Would you miss Mrs?

// 26 August 2014

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my name is.jpgThere’s a lot in a name. You can often gauge where someone has come from or see the parents’ personalities or family members echoed in the chosen names. It is also a defining factor of someone’s identity. It may not sum this identity up but it is the label that they will carry throughout their life. This can be neutral, beneficial or even negative.

A title, however – those few letters preceding one’s name – is a label with connotations that become a solely female issue.

For men, there is only one option, which entirely void of meaning apart from denoting their gender. It does not carry a pointer as to their marital status. It is just a title.

When I was younger I remember that an activity that involved writing your name with the surname of whichever boy you fancied. More often than not, other people would helpfully do this for me. That all-important question of whether “Mrs Whomever” would sound good was seriously considered. At that stage in my life there was no question about the title I would assume once I, of course, inevitably got married. It seemed the natural scheme of things.

When I delved into feminist issues more once I reached my teenage years, I had an epiphany.

“I can call myself whatever I like!”

It seems rather odd and outdated that most women assume a different title upon marriage. These few letters are steeped in patriarchal tradition, something that continues to shadow all areas of our lives to this day.

It is up to the individual to decide what they would like to call themselves. Taking away someone’s liberty over these matters is not something that I would ever advocate. Still, the continued tradition seems illogical to me.

When someone hears of you or meets you, do you wish their first realisation of your person to be whether you’re married? Is that what you wish to be defined by? In an ideal world people would wait until they met you to decide what you’re like. However, as we all know and have experienced, this is far from being an ideal world. Therefore, unless your title denotes something particular such as you being a doctor or a professor or something like that, do you really want these few letters before your name to state your marital status?

I shall not delve here into the issue of whether one changes one’s surname upon marriage or not, for this has even more complexities attached to it, such as how to define a family unit and what children should be called. Nevertheless, the issue of changing your name once married and the chosen title are issues that are intertwined and they both need to be considered carefully.

I implore women to consider what they would like their name to say about themselves. I do not have an issue with women who, having thought it through, decide that changing their title to Mrs is something that they would like. It is the assumption that a married woman will be a Mrs that I have issue with and women everywhere need to have that realisation that they can be called whatever they please.

The fact is that this is all down to tradition, an incredibly difficult thing to unravel and change, as the vast majority of people will be perfectly happy to carry on as things are if it does not cause that much damage to them. These seemingly tiny parts of tradition stand for something much greater, something that is being used to govern how we live, what we do and how we act. It is what this tradition stands for that matters. If the tradition that we so aimlessly follow stands for a damaging patriarchal past and present, is this something we should continue with?

Your name and title is a big thing; it’s a label, no matter how it’s worn. It is therefore something that requires serious thought and consideration.

The photo is by Quinn Dombrowski and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows a sticker that reads “HELLO my name is” in white typing on a red background, above a white space where presumably somebody could write their name, although the space is blank. It is stuck at an angle on some grey metal.

Comments From You

Martine // Posted 27 August 2014 at 10:26 am

This is another of those issues where you get the ‘what are you making all the fuss about, it’s just a word’ kind of reaction from people. I started using Ms when I was about fifteen and have never used any other title. If people call me Mrs I correct them and tell them why.

Cycleboy // Posted 29 August 2014 at 4:52 pm

” do you wish their first realisation of your person to be whether you’re married?”

I think the answer to that is ‘Yes’. On return from her honeymoon, a colleague danced into the office and announced, “I have a new name!”

A well known personage recently married. As she workes in the media and on TV, she could have simply carried on using her own name, but didn’t. She added her husband’s name to hers, though he, interestingly, did NOT reciprocate. Clearly, this was a thought out strategy and being seen to be married was important to her. (Though I still cannot understand exactly why.)

Mister Goldfish // Posted 30 August 2014 at 1:32 pm

Well, I must agree with Cycleboy’s first paragraph – I think in some cases the use of a name or title change can be to celebrate a marriage. When it came to our marriage, my wife was very concerned about the judgement she’d receive whichever way we went with names. Thankfully titles were a lot simpler as she had used and continues to use Ms. Our surnames did not suit hyphenation and the portmanteau suggestion of ‘Welly’ didn’t strike us as a surname eliciting the respect and awe we deserve. So we took my wife’s surname as an additional middle name and took my surname. This represented both our new family and the joining of established family groups.

However, given the nature of our disabilities, my wife and I spend more time socialising online than we do IRL. So I took my wife’s username and added a ‘mister’ to celebrate our union. In the past I was someone who often changed identity, enjoying the process of creating a new avatar etc. But Mister Goldfish is now who I will always be online.

Interestingly, her gender neutral username means that people often enforce upon her a male identity. Their willingness to do this, even during feminist discussions, is truly remarkable.

Beth // Posted 31 August 2014 at 9:49 pm

I officially changed my first name last year and while I was at it adopted ms as my title-when I went to the bank and asked to see someone about changing the name and title on my account the guy sat me down and said ‘sure, I just need to see your marriage certificate’. I said ‘I’m not married’, to which he frowned and replied ‘but I thought you said you wanted to change the name on your account?’ I said ‘I do, but I haven’t got married’ – he couldn’t cope with it at all, but he did have the decency to blush and apologise. I’m not sure if that story didn’t sound more better in my head, but interesting to flag anyway I feel!!

Fairy // Posted 1 September 2014 at 6:29 am

This post really made me think. I am getting married in 8 months time and have recently been thinking about names after my marriage. I posted something about it on facebook to some interesting responses. There were the people including my mum who were bemused by me complicating the issue. Ten there were people who spoke of their similar concerns. The most striking response was a friend and her husband actually changing their names. Th debate made them question why they and their son carried his parents name as opposed to hers, especially in light of complex relationships they have in their family. However that choice was not without a great deal of negative comments from other people. I was also reminded of my privilege when a friend expressed his dilemma when he marries his boyfriend.

I know this article focuses on the title – Mrs or Ms or Miss? Part of me wishes we could do away with the titles all together. I hate being referred to Miss Ms and Mrs. In some countries your title reflects you age, with children being Miss and adults being Mrs. Maybe that would be preferable?

Cycleboy // Posted 1 September 2014 at 2:47 pm

Whilst I’m flattered Mr Goldfish agrees with my comment, I’m still puzzled as to why the need to both celebrate and be seen to celebrate a change in mariatal status is so much more important for (many) women than it is for men? Obviously, the simple answer is that society demands it, or at least, inculcates that belief in us. However, I am baffled why the desire is still so prominant.

Why are not more women, when ‘tieing the knot’, demanding of their intended, “Just why do you presume I’ll be happy to relinquish the surname I’ve had all my life when you would not be?” After all, if you want a single name to denominate a family unit (though millions around the world do not) then why not choose the woman’s name – especially if his isn’t a very nice one?

Mister Goldfish // Posted 2 September 2014 at 8:13 am

In reply to Cycleboy, I would say that in general you’re right – there are large numbers of men who, due to the groups they inhabit, are stuck in a narrative of ‘Oh, she battered me down to the point I gave in…’ Women celebrate having achieved a victory, so men cannot celebrate defeat. However, I honestly believe there is an (albeit slow) improvement. Yes, men cannot flash the ring or emphasise the name change, but I’ve known many men very excited both by getting married and being part of a long-running married unit. For example, I watch an inordinate amount of woodworking videos on YouTube, and it is very common for these men to speak about their wives above any part of their lives outside lumber. And call me a romantic if you like, but I honestly feel that comes from the same kind of pride women express in showing off their attributes of marriage.

I think I should also point out that my wife has retained her surname for her writing – it would have been absurd to change it given that she has been working towards a career for longer than she’s known me. I presume you were talking before about Victoria Coren-Mitchell who I feel had the option to alter her name given her relatively solid position in broadcasting. It would have been nice to see David reciprocate, but he seems to pride himself on a position of old-fashioned tradition, so it’s hardly surprising.

Cycleboy // Posted 4 September 2014 at 2:58 pm

@Fairy. You might like to read this http://keepyoursurname.livejournal.com/. OK, it’s my own writing, but a number of people have been complimentary.

What REALLY bugs me is the (obvious) fact that it’s invariably only women who ‘wrestle’ with the issue of a surname after marriage. Men simply swan along and rarely (if ever) give the matter a second thought; first thought even. Why don’t women who care about this issue simply ask their intended if he’d ever consider changing his name and, if not, why not? What’s the difference?

Of the people I’ve actually spoken to on this issue only ONE person ‘got it’ and did not even question why my wife and I joined our names. And that person was male. Almost every woman has challenged me, justified their decision to change or simply dismissed the whole idea.

Cycleboy // Posted 4 September 2014 at 3:03 pm

“a friend expressed his dilemma when he marries his boyfriend.”

The advent of the marriage of gay people has highlighted the problems of the ‘marital surname’. As there are no precidents or tradition each couple has to make their own decision and, as each is of the same sex, nobody can claim ‘dominance’. If only heterosexual couples would approach the issue with similar open minds.

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