Have you heard about the petition started by journalist Sarah Emily Wild? In the recent local elections, she found out that her surname had been changed to that of her husband’s when they married. Not normally a reason for a petition, the part that cheesed her off was that when they married she specifically ticked the box to keep her own name. The other options being to take his surname or to double-barrel. Annoying but surely not uncommon for home affairs to make a mistake. Why a petition? Relax, I’m not about to get into the legal arguments because qwerky is just not that sort of blog. Besides, I’m still hoping to post this before Blog Monday becomes Blog Monday on a Tuesday and trying to make a legal argument right now will send me down a black brain hole.
Thing is that in SA the default, say if Sarah didn’t tick any option, is for a woman’s name to be changed to that of her husband’s when they marry. The whole story did get me going and start me thinking about women and their married surnames. About what is assumed about you whatever choice you make. I’m sure I’m being too sweeping but it seems to me to be like this: When you choose to be Mrs X it is assumed you are more conservative, more likely to be the “wifely” sort, than your friend Ms Y who boldly keeps her own name. Her own name must be important for some kind of professional reason. Mrs X-Y, it is assumed, just couldn’t make up her bloody mind about the names and so grabbed both.
Maybe these are not assumptions, maybe they are more like stereotypes rooted in my childhood. When I grew up all the women I knew took their husband’s surnames. I don’t know if there were even three options in those days but I suspect that most of the time it had nothing to do with legal requirements. Taking your husband’s name was just how it was done, other than the female doctors who had to keep their names. They were Doctors, not just wives. First time round (yes, there was a short first time round), I kept my maiden name. That’s polite. I was dead set against changing my name, as in “I would change my name under pain of death.” Newly qualified as a lawyer I didn’t yet have a professional reputation to guard, it would’ve been easy to change. But I didn’t want to just be Mrs So-and-So, not just a wife. So I kept my name even though it wasn’t the norm in my neck of the woods.
Fast forward to round two. Surprising both of us I decided to change to my husband’s surname. He wasn’t that keen, I think he liked the idea of me as a Ms. who would still be myself, not just a wife. For me it was entirely sentimental, and for the first time being a Mrs was completely separate from being a wife. I wanted us to be a family and for me that meant me and him and our kids all having the same surname. That it happened to be his name was irrelevant to me. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that not being married or not having the same surname makes you less of a family – that would be an incredibly special kind of stupid. What I’m getting at is that I had a very personal reason for getting married and changing my name, and that doing both was a big friggen deal! The reasons might have been nonsense to someone else but in the end, I should always have been the only one to decide.
So not a legal argument but one nonetheless. Seems kind of obvious that given the significance of changing your name, the bureaucracy should stick to the instructions and the default option should surely be to retain your own name. I too would be properly cross if I was Sarah Emily Wild.
Let me know what you think, I love hearing from you,
PS more on the petition http://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/married-women-petition-over-surname-change-against-will-2056825