herald

Saturday 20 September 2014

The bridal name game

IT seems I am now of the age when marriage is on the table. Not my own -- in fact, the thoughts of a wedding are enough to bring me out in a rash -- but a lot of my peers have begun walking down the aisle. As such, the topic of weddings and husbands is prominent, and as I'm not a woman who's been imagining her nuptials since the age of seven, it's interesting to see how other women react to the thoughts of impending wifedom.

SOME are traditional, some are anti-establishment, most are romantic. However, something that's come up again and again, and caused controversy on all fronts, is the debate over taking their husband-to-be's surname.

Dawn Porter married Roscommon-born actor Chris O'Dowd earlier this year and, as yet, has not taken her husband's surname.



Confesses

As she writes in Glamour magazine, the English writer has instead just taken the O', becoming Dawn O'Porter. Many of her friends and family don't understand her decision, but Dawn is loathe to part with her name. The O' is a start and Chris is fine with whatever she decides, but she confesses that while she has the deed poll forms on her desk, she hasn't yet made her new compound name legal.

She wants to be part and parcel of her husband's life and family, but conceding her own name and in her mind, her identity, feels that bit too much. I for one understand her situation. She's not the only one -- Amy Huberman didn't change her surname to O'Driscoll after she married Irish rugby hero Brian two years ago. Hollywood star Jennifer Garner didn't take the name Affleck even after she exchanged vows with Ben.

I've been with my boyfriend for six years. We live together, have two dogs together and share our lives in every way. However, I am strong-willed when it comes to my views on marriage and babies. While I love the idea of being his wife and know it will happen someday (unless he really, really annoys me), I'm not what you'd call traditional. I'm not dying for a ring, nor do I relish the idea of dress shopping, and you wouldn't catch me wearing L-plates on a hen do.

However, one thing I am certain about; when Eoin and I do get around to tying the knot, I won't be taking his name. It's nothing to do with him, but me -- I wouldn't do it for any man, even it would make me Vicki Gosling, or Vicki DiCaprio. Thanks, Leo, but no thanks.

There are many reasons, besides the obvious one -- I love my name. It's a tad unusual thanks to my father's Italian background. It's snappy, it rolls off the tongue; it's a journalist's name, and it fits with who I am personally and professionally. It's memorable, which helps in my line of work and there aren't many people who have it in Ireland, or the world.

Like Dawn, my name is a big part of who I am and, if it were to change, I know I would have an existential crisis. I asked my mother why she changed her name to Notaro when she got married -- because it was cool and unusual, because it was the done thing, because she wanted her offspring to have the same name? "All of the above," was her response. "Plus in the olden days (the, er, early 1980s) you had to." Ah, how times have changed.

I'm also an only child. It would mean a lot to my dad if I carried the family name forward and it would also mean a lot to me.

Anyone who's ever had to explain their ethnic origins to a stranger, or had to spell their name 12 times for the girl on the phone at the tax office will know what I mean. Besides, my feminist leanings come in to play. I know at this point it's far more a case of tradition than subjugation, but it still smacks of inequality.



COURTESY

There's nothing wrong with my boyfriend's name either. It's solid, Irish, short and inoffensive. However, it's just not me. Just as I wouldn't expect him to become Eoin Notaro (although he should want to, it's pretty cool), he affords me the same courtesy.

I talked to a cross-section of women that I know in their 20s and 30s and they support my theory. My best friend, Nadia (26), who is single, has a very unusual Moroccan surname and while she isn't against changing it on principle, she feels it would have to be a very special last name to trump her own. Ciara (28), who is in a long-term relationship is straight and firm on the subject, as she is in life -- "I would change my name, because I'm a traditionalist and I think it's part of marriage, especially if we're having children."

She may be on the opposite end of the spectrum to me, but her beliefs are just as unshakeable. Another couple of friends have been together for eight years. Both are traditional, but the guy trumps the girl for old-fashioned values.

A few years ago, when talk of marriage first started rumbling, he told her in no uncertain terms that her not taking his surname was a deal-breaker. I was shocked at first, but I guess it's him in a nutshell -- he knows what's important to him.

"I don't mind changing my name, I would do it," says Julie (26). "Yes, it's traditional and maybe not necessary, but at the same time it's a union and a huge commitment, so why not? When children come into the picture it's a great sense of family, everyone with the same name."

Many women feel the same, that the shedding of your maiden name and adopting your husband's is all a part of the sacrament and commitment you're making. I see the point, but as I won't be getting married in a church, I guess I'm not into that view of marriage.

Perhaps another reason why I'm determined not to change my name is because I'm doubtful I'll have children. Never say never, of course, but it's not in our plans. I'm not thinking of our potential unborn kids being saddled with a different surname, but, now you mention it, I wouldn't mind. Any children I may have will be bonded to me by much more than a name.



traditional

A friend of mine recently got married and the day itself was as picturesque as can be. A match made in heaven, this couple agree on pretty much everything -- except the bride's name going forward.

She, like me, has an impressive Italian surname, one she is loathe to give up.

"I haven't changed my name yet -- I'm just avoiding the issue to be honest!" says Stella (30). "I love my name, what it represents and it's pretty cool! My husband is very traditional, though, and it's really important to him that I change it. Mostly he's thinking of the future when we have kids. I will eventually change it, although I'll use my own name professionally. I just need more time to mourn the loss of mine."

I think Stella hit the nail on the head there, in that many women are expected to change their name without a second thought, when grieving for the single girl you left behind is an important part of the process.

I don't know many guys who would shed their name, so we should assume the same of the female contingent. I admire men like the actor Aaron Johnson, who recently 'merged' with his wife Sam Taylor-Wood to become the Taylor-Johnsons.

In an ideal world, all men would be as modern and all of our names would match beautifully. Until then, I urge women to stick to their guns, whatever direction that may take them in.

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