… 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.