As Shakespeare once said: ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ Friends, Shakespeare was wrong. As any writer can tell you names matter. Whether or not to change your name after marriage is one of the most controversial issues brides face. Everybody has an opinion and they are not shy about expressing it. What follows is an account of how HWSNBN and I have negotiated the difficult issue of changing our names when we marry. As with ever topic I cover, I’m not suggesting that this would be right solution for everybody, this is just a personal account of why we made the choices we did.
I love my name: Rowan Amelia January. It’s different, in my life I’ve met two other people called Rowan, both men, and no other January’s (that I’m not related too, holla fellow Januarys!). The Januarys are a dying breed. In a map comparing 1881 and 1999 census results meant to show where our families come from, there are not enough incidences of January as a surname to display. When I was a teenager, desperate to blend into the crowd, I hated how my name drew attention. January was so unusual why pair it with Rowan and not temper it with a more conventional first name like Sarah, my older sister had. But over the years I’ve come to love my name and it’s meaning.
Rowan is a mountain ash tree used in pagan times to ward off evil. In Gaelic, Rudha-an or Rowan means red one. I given the name Amelia, my middle name, after Amelia Earhart the first woman to fly over the Atlantic: a true feminist hero. January comes from Janus the two-headed Roman god of doorways who looked forward as well as back. My unconventional name has caused some amusing misconceptions in the past. When I worked for a non-fiction publishers I would often communicate with authors entirely over email. On several occasions when I met these authors for the first time at a conference the following scenario would play out:
Bearded author dude: *approaches stall, looking puzzled* Hi, I’m looking for Rowan January
Me: That’s me, pleased to meet you
BAD: But you’re a girl!
Me: Yes. *stunned by their powers of deductive reasoning.*
BAD: But Rowan is a boy’s name?
Me: Evidently not. Because I am a girl and well, that’s my name.
Strangely enough, it’s my surname that most people seem to have the problem with. From the ‘were you born in January?’ To the ‘Well I’ve never met a Mrs February before!’ Or the calendar girl comments, I’ve heard every joke under the sun and the person before you, probably told it better! I was talking to my cousins recently and we concluded that out of all the months of the year to be named after January is the crappest. It’s in the middle of winter, just after Christmas when everybody is broke, hung over, and longing for the sun. So after putting up with years of awful jokes I should jump at the chance to discard my maiden name right?
Except I’m not. It’s not just that I love my name: I have moral objections to changing it. Lots of my friends have chosen differently and I understand their reasons. It’s a personal choice that every couple must make for themselves. What really bothers me is that how many people assume because I am female I will automatically subsume my identity into HWSNBN. That marriage isn’t a merger it’s a takeover. Because of convention, I change my name he doesn’t. I am defined by my marital status as Miss or Mrs while he is not. A perfect example of this principle in action is that etiquette dictates that in our wedding invite my parents should be called Mr and Mrs David January (a convention we are happily ignoring). Afterall my mum is a person in her own right not just an appendage of my father. It seems very odd to me that after all the care and thought that my parents put into my name I should change it by chance depending on who I fall in love with. (What if I fell in love with somebody with a horrific last name?) The thought of discarding my maiden name made me feel very uncomfortable as if I was losing my identity. There were all these reasons for me not to change my name. And only one in the for column: HWSNBN.
You see, HWSNBN really wanted me to change my name. He did not want us to stay separate entities after marriage as if nothing had changed. And then there was the issue of children. HWSNBN’s father is an only child and HWSNBN is his only son. If we had children, he wanted them to have his name. The compromise was clear: we could hyphenate our names. But by doing so were we merely pushing the difficult decision to our children. Surely our children and their children couldn’t continue to hyphenate when they married and became the January-HWSNBN-Jones-Bloggs?
We were at an impasse until I read this blog post on changing your name on one of my favourite marriage sites A practical wedding. This excellent post summed up all of issues and posited an elegant solution. In Spain the convention is that couple hyphenate their surnames when they marry. When their children marry, if they are girls they keep their mothers maiden name and take on their husbands, if they are boys they keep their father’s name and take on their wives surname.
So from next year I’ll be changing my name to Ms Rowan January-Hislastname and he will be adding my surname to his. As I said at the beginning of the post it’s a personal decision that every couple must make but is the perfect solution for us and our baby family. By hyphenating it feels like we are joining together in a partnership of two equals. Plus now HWSNBN and I get to share the name changing administrative pain like everything else we will do, now and in the future, together.