Mrs George Clooney may rue the day she changed her name after marriage to her Hollywood superstar. Statistics being what they are, she may want her name back. And that name is Amal Alamuddin – the name she used at university, the one she used to become a high flying lawyer (currently advising how Greece win back the Parthenon marbles from the British Museum) and the name she with which she basically made a name for herself.
At the same time, more or less, UK heiress Jemima Khan has announced a decade after divorcing Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan that she intends to revert to her maiden name. She writes in the New Statesman that she feels sad about it because she used her married name for so long. And for good reason – use it long enough, and a new name becomes your identity. A woman may build up her brand under the adopted married name, and that’s not an easy thing to change. Brands remain, for better or worse, longer than the shelf life of many relationships.
Eleanor Robertson from The Guardian speculates that Amal Alamuddin Clooney may have decided on the American actress tradition of hitching the married name to hers – a double barrelled effort – but she still may be on dangerous ground when it comes to her brand and identity. For a man may take his name back if things turn sour.
Flamboyant Australian businessman Geoffrey Edelsten has waded into the debate about whether or not a woman should change her name on marriage by demanding that his estranged wife Brynne stop using his surname. According to Daily Mail Australia, an enraged Mr Edelsten said: ‘Stop using my last name, Brynne. You are only using it to get publicity and attention, it’s desperate.’
Edelsten has declared that Brynne, who has a reality TV show that is based on her brand as a glamour wife, ditch her married name, demanding that she “Make a name “ for herself [and] stop leaning on mine, it’s an embarrassment to me and a desperate act of attention.”
This is perhaps a cautionary tale about why women should not change their name on marriage – and a more convincing argument than any a feminist can muster. The former Brynne Edelsten is now Ms Brynne Gordon.
Eleanor Robertson defends Amal’s choice by arguing that “the political valences attached to taking your husband’s name are different for different groups of women, but the arguments we hear most centre the perspectives of feminists with a prominent platform.” However, it takes a woman a long time to build up her resume and credibility, and that shouldn’t be thrown away lightly, no matter if that knight in shining armour happens to be George Clooney.
As MamaMia blogger Jamila Rizvi observed, why wouldn’t the former Amal Alammudin – a renowned lawyer and person of note in her own right – want to keep the name under which she had accomplished so much? The name that she was born with? The name that says more about her culture and ethnicity than her husband’s name?
The fact is that these choices are not the same for men, and that women in academia should think carefully about casting aside their names. The lure of the wonderful and lavish wedding is embedded in popular culture. But isn’t it possible to have the ring, the big dress and the presents – and still keep your name, just as your husband is keeping his?
Amal’s choice is quite pertinent to doctoral students and post docs, because the higher degree journey comes at all stages of the lifecycle, and with it love, divorce, remarriage, recoupling, and conscious uncoupling. None of this means terribly much for men, but for women on the academic journey it comes with the political choice of surname.
If you meet that special someone while a doctoral student (don’t ask me how this is possible, because don’t you have study to attend to???) and decide to be married, will you, like Amal, opt to be Dr Mrs His Surname? Or Dr Mrs Mine & His Surname?
I married very young but was never expected or asked to give up my name. I kept my Greek name through all my degrees and decades of marriage, and though now uncoupled, when I received my doctorate, it was in the name I was born with. My children, who have their father’s name, have never felt confused that their mother has a different name. Indeed, I have a different name to my own mother, though she is still married to my father. She is not Greek and returned to her own more ethnically appropriate name decades ago after Women’s Studies courses at university caused her to question the convention of changing your name on marriage.
My mother taught me this – in your career your name is your business card. It is, like the former Amal Alammudin, the name with which you make your mark on the profession. As a writer, I take my name very seriously. A career in journalism taught me the importance of one’s byline. Indeed, fellow Australian and writer Kathy Lette, who defended Amal in the Herald Sun (Saturday 11 October 2014) has kept her own name despite her long marriage to UK lawyer Geoffrey Robertson.
If you think you can take for granted the fact that you may keep your new married name forever (or indeed, want to keep it forever), think again. Once conscious uncoupling has been achieved, you may find yourself with the added burden of starting over with your publication record and explaining your name change. Just because you are traditional and did your husband the huge ego boost of severing your identity and taking his name, doesn’t mean that when you tire of each other he will not decide that he has other uses for his name, and other partners-in-waiting with which to bestow his mighty gift. Or that he simply doesn’t like you having his name when he no longer has you.
Then again, you might feel you no longer want the name now you are by yourself, and remember, if you never changed your name in the first place at least you won’t be stuck with the name of someone you are no longer with.
You – my dear traditional female academic who has attached so much importance to your acquired name – may find that there is a battle over naming rights. Before you can say “look me up on Google Scholar” you may be asked to hand back your name. Your ‘married’ name that is. Yes, start again with your publication record.
It is simply something men in academia never have to contemplate.
Whether or not to take a man’s name on marriage is something that used to divide younger women from their older married cohorts. Back in the 1980s, no self respecting feminist would use the title ‘Mrs’ let alone dump their surname at the altar. These were the days of being proud to use Ms as a title (before you became Dr) and you could take comfort in watching strong female TV characters like Murphy Brown, who were single, feminist and making it – and having a great time – in the tough world of media (with their own name).
These days, of course, young women are jumping at the chance to add “Mrs” to their name, and are keen to adopt their husband’s surname as a badge of pride, or, more likely, as a sign of success at having finally nabbed one of those commitment-phobic men.
Just what men think about this name changing game has rarely been investigated, presumably because we expect men to puffer up with pride that a woman will shed their identity for the privilege of being their wife.
But what about when the often inevitable split happens? It used to be one of the reasons women were cautioned not to through away their moniker. It’s not only time consuming to change all one’s official paperwork to a new name – come divorce, and it has to be changed back.
The trouble is, that name – the name you, a married woman, have adopted with such pride, is one that you worked hard to elevate as your own brand in whatever career you developed. You changed your twitter handle to hubby’s name – and now he wants it back? What’s your twitter handle going to be now? @Washisname? That maybe all very well if you have a reality TV show, less convincing if you are attempting a career in academia, for example.
I am intrigued by why men encourage and agree to women taking their name on marriage. Presumably it is an ownership deal for them. Perhaps, as a woman, I simply do not understand why men agree to a woman taking their name. It is not about love, that’s for sure. Love does not need to have matching names (unless you are very insecure). Why then?
The trouble with taking a man’s name for an academic in need of a publication record is that few women pause to consider that their man’s name might be up for grabs in a divorce settlement. Perhaps it will be a chattel that is disputed in court, bartered, say, in exchange for jewellery given or fought over in return for part ownership of a holiday house?
And is a man’s name, like his fidelity and love, something that can be regifted over and over again in new marriages, leaving an endless trail of wives with the same surname? Or should the previous owners be forced to relinquish the naming rights?
Geoffrey Edlesten has revealed that a newly acquired name may be as transient as most marriages. According to The Daily Mail, Geoffrey has said that he wants his new paramour, Gabi Grecko, to take his name when he marries her. ‘I love Gabi and I want her to use my name once she feels comfortable to do so.’
I rather like the American celebrity ritual of adding the husband’s name to their name on marriage – such as Christy Turlington Burns and Robin Wright Penn. And then dropping it like Farrah Fawcett (Majors) or (as listed on wikipedia) the actress “previously credited as Robin Wright Penn” as they drop the bloke from their life. It suggests that coupledom is a temporary condition, one that should not impinge on one’s identity. It says ‘ I will placate your ego by hitching your name to mine, but like the caravan annex, it will be abandoned by the road side once I decide to pack up and make a getaway, without any costs to my identity.’
The image of abandoned surnames littering the highway of love is rather compelling.