Monday, 24 September 2012

That's Not My Name

With the wedding date hurtling ever closer, the Boy and I have started to dread Fridays. The rest of the office gets to go home at the end of a Friday and relax into a weekend of lie-ins, brunches, cooking programmes and socialising. Weekends are a time when you don't need to worry about being in a certain place at a certain time. You do things and make plans on your own terms not dictated by work schedules or deadlines. 

 At least you do if you're not getting married in less than a month. If this is the case your weekend becomes about sitting down with the people involved to 'finalise' things. I've been finalising wedding stuff for the past month of weekends, and will be continuing to do so for the foreseeable future. I'm continually complimented by suppliers, vendors and venues about how well organised everything is, much more so than other couples. This helps a little, to know that it's paying off and that we are getting there. A little.

One of the latest things is arranging to collect/be presented with our gifts. We went with a slightly unconventional method for our gift list. Instead of registering with one department store and choosing gifts from there, we built our own online gift list on our wedding website. It means we have a little bit more work to do in keeping the links updated, and a few of our older relatives have had to get some help in navigating the big world wide web, but it has the benefit of allowing us to choose gifts from different suppliers. Unfortunately, it has also meant that we don't have a department store to deliver all out gifts to us post-wedding in one go. People have been getting gifts themselves and therefore need to arrange a time and/or place to hand them over.

Sometimes this has just meant an alternative delivery address when ordering online, and sometimes people have dropped gifts off at my parents house, or the In-Law's house. Sometimes people want to see us in person and have us open them while they watch. The latter is the one that I'm particularly uncomfortable with. I have rarely opened presents in front of anyone other than my parents, my sister and the Boy. I don't understand why people want to see me do that. Oh, and it is me that's supposed to open presents apparently. Even though they are gifts for both of us I'm THE BRIDE, so I must be the one to open them. It is not an experience I enjoy, and I've never done so. I always feel uncomfortable, and feel like I'm being forced into a show of emotional response, but I'm unsure about so I end up being hyper aware of my facial expression. This will come as a surprise to everyone because I do love receiving gifts, and I take great pleasure in giving gifts also. I'm getting a little off topic, but writing that out is the first time that I've consciously addressed those feelings and it might go a little way to explaining my reaction to things that happened around the same time: namely the SURNAME THING.

Most of the gifts and cards (and even a cheque kindly sent by an Aunt and Uncle of mine who aren't able to come to the wedding) were addressed to Mr & Mrs His Surname. You see, most people don't know that I'm keeping my own name after we get married.

There are lots of reason's why I'm keeping my maiden name when we get married, some of them too private for the internet (sorry guys.) Some of them are boring and practical, like the fact that I'm already published under my maiden name or the hassle it is to change everything from my passport and my bank account, to my email address. 

I'm just beginning to gain an understanding for how strange some people find this notion since within a very short space of time two different couples were informed, in passing, that I'm keeping my name. You know that slightly odd expression, 'you could've slapped my face with a wet kipper'? I think I might actually understand it now. I don't think they could have been more surprised if I had just assaulted them about the head with a smoked herring. I have to stress here that the reactions weren't negative, and not long after they shrugged and probably forgot about it. They were mostly confused and surprised that I wasn't following this tradition, and it's unlikely that the though that any Bride would keep her own name would have crossed their minds. That's how ingrained the tradition is within our society.

This attitude was something should have been prepared for, as I'd stumbled across an article in The Vagenda a few weeks ago on the same subject, but from the perspective of Mr. It's a well written and interesting article, and although it discusses a few other things that are also ringing true for me and the Boy, it's the name thing that's got me this week:

"But, dear readers, do you know what we rarely get asked? Whether or not my wife will change her surname to mine. As far as I can tell, the reason we’re not asked this is because it is almost universally assumed that she will or, more accurately, already has – and in fact probably rushed ecstatically to do so somewhere between kissing the bride and consummating the union. It wasn’t just that everyone assumes that her surname is mine – which in itself is presumptuous, if understandable – but that so much subsequent post-wedding correspondence was addressed simply to Mr and Mrs My Full Name. Apparently not only did my wife lose her surname in the nuptials, but in the eyes of a lot of people she lost her first name too." SPR, The Penis Perspective: A Wife By Any Other Name...

I wasn't prepared for how I'd actually fee when faced with a card addressed to 'Mr and Mrs His Full Name'. I expected Mr & Mrs His Surname, and actually chuckled a little to myself when I saw it for the first time. We've been together for almost 10 years, and I'd be a massive liar if I told you that I hadn't tried out Karen [His Surname] to see what my signature would be like.* At some point I started to feel differently about changing my name. I'm not sure when that was, or if there was any one thing in particular that made my decision. I'd dithered for some time about keeping my own name for my academic career, and being Mrs His Surname everywhere else. Yet the thought of splitting myself like that, of being two different people - the 'career academic' and the 'wife&mother' - made me incredibly uncomfortable. I began to question why and my search for a good enough reason didn't find one. Karen [His Surname] isn't me. That's either someone else, or a fictional character. I felt no attachment to it, as if those two words couldn't hold my identity. Family stuff came up and suddenly there were very good reasons, but for keeping my name not for adopting someone else's. It might seem odd to some people, but suddenly keeping my own name was the right choice for me. I'm not doing it for political reasons in order to subvert the patriarchy, after all how much difference does keeping my Father's name rather than taking on my Husband's make to that?

When faced with a card from one of the older guests addressed to Mr and Mrs His Full Name, I felt weird. A few days later when I explained it to the Boy I said that I felt like I suddenly didn't exist any more. I was a non-entity, defined only by my relationship to him. It was a very, very odd experience, but a fleeting one. I opened the card and read the message, addressed to us both by our first names and it went away.

The looks of bewilderment on the faces of the people when the Boy told them that I was keeping my own name haven't faded from my mind yet. It's still quite fresh, but it's left me somewhat baffled myself. I really didn't think that it was still so uncommon in the 21st century.

*It turns out that because one of the initial letters is the same as mine it just looked like I'd tacked Mc on to the beginning of my own name.