Too Many Names?

Our family: K. Constable, A. Taylor-Constable, M. Taylor, E. Taylor-Constable
 There have been a couple of articles in The Age lately about names -- people changing their names, to be specific. To be even more specific, married people changing their names. To be more specific still, married women changing their names. Apparently about 90% of women change to their husband's surname when they tie the knot.

What's happened?? When I was a young thing, back in the hairy-legged 80s and 90s, we were all proud feminists who would never have considered even getting married, letting alone sacrificing our names on the altar of patriarchy. Okay, so I softened on the first point, but not on the second. It never even crossed my mind to change my surname. Maybe this was partly because I'd started getting published under my own name. Maybe it was partly because, frankly, I preferred the sound of my surname to his. But mostly it was because, well, Kate Constable is just who I am. Why on earth would I want to give that up?

Then there is the whole what-about-the-children debate. I was slightly startled to discover that only three percent of families take the same route we chose: the hyphen. I sort of understand why -- it's clunky, it's a lot to write on your pencil case, and what happens in the next generation? Are we dooming kids to producing families of Smith-Nguyen-Robinson-Portelli children?

It's true, Alice has only just mastered the spelling of her hyphenated five syllable surname, but she has adamantly rejected (in fact, both girls have) any suggestion of trimming back to one name or the other. We'd vaguely thought that one day the girls could choose to drop one half of the hyphen, but at this stage they hate that idea. But who knows what will happen if they decide to get married one day...

Interestingly, from a very small and unscientific sample, it seems most of the couples we know (the majority of whom are not formally married) have chosen the father's (or non-childbearing mother's) surname for the children. The other couples in our social set who have gone the hyphen option seem to be the formally married ones. (And each of those mums has stuck to her own surname, too.) I wonder what negotiations of identity and commitment and compromise went into those decisions?

I completely understand the whole "we want everyone to have the same name" argument. It's never been a problem for us, having three surnames in the family, but I can see the emotional appeal of being the XXX family. But still, why does XXX seem to end up being the man's name, nearly every time? Of course it's a matter of individual choice. But when 90% of people are making the same choice, you can't help asking why.


  1. As a soon-to-be-married lady, I've been thinking about this quite a lot. It's actually not super-common in non-English-speaking countries for the whole family to get the father's name. In Spanish-speaking countries you get both (so I'd be Lili Ross Wilkinson) but then drop the mother's one when you marry in exchange for your new husband's (Lili Miller Wilkinson). Women in Arabic and Chinese-speaking countries keep their name. In Japan, a child gets its father's surname, UNLESS the mother is an only child, in which case it gets her's (which I like).

    I won't be changing my name (can't imagine not being Lili Wilkinson), but I don't have a problem with our (hypothetical) kids taking Michael's surname. Women share their bodies with their babies - it seems fair that men get to give part of themselves too, to form a family unit.

  2. I don't think I ever seriously considered being anyone other than Susan Green, but then, my husband has one of the more difficult names on offer - it's Cock. And with his full agreement, our son has taken my innocuous surname. Otherwise, he'd be Lachie Cock.