Change of name – change of identity

change of name rose

A change of name in my mid-forties changed my identity. The decision came easily and made good sense. The process took less than two hours and cost very little but the result amazed me and continues to delight me after all these years.

My change of name was simple. I dropped my last name and became Maureen Helen. No surname. No family name. Instead, my name.

I can’t help thinking Shakespeare got it wrong when he wrote, ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ With a new name, I became a different person.

An amusing conversation on Facebook got me thinking again about the topic of change of name, so dear to my heart. A woman wrote that her in-laws insist on addressing birthday cards to her as if she has no personal identity.

She said that rather than calling her, say, ‘Marigold Smith’ they call her ‘Mrs John Jones’. They refuse to acknowledge her decision to keep her own name and identity when she and John married.

History of naming married women

There’s a useful article in The Conversation about the custom of change of name at marriage.

The change in women’s identity through taking a husband’s name emerged from patriarchal history. A married woman became known simply as ‘wife of X’. She became her husband’s possession. Until the late 19th-century, women in England ceded all property and parental rights to their husbands on marriage.

When I married in 1960, I’d never heard of a woman who hadn’t taken her husband’s name on marriage. Men expected it. Women accepted it.

We also accepted that we would lose our permanent positions as nurses and teachers. We would become dependent on the men we married, and somewhat subservient. If we did resume work after our honeymoon, we became casual workers.

I happily took on my husband’s name. In any case, I quite liked the new surname on offer. It had a ring to it that my previous name lacked!

As a child with a severe lisp, I’d struggled to say my name. ‘Maureen Stone’ created great difficulty, with the letter ‘n’ preceding the ‘s’. Even though my lisp became less pronounced with maturity and practice, people often asked me to repeat or spell ‘Stone’. I didn’t want to go back to that.

My change of name

There were many reasons for my change of name. Here are a few.

  • I had been divorced and a newer Mrs had replaced me. My surname felt redundant.
  • A book by Gwen Wesson called Brian’s Wife and Jenny’s Mum, about women’s lack of distinct identity, impressed me deeply. It’s still available on Amazon, if you’d like to check it out.
  • For years I’d been reading feminist literature, starting with Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, which left a lasting impression.
  • I’d completed a Degree in Social Science and a Graduate Diploma in Women’s Studies. That gave me the background, history and impetus needed to change my name.
  • A bank officer rejected my application for a loan to replace the ‘marital home’ with a house of my choosing. He said I didn’t have a man to ‘keep’ me. I did support myself and my children and had a big-enough deposit, but my protest fell on deaf ears. All he saw was that ‘Mrs’ in front of my name, and no husband.
  • I was ready for a career change, and the time seemed right to make other changes.
  • A new, very personal name, not related to that of a male, seemed appropriate and important. I talked about it with my father, and he seemed quite happy with my decision.

Downsides

Very few negatives resulted from my change of name from a conventional one to my present name.

  • A few people in my close circle thought my decision odd and made that quite clear.
  • The decision created confusion for schools and teachers of my children. They had to cope with a parent with a different name from that of the children before it became more common. They often continued to call me Mrs and there seemed little point in disagreeing in that setting.
  • Oddly, one downside which had persisted throughout my single life recurred. I’m now frequently asked to spell ‘Helen’.
  • People comment on my ‘strange’ or ‘odd’ surname. I smile, as sweetly as possible. Sometimes I agree with them and they become even more confused.

Things I’d do differently

Of course, there are things I’d do differently if I ever made another such radical change.

  • I’d make much more of an occasion of such a major life-event
  • There’d be someone with me to take photos of the occasion.
  • Instead of simply going home and getting the dinner after I’d been to the Registry Office with my deed poll, I’d celebrate with an amazing party.
  • I’d proclaim my change of name and status from the roof-tops instead of quietly notifying those people and organisations who needed to know.

Aftermath of change of name

Almost forty years later, I continue to delight in my name.

The act of changing it triggered a chain reaction. I became more confident. More assured. Authority figures no longer fazed me. I applied for positions I would not have considered previously. And got the jobs I wanted.

I’m grateful for the encouragement of friends who helped me think through my decision. They often feature in my gratitude journal although they are no longer part of my life.

Of course, I’d do it all again. And of course, I’ll treasure my name.

Join the Conversation

22 Comments

  1. I love your name. It is very memorable, and the two names marry well. I reverted to my maiden name after the end of my first marriage — I’d never liked my husband’s name, and I cam to severely dislike him — and when I married again, and my second husband refused to hyphenate his name — “I’d lose my identity!” I kept my maiden name again.But my eldest brother insisted on addressing letters to me “Mrs xxx yyy”. Not even my christian name! About 10 years ago I changed my christian names; I like Christina but had never related to my first name, Anne, which was my mother’s name. So I chose Marigold as a middle name. I love Marigold, though no-one calls me that, except one friend who calls me Christina Marigold. My name feels complete now, and I have a little marigold knitted gnome on my desk that I call Marigoldus. he/she bears my writing/creative identity, while Christina bears my soul identity.

    1. Thank you for your comment about my name, Christina Marigold. I do really like it, as well. Men have some large sense of entitlement in so many ways. Fancy thinking he’d lose his identity if you hyphenated your name or both of your names for that matter. And John’s relatives address mail to me in his name. I never comment or say thank you because they know I’m Maureen Helen and persist.

      I remember when you changed your name. It made such good sense to me when you did it, and I really love Christina Marigold. I would love to see a photo of Marigoldus, who bears your creative identity. Beautiful combination of soul and creative identities.

      1. Yes, I agree. I thought our identities were connecting, and that simple hyphen would symbolise that connection. It was but a small sign of many disconnections between us, much as we yearned to connect and love each other, as our history of connections, disconnections and re-connections attest. As for John’s relatives, they mirror, I’m sure, the insulated perceptions of so many families. I can’t post a photo here, but will send to you and post on my FB page! Love to you.

        1. Interesting how connections and disconnections manifest in relationships. And sad, sometimes.

          I look forward to your Facebook post and the photo of Marigoldus. Please tag me. I sometimes don’t see Facebook posts.

  2. I enjoyed this blog post Maureen. I chose to keep my surname i was born with. I couldnt imagine me as being someone else I guess. But it’s funny how when you’re married and you don’t change your surname you get asked why as a woman.

    From memory, I recall my mum saying in Singapore the Chinese women kept their names and didn’t change them. It was only with Western influence that she changed her surname to my dad’s.

    Insightful blog post. Thank you Maureen Helen!!

    1. Hi, Aggie. My daughters have both reverted to using the name they were born into, and granddaughters use their own names after marriage, as do my husband’s daughter and niece. It seems sensible to all of us! And they tell me how they are quizzed about why they didn’t take their husbands’ names. It feels very odd to me in this century. I wonder how much it hurt your mother to change her surname to your father’s because I also understand that Chinese women are not expected to change on marriage.

  3. How absolutely wonderful, Maureen. Oh, how I’d love to wind the clock back and join you in a truly wild celebration!
    I hear you!
    The main, possibly only, reason I kept using my second surname was the issue of identity with and for my children through school years.
    Thank you for sharing your story. xx

    1. Lovely to hear from you, Susan, and thank you for understanding me. I don’t think I knew how to celebrate in those days – that came much later. But I won’t let other occasions for celebrate go!

  4. What a happy post. I have several friends who have done this & I have seen their confidence grow.

    1. Thanks, Maureen. I love telling this story and remembering how my life changed with my name change.

  5. I changed my first name at a significant point in my life(Divorce)My first name had a diminutive which I disliked. On checking I found I was able to legally change my name through usage as long as it wasn’t for fraudulent purposes. Later, when I remarried my marriage certificate simply stated formerly known as……
    Passport and Immigration authorities have accepted the new name.

    1. That sounds like a very simple solution, Sonia, and one which obviously works. I think I felt a need to make a major statement at the time, and so the deed poll route suited me as a way of saying ‘today I become myself’.

  6. I enjoyed hearing your name change story Maureen. Like you I married in the 60s and it never occurred to me not to take my husband’s name at the time. My father’s side of the family is Italian and each Christmas there would be a wonderful open house gathering at my late grandmother’s house where my uncle still lived. One Christmas as we were leaving my husband said I shouldn’t have given up my own surname because it was part of my heritage and suggested I go back to it. We had been married 15 years by then and had 3 children with his surname so I compromised and hyphenated both names. For years he found it highly amusing that he would sometimes be addressed as Mr Raffa-Mulligan.

    1. Tina, I love that your husband actually suggested you should change your name back to that of your family. What a gem! Your solution sounds very workable for both of you, and a compromise. Thank you for your comment

  7. I love this post.

    I couldn’t wait to become Mrs Walker, but when people began to address letters and cards to Mrs Graham Walker I soon started to feel annoyed. My name is Susan not Graham.

    Following her divorce Daughter, Sophie kept her married name because she wanted to have the same name as her sons. But when she had Evie to her new partner (now ex) she chose a double-barrelled surname for her but used Walker!

    And now we get even more complicated because some years after Sophie’s divorce, her sister Louisa started going out with Sophie’s ex-husband and eventually married him, yes you read that correctly! So two of my daughters now have the same surname.

    We all found this turn of events very strange, but it didn’t bother Sophie, well apart from the surname!

    1. Sue, I loved reading about your daughters.What a fabulous plot for a short story – or a novel! I suppose if they had kept the name Walker, they would both still have the same surnames. But what an amazing turn of events.

      When I changed my name, I didn’t think much about the complications that would arise with my children having a different name. I guess I thought it would work out somehow. And it did.

      BTW, my SSL didn’t work properly, and I was locked out of my WordPress account for a week until it was fixed. I couldn’t respond to your blogs, which has frustrated me. All better now

  8. It is fantastic that so many women now retain their maiden names when they marry – as did my daughter. I reverted back to my maiden name a few years after a divorce – have never regretted it. Like so many have said in their replies, there is a great sense of freedom. Something I do find strange Maureen – I did not have to get a Deed Poll? I must admit, I did find your ‘surname’ a bit strange when i first had contact with you – but now love it!!

    1. Hi, Elizabeth B. I don’t think you need a deed poll when you revert to a name you’ve used before. I’m not even sure if I needed one, but I wanted to cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s and make a big statement when I changed my name. Lots of people think my name is strange and I’m glad you’ve accepted it.

  9. Oh Maureen, I have been meaning to read this for ages and finally have. It’s a delightful story and beautifully told in your own inimitable style. I reckon that it might be time soon for that celebration or anniversary of your name change. It deserves to be celebrated for sure 🙂 BIg smiles
    Tricia

    1. Thanks, Tricia. Lovely that you enjoyed the story of my name. Perhaps I’ll put off the celebration until the fortieth anniversary in 18 months time! xx

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