Sunday Times



The whole thing hap­pened back to front. In the kitchen. I asked if I could use her sur­name as a writer’s name, one thing led to an­other, and we de­cided to get mar­ried. Then, af­ter a day or so, fol­low­ing a Google search, we de­cided to put the whole thing on hold. Turns out mar­riage, the way it was in­tended, may boil down to a ti­tle deed — and rent­ing an en­try-level mar­quee costs a for­tune.

But I was mar­ried to us­ing her sur­name as a writer’s name and we de­cided to go through with that. It’s a dou­ble-punch five-syl­la­ble tank of a sur­name (“ter­rific” and “strong”, a fel­low scribe de­scribed it) that blows my cur­rent sur­name (a short stab) right out of the wa­ter.

I’m think­ing of mak­ing it my le­gal name, which will, in the world of men tak­ing their part­ner’s last name (whether through mar­riage or oth­er­wise), put me in the same per­centile of the male pop­u­la­tion who can pack a dish­washer prop­erly.

I asked three mar­ried peo­ple what they thought of the con­cept. The first re­ply was from a man, strong-worded, loaded with vir­ile phrases re­lat­ing to seed and im­mor­tal­ity. It was a shock­ing read. I don’t think the re­spon­dent was en­tirely se­ri­ous but I do think he touched on a fear some men may have that it would sever the fam­ily blood­line, thereby for­go­ing him the op­por­tu­nity to till some piece of in­her­ited land or say grace at the Christ­mas ta­ble. It’s not a very re­al­is­tic fear — I’m sure blood­lines can be traced with­out ID books — and re­ally only some­thing that should con­cern cat­tle breed­ers.

The sec­ond re­ply was more con­sid­ered, de­liv­ered with the di­plo­macy of a tourist propo­si­tioned by a lo­cal to taste fried scor­pion. “It’s some­thing to think about,” it started out, and then, “it’s a close one”, be­fore clos­ing with “but I’ll keep my own last name”.

Read­ing be­tween the lines, I got the sense my in­ter­locu­tor ad­mired my courage to even ask such a ques­tion. I half ex­pected him to con­fess I’m a bet­ter man than he is, which un­for­tu­nately he didn’t. His weighted re­ply, I think, points to many a man’s po­si­tion on things pro­gres­sive — that is, if not en­tirely for it, or on the fence, at least next to the fence con­sid­er­ing whether or not to climb up.

The third re­sponse I re­ceived was from a woman, who high­lighted the real rea­son (deftly avoided in the other replies) I think men shy away from tak­ing their part­ner’s name. “I do kind of won­der who the bread­win­ner is in that re­la­tion­ship,” she pon­dered in her e-mail.

A short search on the web con­firmed it. Tak­ing your spouse’s sur­name af­ter mar­riage scores low on the man-o-me­ter (ScienceDai­ly pre­sented re­search into the mat­ter un­der the head­line, “What kind of man would take his wife’s last name?”), putting the frag­ile male ego front and cen­tre as the stum­bling block in the way of men con­sid­er­ing tak­ing their part­ner’s sur­name, whether for pho­net­ics, fash­ion or fun.

I didn’t con­sider bread, or the win­ning of it, when I pro­posed to my part­ner that I use her sur­name in print, on­line and in real life on that fate­ful af­ter­noon. It didn’t oc­cur to me that so­ci­ety would re­quire a lengthy ex­pla­na­tion from us as to why I took her sur­name, one that would prob­a­bly have to be pre­ceded by the per­func­tory tale (“On Tin­der, so …”) of how we met. My ego must have taken a leave of ab­sence that af­ter­noon, be­cause I just saw a beau­ti­ful, strong sur­name, put it next to mine and, in the arm wres­tle of change and ac­cep­tance, chose change.

So I’ve tried to put the wheels in mo­tion and called up home af­fairs mul­ti­ple times, keep­ing things light, re­quest­ing flatly, as if or­der­ing a meal, “Hi there, I’d like to change my sur­name please.” The con­tact per­son is usu­ally quite cor­dial, like I’m the umpteenth per­son who’s re­quested a name change that very day, and says: “Hold on while I put you through.”

Then the dial tone changes and my heart lifts at the thought that any mo­ment now my life, on pa­per at least, will change for­ever. I will get a brand-new Smart ID and a brand-new pass­port. I will have to de­velop and prac­tise a brand-new sig­na­ture and get used to see­ing that sig­na­ture on con­tracts, leases and de­liv­ery forms. I make doo­dles of the new sig­na­ture, start­ing with the first let­ter of each word writ­ten big.

Then the orig­i­nal con­tact per­son comes back on and asks if I’m still hold­ing and, af­ter I say yes, puts me through to the names de­part­ment once more, where the phone just rings and rings and rings.

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