It is my great hope that I still have the energy for a fight by the time I reach the septuagenarian portion of life. My new heroine is Kyoto Tsukamoto who, despite being 75, despite being happily married and despite being a native of Japan (the only G8 country in which it is still illegal to retain one’s maiden name upon marriage) is taking her government to court over keeping her birth name.
Though they love each other, she says, ‘I thought I would get used to my husband’s name but I did not, and a sense of loss grew inside me.’
My own struggle has not yet reached the same epic proportions. My husband and I have only been rowing about it for the two years and one week since we were sifting through some paperwork a few days before the wedding and it became apparent that while it had never crossed my mind that I’d give up my maiden name, it had equally never crossed his that I would not.
We pondered possible compromises – hyphenation or hybridisation perhaps totally new names. But my husband is a 37-year-old reactionary and the response to each was an increasingly enraged variant on the phrase ‘hippie sh*t’ until he took himself off for a lie down.
I was, I realised, in a minority on the name issue. Over 90% of women do change their names, and there is even some evidence that the practice is becoming more, rather than less, common – one US study showed that among college-educated women in their 30s, the proportion holding onto their birth names fell from 23% to 19% between 1990 and 2000. Among my friends, I’d say the name-relinquishing figure is closer to 100% even before you include the hypenators, hybridisers and other hippies.
Maybe, I reasoned, the urge comes upon you after the knot is tied. It didn’t sound convincing and it didn’t happen. It turns out that you don’t, actually, transform from one type of person into another with the addition of a posh frock and a bill for 100 chicken kievs. Once an anti-romantic, always an anti-romantic.
I’ve only known my husband six years. How come he gets to obliterate my history?
Since then, my resistance has become more entrenched. I still find every letter I receive (usually from my godparents) addressed to Mrs Marriedname unsettling. I stand in the hallway looking round for this strange and unknown person. I feel like myself, my family and the life I had before I met my husband are being erased. I’ve only known him six years. How come he gets to obliterate my history?
I try to persuade myself that it is but a quaint and charming vestige of the long-ago days when women were effectively owned by their husbands but it continues to feel more like a sign of unwillingness to let those days truly pass.
My name does matter, and more than I thought it would. I was never a terribly active or committed feminist. I always felt that using ‘Ms’ was an affectation, a pose – a sledgehammer of a position to crack a teeny-tiny nut of a point. Who cared whether people knew you were married or not?
But it does make a difference. I use both Ms and my maiden name now as protection against being defined by something – my marriage, my choice of husband – that I feel is irrelevant to the wider world. It was nothing to do with anyone or anything else. I don’t really mind how my godmother addresses her envelopes. But the person who earns the money on her bank statements is Lucy Mangan and she would like to be recognised as the person who does it.
Perhaps my sense of self should be able to shrug off what is from one point of view the entirely superficial alteration of a name. Maybe I am a freak who just doesn’t love her husband enough (as the man himself has helpfully suggested after reading this over my shoulder). Or maybe I should just start referring to him as Mr Mangan, and see how it makes him feel. Ah. Judging by the spluttering paroxysms that have just begun, I think I may have opened up a fresh field of enquiry. Here’s to the next two years…
Contact Lucy Mangan at email@example.com and on twitter.com/lucymangan
Picture credit: Rex Features