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.
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.