The name debate

Once you get married, one of the first and most frequent questions to pop up is “Are you going to change your name?”  Such a seemingly simple question.

Back in my young, feminist days (as opposed to my old feminist days), I always thought that when the time came to marry Mr. Right, we would sit down and have a very civil discussion about what name we thought was best and, therefore, which one we would both use – his or mine.  Having an option for the man to adopt the woman’s name is a true sign of gender equality, no?  So why aren’t more male pro-feminists adopting their wives names?  Perhaps I was naïve, or perhaps I was just too ahead of my time.

So here are some of the arguments that I have come up with in the name debate.

On the Ross side:  A number of my married friends – mostly ones who’ve been married a while – have told me that if they had their time again, they would keep their maiden name.  Too much cumbersome paperwork, they say.  Plus, for a woman who has worked hard to build a career, making a name for yourself would work much better when you have just one name.  Besides all that, I like the name Ross.  It’s a good solid name, short to write (and sign), and easy to spell.  Or so I thought.  Over the last 5 years abroad, I have been called Rose more times than I’ve been called Isabel, and my lifetime of certificates sport a range of variations, from Isabelle Rose, Isabella Ros, and my personal favourite, Isobel Roff.

On the Banda side:  A number of my married friends – most of who are more recently married – have told me they consider a name change important so that any future children share the same name as their parents (although when parents don’t share the same name, the discussion about which parent’s name the child takes seems conspicuously absent from gender-equality debates).  I can’t say I’m entirely sold on this argument.  However, a name change is important for the person I love the most in this world: my husband.  According to his culture, by adopting his name, I would be solidifying his status as a man, and as the head of the household (and honestly, I am happy to relegate that role to him – he will make a much calmer and loving head than me).  Banda, too, is a good solid name, short to write (and sign), and easy to spell.  I can imagine explaining it as such:  “Like panda, but with a B for bear”.  It’s somewhat endearing, and may not encounter the same surprising range of variations as the monosyllabic Ross.

Despite this, there is still one issue that stands above the rest.  For those that don’t know, Banda is a quintessentially Chewan name (from Eastern Zambia and Malawi); much like Ross is to the Scottish.  Take one look at me, and it is pretty obvious that I’m not Chewan.  Even if I was to spend the next 40 years in Zambia, take up Zambian citizenship, and become fluent in chiNyanja, the good people of Australia, and the good people of Zambia and Malawi will not see me as Chewan.  Identifying myself by a Chewan name, therefore, feels a little fraudulent.

Of course, I have selfishly considered how this fraud could benefit me: Perhaps it could boost my “foreign” credentials for international development jobs.  On the flip side, it could hinder my chances in Australia, where patriotism (read: racism) seem ever-more present.  (You can try, but can’t deny that both biases exist).

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Categories: Life in General | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “The name debate

  1. Valerie Vaughan

    Dear Isabel I think you are asking the question from the wrong people. Firstly we are 30 years behind you in our ideas. I am just as strong willed as you are and I think that feminism has absolutely gone far far too extreme. Many want to be more male than female and take issue with many small issues in many Western countries. My very first boss on my first day had a long discussion with me and it went like this. I want you to understand that you will only be judged and accepted on your COMPETENCE >>> Not your Gender.Remember to always treat patients with kindness .genuine interest,politely BUT MOSTLY COMPETENTLY you will have few problems. But remember all people have problems just do not blame the problems on gender, We went to a country area and I was valued and respected by many people. The advice was correct for me. We need to work for gender equality.

    Many professional women established in their careers maintain their professional name, I think this is mainly in medical fields and law. They use their maiden name professionally but take their married name. This is how I see it in Australia society. However you have a different situation as you have an international marriage and have not decided in which country you will live mainly. So if you live in Africa it is my understanding from a good friend who does social work in other countries, that each country has different expectations as to what is regarded as normal. I am not an expert on Muslim culture but I am reasonably sure they would prefer male dominance to be expressed but definitely in their family names. Whilst I am writing this email there has been an interview on Lateline with the Queen of Jordan and is available on Iview. She is my kind of woman. So you can see I have no answer at all for your question so maybe there will be more consensus from your younger friends. Good luck and keep us posted. love Aunty Val

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