There was an article in the paper today about people changing their names when they marry; it has been traditional and customary for women to take the surnames of their husband – I think for many women in the past they might even have thought it was a legal requirement for them to do so. I’m not sure it ever was, but maybe it was so. Certainly I don’t think it would ever have occurred for my mother or aunties or my mother-in-law and her sisters not to take their new husband’s name.
I have always felt a very strong attachment to my surname of Elsden; I know it was my father’s family name, and he was only half of who made me, but I have never ever felt a Matthews, which was my mother’s ‘maiden’ name. I remember once, many years before I was married having a conversation with an older woman and said that when or if I married, I wouldn’t take my husband’s name. She was shocked, outraged almost, as if had insulted her and she declared that she was ‘proud’ to take her husband’s name. In the event, when I did marry, I kept my own name… until we had children and then I changed it by adding my husband’s surname, so it would be less confusing in school. I did however insist they had Elsden as part of their name too!
These days it’s very common for women to keep their own name, or to add their husband’s name to it, and in some cases, the husband takes her name too – and in some very rare cases, changes his name to hers! The person writing in the paper today had a very common surname, and a not very unusual first name, so he had suffered a life of muddle and confusion with people sending him things in error, or things which should have come to him going to another person with the same name. He was very willing to change his name to his partner’s, except she had a very common name too! They had a lot of discussions about what to do, trying to mix the names together, having them as double-barrelled, and then they hit on the idea of looking at their family trees, and seeing if their were any names which appealed. They were delighted to find that her mother’s ‘maiden’ name was just perfect! Very unusual, but easy to pronounce and spell correctly! Hurrah! Decision made! He changed his name by deed-poll and then when they married she took ‘his’ name, which was in fact her own mother’s!
Name changing is an important theme of my latest book, Magick; one woman changes her name to something different from her father, a young woman marries several times, each time taking her husband’s name, and changing her identity along with her name… Thomas Radwinter, the main character also changes his name from time to time, becoming Taras Radwinski, one of his own ancestors.