Monday, 9 January 2012

say my name, say my name

(When no one is around you)

(Apologies Beyonce and Destiny's Child; this has become the theme tune of this internal feminist battle.)

A LastName is soon to become A SomeoneElse.  I know the name change debate is a bit old and tired but now that it's moved from theoretical to actual for me I've become a bit obsessed.  I've been terrible at expressing it to P, so externalising it here will be therapy du jour.  The Internetsy: My New Psychologist (I would say you're a cheap shrink internets, but BT is rorting me something chronic for the pleasure).  The ramblings expressed as 'views' below are mine and mine alone and apply to me personally, not the debate at large.   

My childhood romanticism focussed around getting together with Prince Charming (sweeping off feet, reciting poetry yadayada); not marrying him, probably a result of I growing up on a marginally confusing diet of 'Girls Can Do Anything!' and 'Find the Man of Your Dreams!' literature, together with seeing de facto and married relationships that were both functional and dysfunctional.  Hence, getting married is a big step for me; I didn't think I wanted or needed it.  

I don't believe that marriage will change my relationship with P.  When we were considering getting married to formalise our relationship for immigration reasons (grrrrr….a whole 'nother rant, stay tuned), a very wise former colleague told me she had felt the same about marriage until she wed.   Expressing her commitment in front of family and friends had, she thought, actually been a really wonderful way of celebrating her relationship and had brought her closer to her husband.  I thought that was a bit cheesy, but when P and I became engaged I was genuinely surprised by how excited our family and friends were for us and I now understand her sentiment. 

Still, I feel as though the wedding is just expressing externally all the commitment we already felt and that the marriage is just a label for the same thing. 

Part of my previous indifference towards marriage was my distaste for the trappings.  I didn't want to be the wife part of a 'Man and Wife'.  I am an individual (hear me roar).  Let me stress that P is not a chauvinist.  He thinks a wedding and marriage is an important part of our relationship - it's not fair for me to speak for him here, but it is pertinent that P wanted me to take his last name because (1) he wants recognition of the family we've become and (2) he's proud of his heritage and loves his surname. 

I'm not bashing on P's viewpoint, because I believe that while my name is ultimately my decision, it impacts him too and his views should be given significant weight.  I kinda wish it were OUR decision in the sense that he has to decide what name he wants for our family, but his name is too important to him for the possibility of change to have occurred to him naturally (for the right reasons). 


Herein lies the rub.  I don't really want to give up my surname.  Pragmatically, I love my last name.  It is easy to spell, fairly well-known but not too common.  P's last name does have a lovely heritage, but spelling and pronouncing it is a complete pain in the ass. 

On a more abstract level, my surname is a large part of my identity.  While it comes from my father, it links me to my family (Mum dropped hers like a hot potato when she married Dad; claimed not unfairly that hers was awful and she couldn't wait to get a new one).  More importantly, I've been using my surname for quite a while now. *Ahemnearly30yearsahem*

My first name (no secret) is Anna.  Mum thought it lovely and very posh - along with every other Kiwi mum in the early 80s, apparently.  Because Anna was so common in New Zealand, my last name took a bigger role in my identity.  'Anna Initial' or 'Anna LastName' was my name right through school and as I have grown up, many colleagues and friends know me either by my firstname-lastname, last name alone or a nickname based on my last name.  It is a rare day when P refers to me as Anna.  He has promised faithfully that if I change my name, he won't stop calling me by the surname nickname he currently uses. 

Worse, I feel like I have to justify this decision every time someone asks when really, it is our/my decision and eff anyone who thinks I should justify it.  I find myself blathering "hard decision…really important to P…blahblahblah" because I instinctively feel that women think I'm selling out the cause and that men think I'm not a feminist because I'm taking his name - SO many things wrong with those assumptions but there you have it. 

Choosing to take his name makes me feel like I'm letting the team down.  I get that I'm lucky to stand on the shoulders of those feminists who came before and broke the ground for my generation.  Part of me feels like those feminists would be tutting about this more ungrateful, traditional, and arguably patriarchal decision to take P's name.  (Let's not talk about the definition of feminist shall we; let's just say for sanity's sake that I believe in equality of treatment for all and the freedom to choose and I when I speak of feminists in generations past, I do not do so in a belittling or dismissive way - I honour them for their commitment to those principles). 

I have to force myself to remember that it is now a CHOICE.  An active, positive, choice that I have because of the f-team, one which I think they would approve as long as I've got my own reasons.

Despite all of that, I'm taking his name.  I like the idea of a shared identity with P and possibly someday children.  It will no longer have professional consequences for me to switch, given I'm re-establishing a career in a different field where not known solely by my last name.  Making P happy is important to me.  Particularly so, given he sees me as his equal in all ways that matter (things that don't and where he believes himself with justification my superior: when arm-wrestling, in the kitchen, playing video games). 

So, yeah.  I should say, eff the lot of you, I don't have to justify shit.  Unless you're interested because you are thinking about the name problem too, in which case I will talk your ear off (see above, if you've got this far)!

Disclaimer: For all the bullshit and bravado in the conclusion above, I obviously had to write this to gerritoff my chest and I clearly still have issues - I still haven't told Mum and Dad which probably makes me a big fat wussy asshat (BTW America, is there a definition for asshat? Love the way it sounds).]

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