Should women take their husband’s name?
- Credit: PA
When the Queen's granddaughter, Zara Phillips, announced she would be keeping her name after her wedding to England rugby player Mike Tindall five years ago, few eyebrows were raised.
OK, acceptance had more to do with her reputation as a renowned international horsewoman than because she didn't see the need to become Mrs Tindall, but it felt like progress.
A woman in the 21st century changing her name after she marries feels as outdated as a boned bodice; sexist and submissive even, and goes completely against the grain of life and values today.
No one cared that she was breaking with royal tradition.
So why do women marrying today still fret for months about whether to change their name?
Especially women choosing to marry when they are older. With a lot of years of being someone behind them, they don't see why they need to change their name. It feels like an anachronism with ownership connotations. The days of chattels and possessions are dead, thank the Lord.
But last weekend, with no fanfare, Zara Phillips let it be known that she had changed her mind. From here on, she would be known as Mrs Tindall, even as a competitor in the saddle in Rio in the summer. Disappointing, but her prerogative.
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Four decades ago, brides never thought there was another way. You got married, took your husband's name and often stopped work to become dependent. It was what you did.
Today, brides ask why all the sacrifice and faff of identity change lies solely at their door?
Some men take their wife's name after a wedding, but most men think it is ridiculous. Quite. Welcome to our world.
Zara's change of mind might have been driven by her daughter turning two. Children starting nursery or school can throw up the dilemma.
Mothers like to have the same name as their children. Different names on passports can throw up all sorts of issues at airports.
Teachers get confused if a mother still has a 'maiden name' – let's stamp on this dark ages word that should have died for good with the dowry.
Mothers who do keep their birth names are often labelled 'career women' – another phrase to be deleted forever. When did you ever meet a 'career man?' – sadly by other women in the school gate gaggle, teachers and anyone over 65.
In 1994, the year I married, a study found that 94pc of British women took their husband's name at marriage. I was one of the six per cent – although I confess I did change it later, on some documents, to share the name of my children.
I never felt comfortable with it and used two names, mostly the name I'd had for 35 years, because that's who I was.
This caused havoc with officialdom because it never fitted neatly into its boxes. It makes it hard to convince authorities you are who you say you are.
Twenty years later, only 54pc of brides now make the switch. I was divorced with a fistful of documents saying I was who I wasn't – a Mrs, identified by the name of a man I no longer was connected to, apart from as the father of my children.
My mother couldn't understand why my ex-husband's name remained on my passport and banking details. It must be like a constant prod in the side of failure, disappointment and heartbreak. Many of my divorced friends still use the surname of their ex-husband, years after their divorces. It feels odd to me, especially when their husbands have new wives so there's another Mrs. But it works for them. It's just a name, and the cumbersome paperwork to make the change is too much.
I do like having the same name as my children, but they always refer to me by my birth name anyway.
Then there's the thorny issue of titles and defining women by their marital status. This country is hung up on whether a woman is a Miss, Mrs or a Ms.
Say you're Miss over 35 and cue the askance glance, written off as a tragic Miss Haversham type or, slightly better, a frisky Miss Jones from Rising Damp.
To tick the Mrs box makes everybody comfortable.
Ms is the militant in-your-face option, making a point by rejecting both of the above.
But a man is always Mr, married or not. Women can only escape the labelling if they are a doctor, then cue the 'career woman' sneer.
I always refuse to offer a title. Just Rachel, thanks, I'll breeze. But this will never do. The arguments I've had about this. But I'm none of the above.
The whole name/title thing is archaic and designed to suit other people, but it still troubles women on the verge of a marriage. It shouldn't. It's every woman's choice to do as they please – but it's a cynical woman who sticks to her name solely in case a marriage fails and she faces the whole palaver of changing it back again.
Be you want to be. It's every woman's choice, and that is the real progress.