What’s in a name?

This blog post has taken a long time to write. I’ve been thinking about it, but starting a new job and finding a new housemate do eat away time.

So, what’s in a name? I thought of this post because I read Heather Long’s article about Greek women being legally bound to keep their maiden name rather than adopting their husband’s moniker. She ends with a typically ‘progressive’ conclusion that we are 30 years behind Greek legislation and should give women more legal options to choose their own name.

The issue of naming makes me realise how far we’ve come, and how antiquated traditions really throw this progress into relief.

I’ve always carried around the name Heath, but over the years it took on a different hue.

First it was just my family name, though my parents have been divorced for as long as I can remember so it never represented marriage to me. They finally parted ways when I was ten and just as I started university my mum got remarried, resulting in her shedding the name ‘Heath’. We don’t talk to my father any more so now it’s just my sisters and me, all sharing a name.

I sometimes feel like my name is imbued with a past long gone. Family days out are no longer, and never will be again – yet I have no desire to eradicate my identity with the name of a distant future husband. Why should I disembody years of study, jobs, degrees and creative output to feel the comforting embrace of domesticated romance?

Partly I feel that marriage is a longing for the family nest that one must fly upon becoming an adult – but I never had that. My nest was dismantled for me and I’ve never believed that marriage is my ultimate destiny.

It seems outmoded in an age where we vie for civil partnerships and women are no longer governed by their husbands. It’s obvious that the erosion of the institution of marriage – demonstrated by rocketing divorce rates – is not going to result in Babel.

But if you do want to get married, for love or money or security, or whatever, what should you do with your name? Emma Barnett, Women’s Editor of The Telegraph online, considers ‘meshing’ (combining two surnames to create a new ‘married’ family name) upon feeling sadness when observing her childhood friends’ names changing on Facebook, before concluding that she prefers the tradition of taking her husband’s name.

She feels a warm glow inside when her husband confesses, “I wanted my wife to become my family and part of that is taking my name so we are one unit,” and ends with using her maiden name for the professional world and her husband’s at home. She sees this as liberally ‘choosing’ tradition.

I think this is a fairly right wing feminist viewpoint and I don’t really agree with her reasoning. All fair and good to form a new unit – but it has to be his unit.

I kind of like my unit. My name may ultimately derive from someone I don’t see any more, but it’s also the name of my grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins and sisters. My name is my identity, and belongs to the person that writes my blogs, stories and poems. What’s in a name? No more or less than you give it.

Perhaps I should think about a nom de plume.


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