Jenni Murray on why she wishes she'd never changed her name after marriage

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Ask A Feminist is Stylist.co.uk's regular column tackling issues on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st Century context. This week, BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour presenter, Dame Jenni Murray, tackles the tricky subject of changing your name after marriage - and why she will always regret doing it herself. 

Feminist Jenni Murray says:

Jennifer Susan Bailey. That was my name for 21 years with only a few small variations.

I was Jenni to my friends. My mother hated it. She'd known a cow called Jenny on her uncle's farm when she was a child and loathed the idea that the lovely name chosen by my grandmother in honour of a famous and beautiful 1940s film star, Jennifer Jones (my mother's maiden name), would be shortened to imbue her daughter with a bovine connotation.

To my mother I was Jen under normal circumstances and Jennifer when I'd made her angry.  She was a woman who was hard to please, so Jennifer was the name I heard most often during my childhood.

The Susan bit was hardly ever referred to and I always signed myself Jennifer S. Bailey, but there was one part of me that never changed - Bailey. It was who I was. The name that brought me close to the front of the class - we were arranged in alphabetical order - and made me one of the first to call out 'present' when the register was taken every morning.

It also, as my parents' only child, made me the only one in the family who would take my father's name to the next generation.

It never occurred to me in the pre-second wave feminist 50s and 60s that my mother, also an only child, had left behind her name, Jones, when she married my Dad and her Welsh heritage would be lost forever. We never talked about it. Taking your husband's name was simply what you did for women of her generation.

Even when I married in 1971, as feminism and Women's Lib were gaining traction among my peers, it didn't occur to me that I was losing my own identity when I agreed, with no debate at all as I recall, to become Mrs Jenni Murray.

Brian Murray and I had met as students and both acknowledge that we headed for the altar because we were sick of having to conceal our cohabitation from my mother.

I was 21 and 'living in sin' was not an option in 1971. We lasted six years, but by the time of our extremely amicable divorce, I had already become established professionally as Jenni Murray.

I was advised not to go back to my maiden name although I would have dearly loved to be Jenni Bailey again.

I had dropped the Mrs some time earlier - Ms making much more sense.

Why should a woman be defined by her marital status, something no man would ever have to contemplate? And how I began to hate the term 'maiden name'. Yes, I wished I'd hung onto it, but I'd been no 'maiden' when I walked down the aisle in my white dress and veil, playing at being a virgin for the day.

Again it infuriated me that a woman should be dressed and defined according to her sexual experience or otherwise. I'd refused to say the word 'obey', but my father had 'given me away.' I remember that burning feeling that I was being handed over from one man to another. It was only later, when I was stuck with Murray, that I realised how the change of name acknowledged the transfer of 'ownership.'

I was 30 when I met my second husband David Forgham and much more conscious and courageous about sticking to my feminist principles.

Happily he shared them and had no opposition to changing our joint names to Forgham-Bailey. At last I'd regained my own family name and would pass it down the line. We agreed we'd call any daughter Bailey and a son would be Forgham. Of course, we had two sons, so they took Forgham-Bailey. Their difficulties will arise should they choose to team up with, say, a Plunkett-Green.

There's no easy answer to the question of whether or not a woman should change her name in marriage.

I only wish I'd been aware of how uncomfortable about that sense of being owned and having no personal identity would have made me.

I would have stuck with Jenni Bailey at the outset and let my children make their own choice - Mum's name, Dad's name, double barrelled or make up their own - up to them when they were old enough to decide.

Meanwhile, I'm a mere muddle. It was Jenni Murray who was made a Dame. It's Jenni Forgham-Bailey who matches the rest of her family. Dame Jenni's is the lead name on my passport with an 'also known as Jenni Forgham-Bailey' on a separate page and I never know whether I told the milkman or the insurance or even the bank which name I use. Jenni Bailey I was and, frankly, should have remained.

My name and no-one else's and owned by no-one.

Send your feminist dilemmas to stories@stylist.co.uk and we'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand.  

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