I was in the hospital with my dad the other day, and the nurse asked my mum and I to fill out next of kin forms. Mr Caldecott, Mrs Caldecott, and Miss Caldecott: a family unit, proudly bearing the same name. And then my mum cracked a joke about how I wouldn’t be Miss Caldecott for much longer, and I felt a sudden pang of grief. ‘No man would ever get me to change my name,’ the nurse retorted as she took the forms from us and walked away. It’s easy to say, and I have toyed with the idea of keeping my name before, but it hit me clearly in that moment: if mum hadn’t taken dad’s name, we wouldn’t be that neat little family unit with matching names. I treasure the fact that I have the same name as both of my parents, but someone has to be willing to give up their family name and take on a new one to form a new family identity.
Yes, there’s the option of double barrelling your name with your spouse’s, but if everyone did that it would get out of hand a couple of generations down the line. (Also, ‘Caldecott-Lippiatt’ is a ridiculous mouthful in itself – what would our children do when they got married and suddenly had a four name long surname?) In Spain there’s a tradition that women keep their maiden names, which seems like a perfect feminist solution at first glance. As Wikipedia explains:
‘In Spain and in most Spanish-speaking countries, the practice is for people to have two surnames. Usually, the first surname comes from the father and the second from the mother but it could be the other way round. A child’s first surname will usually be their father’s first surname whilst the child’s second surname will usually be the mother’s first surname. For example, if Señor Smith Adams and Señora Jones Roberts had a child named Paul, then his full name would be Paul Smith Jones.’
But in reality, this still means that the woman’s name dies out after a few generations.
It’s hard giving up a name that carries with it a large part of your identity; all the family history and the outward sign of relationships that have been unspeakably formative and important. But if someone doesn’t do it, you’ll either have a different name from your children and partner, or end up getting tied up in all sorts of complex knots trying to merge multiple names – and what you were trying to protect in the first place will get lost a few generations down the line, anyway.
The ability to give up a name isn’t an inherently female quality, though. We weren’t born or raised with less of an attachment to our name and family identity than men. I believe that someone in the relationship has to make that sacrifice, and to do so is a beautiful thing; marriage is all about both men and women giving themselves completely and becoming part of one another, after all. But I would like to see a situation develop where it isn’t automatically or always the woman who changes her name: we need a new generation of feminist men to start bucking the trend and taking on their wives’ names. It’s not that I think women should never change their names when they get married, but more that I think it should be a choice, freely made.
I’m going to change my legal name, but keep my family name for writing. It’s scary, but also rather exciting: having the same surname as each other will mark us out as a new family, a team. And, as my dad told me, I’ll still be a Caldecott. What’s in a name, after all?
What about you? Would you ever consider changing your name?