Confession time: I pulled an underhand trick on Sam the day that I proposed to her. As soon as her euphoric "Yes!" was in the bag, I followed it through by asking if she would also take my surname once we were married and become
Mrs Sam Rookwood. (Tactics often employed by canny politicians who use the wave of optimism following an election victory to push through some potentially tricky policies). Thankfully, she replied in the affirmative.
However, Sam has tried to initiate a few more in-depth discussions about it since, but I’m holding her to the verbal contract she made in that dreamy, yes-saying delirium. I’m not sure it’s ideal to secure the future of the Rookwood family name on what basically amounts to shotgun rules ("I called it first"), but I’ve lived by the law of the playground quite happily for 30 years. So there’s a serious Chinese burn coming her way
if she tries to renege now.
Having Sam change her name to mine is very important to me. Taking the same surname is a real sign of commitment – it’s about being a solid unit and demonstrating that we are in this for good.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking: if it’s just about unity, how about I change my surname to Sam’s, then? Let me think about that for a moment. No. Is that double standards? Probably.
Of course, these days couples come up with all sorts of solutions to the problem. Some men will change their name to their wife’s. Next! Some insert a hyphen between the two conjoining families and go for a double-barrelled surname. Wanky! I’ve even heard of some fiercely egalitarian friends of a friend who decided to come up with a clever fusion of their surnames, cross-pollinating the family trees to create a new name. Ludicrous! Our solution is for Sam to keep her maiden name as an extra middle name. And hey, don’t forget it will also live on as a password for our children’s bank accounts.
Of course I understand why Sam may want to keep her own name when we’re wed. It can feel like ID theft to lose the surname you’ve lived with for so long. It can also be complicated, even professionally damaging, to change.
Back in the day, there was no debate. A woman was seen as the property of a man, "given away" by her father and signed over to her husband whose name she took and whom she vowed to "love, honour and obey".
The movement to keep maiden names goes back to Massachusetts in 1855, when a suffragette called Lucy Stone married a chap by the name of Henry Blackwell, but decided to keep her surname. In 1921, the year after women won the right to vote in the US, the Lucy Stone League was founded in New York – a self-preservation society devoted to safeguarding maiden names. The trend received new impetus in the 1970s with the rise of feminism. "Ms" became popularised as women refused to be defined by their marital status, while for married women who retained their maiden names, neither "Miss" nor "Mrs" was correct in front of it.
But today, in the waning of that certain kind of self-conscious feminism thanks to increased equality of the sexes, women are even freer to make their own choices, including traditional ones. According to a 2004 Harvard study, the percentage of surname-keepers among college graduates in the state of Massachusetts was 23 per cent in 1990, 20 per cent in 1995 and 17 per cent in 2000. Why? This suggests that the maiden name is no longer such a politically loaded issue. Women’s fundamental independence is not so imperilled in 2009 that you need to keep maiden names.
All of which is a rather long-winded way of trying to persuade Sam to become Mrs Rookwood in all – including name. It would make me the proudest man alive. And anyway, my Chinese burns really hurt.
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