names don't lend themselves naturally to it. An Irish double barrel is almost a contradiction in terms.

Traditionally, the double barrel is the preserve of the posh, and traditional Irish surnames are not posh. Murphy-Byrne? O'Toole-O'Reilly? Don't laugh the double O: I've seen it done.

There was good reason for the moving away from the socially obliged taking of one's husband's name. It was hugely symbolic in a time when, as mentioned, you may well have also been obliged to quit work at the same time.

There was a time when changing your name was just one symbol of how the life you had lived, the woman you once were, was now gone. Post came addressed in a way that could see your husband easily think it was for him and open it by mistake; but who would mind, it's not like you had any life distinct from him anyway, right?

At a certain point in time, there was a good feminist statement to be made in sticking with your maiden name.

By now, however, there's room for fluidity. And, as Jennifer Zamparelli says, the idea of a family name isn't such a bad one. It creates a family identity, which is something that matters to children, and it speaks of commitment and continuity.

And it doesn't mean your previous self is gone. And, really, asking him to change his name is over-egging the feminist statement.

As is deciding that your girl-children should take the mother's name, while the boys get the father's. There's making a statement and then there's making a confusing meal of it.

Then again, in these times where we resist any labelling at all, perhaps it's a disservice to lumber our children with either of our surnames from birth. 'Paddy Irishperson' could do, perhaps, until they are of an age to decide on the perfect surname.

Sunday Independent

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