A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but …

… roses don’t indulge in matrimony, to the best of my knowledge.

They do have individual names, so you know what to expect by way of leaf and blossom and flowering habit. Some are silly, some are serious and some are like gaudy ‘SALE!’ signs – Silver Wedding and such like – slapped on by ruthless marketeers.

Humans, by and large, don’t tend to be called ‘Human’ first, then ‘Tall, pale, curly-haired and short lived’ as an afterthought, to help with identification. No, we have personal names and family names.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

I live with my personal name – which is Mary – and my father’s surname.

My husband lives with his personal name, Lawrence, and his father’s surname.

And here I have to make an admission.

For once, even if I try very hard, I really, really, REALLY don’t understand something. (Well, in addition to infinity and the concept of multiverses.)

I don’t understand why women change their names.

I’ve read the arguments for and against. I can sort of understand wanting to have one name for a family when there are children, just to make life easier. Sort of.

But I have a lovely friend with four children whose surname is her dad’s. Whose husband has his dad’s surname. Their children don’t seem to mind being apportioned either one of their parents’ surnames.

By way of contrast, I had the central heating boiler serviced recently – no, hold on, it’s relevant.

Nice chap – I’d say he’s in his thirties – drives up in a smart red van with his name on the side. Hewitt, the surname. We get chatting – as you do – over a brew.

He tells me about his father-in-law, who does electrics. Been in the business donkey’s years. Young Hewitt gives me a business card. Hewitt, one side, for heating, Hewitt, the other for electrics.

But, hang on a minute? It’s dawning, a bit slowly (it was a Monday).

‘Um – your surname…’ I flounder.

‘I took my wife’s name,’ he says, ‘easier than my French one.’ He’s right. He told me what it was.

Now, I can understand changing names when one name is genuinely awful or difficult to spell.

But I can’t understand why so many young women of the ‘me’ generation rush to become someone else’s appendage.

Like, Mrs John Smith. Well, no, I suppose being married to a beer brand would be quite a laugh. But hang on, it’s John Smith’s bitter, isn’t it? Not so good after all.

Perhaps because the rest of the subjugation no longer comes with it – being just a sub-section of your husband’s tax return and so on – it feels less of a surrender of self.

I know, we aren’t our names – in theory. But I feel, somehow, I am. Or maybe I’ve become my name.

I’d reached the age of 30 by the time I married –  old, for marriage, in my day.

At school, like most girls, I’d tried writing my first name with a series of boys’ surnames. Hidden in inconspicuous places. Inside textbooks, on the plain brown paper or scraps of old wallpaper I’d used to cover them and keep them clean.

The names changed as my crushes came and went. Mary Mychalkiw, Mary Breslin, Mary Dyball – well – you’ve got the idea.

But by the time I was thirty I felt like me. I felt like my name.

My surname’s a solid, earthy, northern English name. The first (only) time I had a major article published in a national newspaper our neighbours – two gay guys from London – went wild about it – they’d never heard it before.

I’d gone through my childhood and teens hating my name. But at thirty, it had become my skin, metaphorically speaking. And I no more wanted to change my skin for someone else’s than my name.

My mother-in-law, believe it or not, before our wedding, sent me name tapes. Just initials. They’d been organised years since for her daughter, whose own initials would have been like mine, had I changed my surname. I didn’t use them, you’ll not be surprised to hear.

The ‘Mary’ bit of my name, though, has always been a trial – ‘quite contrary’ and all that. I’m sure it moulded my character. And people use it in the most annoying ways. Ouches come from all around, especially popular music.

Cat Stevens, before he converted, sang about a Mary dropping her pants on the sands – pants, I suspect, in the English not north American sense.

Bruce Springsteen settled for Mary: you ain’t a beauty but – hey – you’re all right.

Hendrix wailed, the wind cries Mary. Actually I like that one.

But you see what I mean.

And don’t get me started on all those variants of ‘Mary had a little lamb’.

All in all, I’d have been keener to change my first name.

Anyway. I’m going to stop right there – I’ve nothing else to say.

Because I just, don’t, understand.


This entry was posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but …

  1. mud4fun says:

    LOL, my partner and I aren’t even married and yet she assumes my name regularly.

    I guess it comes in handy when she is dealing with the likes of BT about issues with our household services. As the contracts are in my name, if I’m away working and she needs to speak to them about a fault she tells them she is Mrs Mud4fun rather than Ms AnotherName otherwise the Indian call centre operatives refuse to deal with her – it as amazing how they happily allow her to change all my contract details, add extra phone lines, change plans etc when using my surname and yet if she used her maiden name they refuse to even speak to her about my contracts.

    BTW I like Mary. It is a classic name. 🙂


    • Mary blushes, curtseys, thank you!
      Re the name on the phone thing – me too – I accept the name to make life easier if necessary when dealing with things he has set up – but you know they aren’t supposed to take anyone else’s orders on changes, even the wife’s – tut tut!
      Have committed to a car. I’m not going to say what in case you tell me something bad about it – too late now! Pre-registered though, in June, so already done the worst of the depreciation for us – not entirely a a naive ‘I like the colour’ (white) purchase! And no road tax…


  2. EllaDee says:

    Attitudes to first names, I think have much to do with references, as you say, and people of the same name. For instance, there’s a children’s book with a title that combines my stepmother’s name with “the Cow”… perfect! I had a childhood best friend and the G.O. a dodgy ex by the same name… hence our opinions differ on Donna’s 🙂
    My grandfather had a friend many who was very kind to us both, so Mary has a wonderful connotation for me.
    It’s an interesting topic anyway but the surname discussion is timely for me… I keep forgetting and saying partner out of habit rather than husband… so remembering a new name would be just something else I’d forget to do…
    Twenty, starry eyed and traditionally influenced I changed my name upon marriage #1. The day after that marriage ended I changed it back by deed poll. Marriage #2 I tried very hard not to change my name but it ended up hyphenated, complicated so I went with it. I did wait until I had divorce papers, and then changed it back.
    This time, #3, changing my name was never on the agenda but various people have assumed, despite the notes sharing the news of our elopement I sent showing both our names in full on the return address labels. One aunt kindly advised me I’d have to update them. Another rellie [generously] sent a cheque quite inconveniently made out to the wrong name. Even my younger sister assumed, perhaps because she couldn’t take on the husband surname badge of wedded honour quick enough after her recent marriage. But unofficially I’ll answer to the G.O.’s surname, because it’s his I don’t have an aversion to it, so I don’t really care but I find the assumption fascinating in this day and age.
    The G.O. wouldn’t dream of changing his name. My last name and its family associations are so not him!


    • Interesting you mention Donna – the friend with 4 children is called Donna! It is a common-ish name in Liverpool with its large Catholic community. I do, when absolutely necessary (eg, when answering phone to people from whom he’s ordered something) go along with the fiction of being called Mrs B (my husband’s surname begins with b) but there’s something about ‘Mrs’ that really irks me! My mum’s generation was brought up with titles and one of the sad things about her last days was the nurses insisting on calling her ‘Edna’ when she’d been Mrs E all her life. Like you, in this day and age, I find the assumption fascinating and am astounded to see on the FB of a daughter of a friend one after another her friends proudly announcing they are soon to become Mrs with no hint of even an awareness that they might possibly choose not to change – ah well, each to his or her own!


  3. charliebritten says:

    When I married, it was taken for granted that the married woman would take her husband’s name (not least by me). I was very glad to change my surname from something which I’d always been teased about to my husband’s very plain and ordinary name.


    • Hi Charlie – two things – I was heading slowly along the marriage track with someone else before the real thing and I wonder if that affected my sense of who I was related to my name? But also, I suspect if my name had been something like Ramsbottom I might have considered changing it – by way of contrast, I knew a woman who flatly refused to change to her husband’s surname just because he was called Startup! I think what bugs me most at the moment is that the young women I see diving into expensive fairy tale weddings don’t seem to even see it as an option and it makes me wonder how they see themselves vis-a-vis their life partner. As I said, I just don’t understand! Mary


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