Just like Prince Harry, my cousin got married last week. Unlike Zara Phillips, however, she has already changed her name. At the rehearsal dinner, I found myself part of a group of women asking if she was going to change her name. She said yes, placing herself in the 87% majority of women who do so. But when I saw the flap about Phillips, who has defended herself from critics by saying she will only go by her maiden name for charity and work functions, I was struck by how much we care.
Shakespeare famously asked “What’s in a name?” and it seems that we value and identify with our names quite a bit. Many women see keeping their maiden names as a feminist stance, an allegiance to the person they were before they got married. I changed my name, because it meant a lot to my husband, and since my father abused me, I wasn’t sentimental about his name. Occasionally, someone stumbles on it and says, “I thought you would definitely keep your name!”, connoting the implications of such a decision.
Of course it’s lame to always default to the man’s name, but it is easier when you’re starting a family if you all have the same name. Plus, it’s the convention, so many people will just assume you’re Mrs. Hisname. I heard a woman express frustration about letters that automatically arrive addressed Mr & Mrs Hisname – “Why do they do that?” It’s because I’m tired and don’t feel like writing out two names.
Once in a while, the man will change his name. Usually this is because he has a difficult name to pronounce. But then men have to explain that, and you’re back to talking about your name again. The compromise is to hyphenate, but talk about writing fatigue.
I’ve also heard it whispered that you never give up a money name – meaning that if your last name, whether correctly or incorrectly, is associated with money, position, fame, you keep it no matter what. I have one friend with such a name, and yes, she kept it. So did Phillips. So did Maria Shriver. So perhaps that goes into the decision-making as well, though apparently Phillips is setting a royal precedent.