A pilot study taken by Dr Jane Pilcher from the University of Leicester Sociology Department looks at whether woman change their surname after they get married, and what name they give their children, theirs, their partners, or whether they opt for double-barrelled.
In her small scale study entitled ‘The Naming of Us Few: Woman’s family surname choices’, Dr Pilcher found that all the woman she interviewed felt that their own surnames actually symbolised their individuality and gender identity. Pilcher says: “These kind of issues about family surnames are potentially more important in Britain today, because of the rise in couples living together without being married , more children being born outside of marriage, a rise in the number of remarriages and of ‘patchwork’ families, and not least, the greater equality and independence of woman in society.”
This new research doesn’t come as a surprise to me, having been in this situation myself. I’d been with my partner for seven years and we decided to have children. The question of marriage had come up and we had decided instead to buy a house. This was all fine until my youngest child was very poorly. The Doctor we saw examined my son and decided he needed to be admitted to hospital, so turning to me he said: 'we need to speak to Jack’s parents before we can admit him, please can you get them on the phone’, to which I replied I was his mum and the Doctor incredulously replied he thought I was the nanny since I had a different name. This event alone spurred me on to organise and plan my wedding just so I had the same name as the children. I wanted my children to be seen as mine.
Dr Pilcher’s research suggests that because of incidents like my own, woman are aware that for administrative purposes and practices, in hospitals, Doctors surgeries, schools and similar organisations, having a surname difference can be a burden which can create social assumptions for parents and children.
A friend of mine, Kate, was just about to get married and her husband-to-be’s surname was Sate. Kate, whose maiden name was Robinson, wasn’t sure how to put it to her husband that there was no way she’d be taking his name. Kate says: “In fact we had joked (very early on in the relationship), about how silly Kate Sate sounded, but then when he did actually propose, I was stuck with the decision whether to honour him and his family lineage or to stick with my own name and less ridicule”. Kate eventually decided to double barrel the two names (thankfully her husband understood) so now she, along with her three subsequent children are all called Sate Robinson.
The problem is that Kate, like myself and so many women who marry in their thirties, already have an identity of their own—many of whom have a last name intrinsically linked to the career they have built up so far. For the most part, changing your name comes about when children are involved and the realisation that it really is all in the name. The social assumptions and connotations that go along with not changing your name can be, in the end, more of an obstacle than the notion of whether woman should give up their identities and become part of their husbands.
Let us know below whether you changed yoru name when you got married, waited until after you had children or are sticking with the name you were born with.