What’s in a name?
I SUSPECT MOST WOMEN lucky enough to marry George Clooney would waste no time in becoming Mrs Clooney.
However, I didn’t think Amal Alamuddin, the internationally-respected human rights lawyer the actor married recently, would change her name.
This week we discovered she has officially become Mrs Amal Alamuddin Clooney, and will be known as Amal Clooney.
When her law firm updated their website with her new name, it attracted so much excitement that it crashed their server.
Amal is smart enough to be brought in by the Greek government to negotiate the return of the Elgin marbles from the British Museum, so why isn’t she smart enough to hang onto her own name?
Maybe she was sick of having to spell it. You can just imagine: “A-L-A-M-U-D-D-I-N. One L, one M, two Ds,” she’s probably said a thousand times. Maybe, when coupled with Amal (“A-M-A-L”), it was all too much.
Perhaps she just wanted to make sure she’d have no trouble getting restaurant reservations ever again. Or maybe she just did it because she wanted to. Whatever the reason, the tradition of women taking their husband’s name upon marriage strikes me as a totally outdated, archaic step.
Women back in the 1960s and ‘70s fought hard for the right to keep their maiden names, and yet today most women overwhelmingly continue to take their husband’s name on marriage.
The name change has long signified the handing over of a woman from one man — her father — to another man — her husband.
So why do modern women still renounce their identity in this way?
A quick straw poll shows that I only have a handful out of hundreds of female acquaintances who have kept their own names.
When I asked my News With Suse Facebook followers why they changed their names, many said it was “personal choice”.
However, I’d suggest that many women are expected — and even pressured — to give up their name upon marriage.
Some friends told me they would have quite liked to keep their own name, but their husbands felt more strongly about it than they did, so they gave in.
Others had more prosaic reasons: getting rid of hard to spell or pronounce maiden names. For others it wasn’t a choice but an obligation.
It seems a pity to me: I just don’t see why the so-called family name should be the man’s name, and not the woman’s. Is it just to gratify the ego of the bloke?
Why do we need a family name at all? These days, with one in three marriages ending in divorce, there are many blended families with a splendid array of last names. No one seems to suffer unduly as a result.
Just two men I know have taken on the names of the women they married. One, my uncle, hyphenated my aunt’s maiden name on to his own. They went from being Miss Dixon and Mr Smith to being the Dixon-Smiths. Another took on his wife’s last name, Rivers, because he simply preferred it to his own.
For most men, this is just not an option. Ask a man who’s getting married if he’s changing his name, and he’ll act like you’ve asked him whether he’s having his old fella lopped off.
I didn’t take my husband’s name when we got married, although I suspect he would have quite liked me too. My job as a journalist was a convenient excuse, although it was more than that.
You see, I have always been close to my own family, and I just didn’t see why I should throw away my own family name in favour of my husband’s family name. It just didn’t feel right.
In the beginning I thought I might change my last name once we had kids, but I remain more attached to O’Brien than ever. This is despite the fact that no one can ever spell it, the apostrophe is a pain, and my initials are SOB.
It still surprises me that the majority of other women don’t feel the same way about their names.
These days, you can live together before getting married, walk down the aisle pregnant, and get hitched jumping out of a plane if you fancy. But, sadly, few women dare to keep their own names. Blog with Susie at susieobrien.com.au and follow her on Twitter @susieob