What’s in a Name?

I’ve noticed that a lot of my daughter’s friends have double-barreled names. This seems to be the solution for when you have two parents with a different surname; instead of arguing over whether the child should be called Forrester or Davenport, you just call them Forrester-Davenport. Which seems like a good solution (even though it sounds a tiny bit daft), until you consider what is going to happen when Olivia Forrester-Davenport has a child with Sam Smith-Williams: Lucy Smith-Williams-Forrester-Davenport? And when she marries George Parker-Jones-Fletcher-Carpenter?

Another solution might be a Brangelina-style amalgamation of both names. Forrenport? Or Daventor? I think it could catch on. Each generation would start afresh with a new name, throwing off the baggage associated with the previous one. Although tracing family trees would be a nightmare…

So, what is in a name? How important is it? The law recognises name and religion as two of the most basic aspects of a person. Given as a birthright by parents, these things can only be changed by someone other than a parent if a child is adopted. Upon reaching adulthood, traditionally a woman lost her right to her own name when she married, taking that of her husband. The loss of a woman’s maiden name was seen as a loss of identity, a symbol that she had ceased to belong to her father and now belonged to her husband, in line with the tradition of being given away at the altar.

Women and children’s names can be changed – men’s, rarely. Women’s identities are more fluid nowadays. Few women see themselves as ‘just’ someone’s wife. One friend got married and changed her name, but retained her maiden name at work – because Peterson was easier to pronounce than VanSchallwyck. Another friend kept her maiden name. In reply to shocked relatives who asked whether he thought his wife should change her name, her husband would say: ‘but I’ve got used to calling her Lisa.’

My daughter and I share a name (my maiden name), as do my Intended and his son. There is a neat symmetry to it. If I were to change my name, our family would cease to be symmetrical and my daughter would be the ‘odd one out’. She might have some explaining to do at school, whether her name also changed or remained the same. I wouldn’t like to put her through this. Yet there is a part of me that would like to share a name with my Intended. When this is a choice, it feels very different to something that has been enforced.

So, my choices are: double-barrel, change my name, get my Intended to change his name, or stick with seperate names. Or, maybe I could keep my name for work, school, the doctor – but change it where it’s really important: – like on Facebook?

What do you think? Do you prefer double-barreling, made-up names, flitting between two names or keeping to the one name? And which one would you choose?

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5 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. I’d like to see a time when one of the options is for the man to change his name. Women are no longer passed from father to husband as chattel, so the name change is more about sharing the, to both identify as a team, and later, a family. All things being fair, one person shouldn’t automatically keep their name and the other decide whether to change or not, both should decide what to do on equal footing.

  2. My aunt’s husband died (a bit of a relief all round); she later remarried. She took her new husband’s name, and the new husband adopted her daughter – so they all match. This is also what another friend of mine has done. Although in both cases the fathers were not around to object.

    An ex-colleague of mine kept her maiden name; she just didn’t want to have all the hassle of changing all the paperwork. On the other hand, I changed mine and didn’t find it too onerous (though I would have kept my maiden name if my husband’s name had been, for example, Scraggs, or Ramsbottom).

    A good friend of mine has recently remarried; she has added her new husband’s name to her maiden name, so she’s now double-barrelled: she said after all she went through to get her maiden name back after her divorce, she certainly wasn’t going to give it up again.

    And we know a couple where the male half had a really awful surname, so he changed his when they got married.

    I think it boils down to, what do you want to do? Lots of professional women keep one name for social and another name for work (I have colleagues who have done this); the only problem with this is when the two worlds collide. Like when the school rings up: “Can I speak to Mrs Smith? We’ve just had to send her daughter to hospital with appendicitis.” “Sorry, no-one of that name works here.”

    I think this is a decision that you could discuss with the whole family; after all, everyone is potentially affected. Think about all the permutations you could possible have, and list the advantages and disadvantages.

    And, of course, there is the option of all of you changing your names to something completely different if you want! My husband changed his name (first name) when he was a boy. He did it by declaration; you can also do it by deed poll.

    There’s no ‘one true way’ – different ways work for different family circumstances. Finally, remember, it’s your name and your family. Do what’s best for you (family you, that is) and forget about what anybody else thinks.

    • I think the kids like the idea of double-barreling the names – that way nobody’s name is given precedence over the other! Fairness is very important to 10-year-olds. They could probably still argue over whose name went first.

      I like the story of the man who changed his name, that’s the first time I have heard of that happening.

      You are right, there are many different permutations, and no one is ‘right’. For myself I think I probably like the idea of having separate identities for work and home, etc. I’ve never had an alias before, or an ‘aka’…

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