Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I didn't keep my name

I got married in June. I changed my surname to match that of my husband and our son. Some people think that that was not a very feminist thing to do. However, I believe that this decision has to be a personal one in each case. I want to live in a country, and a world, where people who get married can keep the surnames they already have, or take each others', without gender becoming an issue. Since I think gay marriage should be possible, it makes no sense for me to have an opinion on whether a woman should, or should not, take her new husband's name. But in each case it has to be a personal decision based on the circumstances of the people involved.

For the record, here are my reasons.

1) I wasn't very attached to the surname I had.
Around the year I was born there were a lot of little girls given the same first name as me. I got really sick of it. So when I started college, I translated my name into Irish. The easiest way to change your name in this country was one tick away. My student card with my 'new' name got me a bank account. From a bank account you can go pretty much anywhere. The only downside was that there was no 'translate my first name into Irish' box, only a 'translate my name' box. So I translated my whole name, and, up until June, it was my name everywhere.

That surname didn't connect me to my family. I'm the only person I've ever known to use the Irish form. The way Irish 'Mc / Mac' surnames work, unmarried women's surnames begin with 'Ní' or 'Nic', for daughter of, and men's surnames (married or not) begin with 'Mac', for son of. Married women are 'Uí', for wife of. There is, to my knowledge, no way of altering a name to 'husband of'.

2) I wanted to have the same name as my husband, and our son.
When registering a birth in Ireland, you need to choose a surname for the child. It can be the mother's surname, or the father's, or both. (Actually you can choose another surname, but you need some special dispensation). When our son was born we had the impression that my now husband would get more rights if he they had the same surname. I suspect we were misinformed, because I can't find any proof. But it was an impression we had, and certainly a factor in our choice of our son's surname.

Regardless of our reasoning, our son has always had the same surname as his father. I wanted to have that surname too, to share it with them. I suppose we could have looked into changing their names to match mine, including finding some way to deal with the complications mentioned above. But it also gave me a chance to ditch a name I was not, as I said, particularly attached to.

So anyway, that was my choice. And those are my reasons. I am grateful to women who fought for me to have the choice.


  1. The "grown-up" male form is Ó, meaning of or from but in a less possessive sense than Uí.

    I'm also glad you got to make your own choice, and that you're happy with the one you've made. I've always been of a "burn that bridge when I come to it" mentality; it'll probably depend on who I'm with, and on how important it is to each of us.

    1. Hm, interesting. My impression has always been that there were 'Mac' names and 'Ó' names and that they didn't mix any more in Irish than in English. I suppose that could solve the 'husband of' problem though.

  2. Sorcha Bean Uí Bowler, NicAmhalí (sp?) cause you don't stop being a daughter just because you became the woman of Bowler (not Uí, but bean Uí, at least in my granny's case.... my mother took Ó Rathaille as her married name, because Uí Rathaille would have been confusing, for banks and things...)

    It's interesting that Fitzsimons, it sons of Simons, and the family name didn't pass on down, only the father's first name and the Fitz. (which i'm told is annoying for historians who be tracing lineages of Normans in Ireland C1170s-1360s

  3. Point 2 was a mis-information, totally, but in the mind of the child it will create an extra strand in that unbreakable bond if a son to his father.
    You can always change by deed-poll if you change your mind :)