What’s in a name?

A friend of mine recently commented about her resistance to changing her name when she wed and shared a link to this article.

As a woman in the “Western World” it is still usually assumed that you will take on your husband’s surname and yet as civil partnerships become more common and people who have delayed marriage til later in life find that their professional life is dominated by the name they built up this must surely be becoming as much a practical issue as it is a gender politics one.

Personally I feel no more strongly about changing your name if you get married than I do about keeping the name assigned to you by your parents – neither is automatically your identity so much as they are about your family and your connections. Sharing your surname with your parents or your children marks out a sense of belonging (in both a negative & positive sense) and builds up history. A similar trend must surely be seen in the continuing desire for many people to give their children the same names as their parents or grandparents (even if it is often relegated to a middle name).For some this is a burden and for others a sense of joy.

Whether you feel more strongly connected to the past in your own parents, desire a connection to the family who you marry into or wish to forge a new family bond and new name must surely be a personal choice in this day and age…

More importantly I feel that we should not question an individuals relationship with their name – for some it is a torture (be that through bullying at school or the gender assumptions it carries) for others it is an intensely personal point of pride. What is interesting, socially speaking, is the expectations we put on people:

  • That women will change their name at least once in their lives [and those who don’t are spinsters, lesbians or uber-feminists (which may because they are both of the first two of course)]
  • That men won’t change their’s [and those that do are milksops to their wives or hiding something]
  • Hypenation is an ugly postmodern cop-out that suggests you are a bit too right-on
  • If one half of a homosexual couple changes their surname to match their partner’s they are the more feminine party
  • That wanting to change your name substantially marks you out as odd
  • That children having a different surname to the main adults in their life is undesirable

I think that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about how tied we are to a traditional family structure despite the number of possible variations currently experienced…
Food for thought.


On a completely personal level – I have no desire to change the name my parents gave me (indeed with the exception of my online persona and the pet name my wife uses for me I have never settled into any nicknames); I never expected to change my name even as a child despite the attitudes of most of my schoolfriends; my name is my brand academically speaking and is even more so for my wife; we are all (all 3 of us?) slightly attached to the connection to the history and continuation of our families as represented in our names; we have not been able to settle on what surname we would give any children but agreed that something new is the best choice/compromise for our blended family….


Whose Labels?

On a side note to depression I once mentioned the difficulty of a “diagnosis”
The issue that I wanted to highlight centres around the problem with labels. A concept that gender and sexuality politics refuses to let go of. In respect to mental health although a diagnosis offers problems of expectation (which can be especially difficult when that might result in chemical intervention and social restrictions) it is usually [though frighteningly not exclusively] based upon socio-scientifically agreed criteria. That is, although there may be many reasons for suspecting the grounds for proposing rules by which our sanity may be judged (including the involvement of interested parties like enforcers of political norms or profit margins of pharmaceutical giants), there are at least agreed guidelines for professionals to link us together and scientific research to link traits and treatments by statistical analysis. This means, in general, if two diagnosed schizophrenics sit in a room and chat there is a good chance there will be a common experience.

With gender and sexuality, however, the expectation of shared experience seems higher but in practice the actual similarities are lower and the cross-over is unfeasibly complicated.
For example – If homosexual means attracted to the same sex – do we specify sex meaning physically similar genitalia, or do we assume a degree of gender related association?
If (for argument’s sake) an all-american ‘jock’ falls in love with a person who dresses as Audrey Hepburn and prefers baking, shopping and embroidery to contact sports and pornography but also has a penis which s/he is happy with – is that Jock gay? Is Audrey male or female? If Audrey sleeps with a man who wants a vagina and dresses like Ellen de Generes are they straight? If all three live together and never have sex are they polyamorous?
Of course these questions are themselves irrelevant (if emotive) as long as that/those relationship(s) is itself comfortable [please do not message me with answers to these hypothetical questions – I in fact do not care about your answers]
That practical irrelevance doesn’t mean that in daily life we are not constantly encouraged to select shorthand for ourselves. But should we?

Many liberal postmodern commentators urge us to free ourselves from labels – arguing that the prescriptive nature of labels enables society to pigeon-hole, sanitise, stigmatise and stereotype us. Yet in the same dialogue we are reminded of our own discursive power to formulate meaning for the labels we use, to problematise, re-use and reclaim our own labelling.
Most modern scholars would be offended if anyone suggested that when they wrote about women they only referred to the Holly Golightlys or Cinderellas or Mother Goddesses or Miss Havershams of this (anglo-centrically stereotyped) world and nor do most men-on-the-street use such glib shorthands but we choose to still signify people using these words.
I believe we do it because we like to both categorise others and to belong. It is easier to fight for womens rights or gay rights or poly rights than to fight for my rights. I do not have to match a role or force others to fit my idea of a label to see that we share issues, worries and needs. Our commonality allows us to empathise with each others needs and to recognise our insecurities and appreciate our quirks.

Perhaps in the end we have labels because it is nice to have something in common rather than always focusing on what makes us unique. We are individual everyday, we are all in a category of one in our preferences, styles and aspirations perhaps sometimes there is a comfort in appreciating what is similar despite all that difference.
I don’t want to stop being the singular special me and I don’t want you to stop being the utterly unusual you but I do want to notice that we all love and live in this small space.