"Are you about to get married? In that case, put this down and walk away. You’ve got enough on your plate. But for those not right in the thick of the pre-marital madness, let me share an interesting fact: there is no space for your mother’s name to be recorded on your marriage certificate. You have to put down your father’s name (and occupation, though what this has to do with the price of fish or venue hire for 100 I do not know) but for your mother – nada. A bit weird, no?
There’s a petition circulating via change.org to get this amended which has gathered nearly 30,000 signatures as we go to press. (If you’re wondering why it’s taken so long for anyone to notice this anomaly, it’s probably because most brides are so happy, they wouldn’t notice if they were signing a death warrant for the chief bridesmaid, let alone a slightly odd form enshrining the patriarchal world view of yesteryear. I could hear my own nerves jangling as I walked down the aisle and don’t even remember signing the certificate. I have immense respect for whoever it was who had the coolness of eye to realise that something was awry.)
It’s not a big thing in and of itself, of course – though that could make you wonder why, in that case, it hasn’t already been tweaked like it has been without fuss or furore in Scotland and Northern Ireland. As the current certificate stands, you could argue that it’s in keeping with traditional weddings, in which the bride wears a white dress symbolising virginity and is ‘given away’ by her father to a man whose name she will take in place of her own and afterwards sits silently smiling while her father talks about her and the groom’s best man talks about him until it’s time to go and be de-virginned.
The absence of your mum’s name on a landmark day is a big symbol
But the thing is you can alter the ceremony however you like to fit your needs. You’re in charge of that. I had a very traditional wedding – church, hymns, Book of Common Prayer service, you name it – because I love the beauty of a church setting and words hallowed by time (even if I don’t have the faith out of which they were forged) and the sense of occasion they create. But my dress was pale gold (and so rigidly corseted that I had to stop myself repeating the vows in full Scarlett O’Hara mode – ‘Wha, yeyas honey, ah DO tayak this man!’); I spoke afterwards (‘Thank you everyone for coming. Now get me out of this effing dress, I do declayah’); I haven’t changed my name and if my dad hadn’t been around I would have happily had my mother or sister give me away.
But you can’t change the certificate. And it means at that point your mother gets written out of your story and out of wider history. Obviously there have been times in our lives when we have wished to write our mother out of our stories – the years mine spent making prepubescent me wear a uniform to a school that didn’t have one or trunks instead of a swimming costume to lessons at the local pool spring immediately to mind. Or the time she found me semi-conscious on the sitting room floor after gashing my head on the table and screamed, ‘Don’t get blood on the carpet!’ But overall, most of us would have to admit they don’t deserve such a fate. And especially at the end of a day which they have probably masterminded, perhaps even part paid for and probably felt at some level that they were losing a daughter. Though at least one drew comfort from the thought that she was gaining an unendangered carpet too.
On a larger scale, it also mucks things up for generations to come. Researching historical figures and events or piecing together social history and ancestries most often come a cropper because anyone female effectively drops out of sight whenever they get married and change their name. Women’s invisibility is perpetuated because the fewer documents a person is deemed important enough to sign, the fewer their chances of having their stories told and their achievements noted.
It is only a small thing. But societies are made up of small things. And they are made up of symbols, and the absence of your mum’s name on a landmark day is a big symbol. So let’s change it."
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Photo: Rex Features