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Reader’s column: What’s in a name?

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Stylist.co.uk provides a forum for readers to share their unique views and talents. This week our reader columnist is newly married Henri May and the dilemma she faces about whether to change her name

As I emerge transformed from a fog of make-up, hair spray and strewn clothing I often look at my husband’s miserly going out preparations and ask: “don’t you ever wish you were a girl?” Unable to convert him to even a dab of moisturiser, he regards the faff women go through as hassle. I adore all the sartorial fun that accompanies my sex, so it was an unusual moment when my high school acting teacher asked me if I was trying to portray myself as a man. The problem was not my appearance, it was my name - Henri May. It’s short for Henrietta and I’m not a bloke or French. I just prefer two syllables to four.

So I’m used to a bit of name sensitivity but it’s only since getting married that I’ve really had to consider how my name is entangled with my identity. Two years after the big day, I am yet to officially take on my husband’s surname.

A lot of friends have kept their maiden names for work, wanting to maintain the profile they have established. A reasoned action. My motives for resisting so far are sadly not as mature or straight forward.

Other than being fond of the way my name lilts along, I am in denial of the ageing process and have an irrational dislike of the word Mrs. It’s so matronly and middle aged. It’s like the difference of being referred to as Miss or Madam (urgh). This is where it gets tricky. I’m definitely not a Miss so the only alternative is the vowel-lacking, stigma-carrying utterance of Ms. All sorts of assumptions are attributed to whatever title a woman has, Ms in particular. Maybe she’s married, maybe she’s divorced or maybe she doesn’t want to be judged on her marital status and must therefore be an Independent Woman or, worse still, a feminist! A man’s title stubbornly stays the same.

However, I’ve had a while to adjust to the idea, testing out my married name now and then. It feels unified to have the same name as my husband. I’m adaptable, I can do this different surname thing and I’ll get used to the Mrs bit. I still have my own name don’t I? Not in correspondence - post arrives for “Mr and Mrs Crispin Davy” or “Mr and Mrs C Davy” and suddenly I have a man’s name and don’t even get an initial! Surely this practice should be out-dated in our equal status times.

A colleague suggested my reluctance was due to not wanting to feel like an appendage of my husband. Thankfully I don’t, but reading Mrs Crispin Davy does make it look as if I am his property.

I’m drawn to the Spanish way where women don’t take their husbands’ last name. The contentious issue there exists with the order in which the first surname of the mother and father are given to children. A draft law is being debated to eliminate the automatic precedence of the father’s name so that if parents do not agree or specify otherwise, the child would be given the two surnames in alphabetical order.

So what’s a girl to do? Go to Spain? Become a doctor? Embrace life as an attachment? Whatever I decide, there’s one thing on which I have no doubt: I may have an unusual first name but it’s mine and always will be. Just don’t call me Crispin.



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