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"With this ring, I give up my identity..."

WITH THIS RING: Many women take their husband’s surname when they get married

THROUGHOUT MY pregnancy, I inevitably thought a lot about the significance of starting a family.

In particular, a riveting debate about marriage and children that was sparked at work before I left to begin my maternity leave, really got me thinking – and left me pretty wound up.

As one unmarried male colleague quizzed a married female colleague as to why she chose not to use her married name, I soon found myself leaping to her defence.

My reaction surprised me; after all, I took on my husband’s surname when I got married in 2010. So why was I so aggrieved that my male colleague – and subsequently, another male co-worker – was taking my female colleague to task on her decision not to take on her husband’s surname?

For as long as I can remember, I was always adamant that I didn’t want children until I was married. My thinking was, and still is, if I’m good enough to have children with, I should be good enough to marry.

Marriage before children was also preferential for me because it was important for me to raise my children in a family environment where mummy, daddy and kids all have the same surname. 

But despite my seemingly traditional values, I found myself irked as my male colleagues challenged my female colleague, insisting that “tradition” dictated that a woman taking on her husband’s surname was the right and proper thing to do.

I soon waded in, arguing that there are plenty of traditions that have lost their relevance in order to suit modern day society. For example, it’s traditional for a couple to exchange rings on their wedding day, and yet many modern men – future king of England, Prince William being one of them – decide to go against tradition, opting not to wear a wedding band.

I certainly wouldn’t have been happy if my husband had refused to wear a ring; a traditional symbol of marriage. Why wouldn’t he wear one, unless he planned to go about masquerading as a single man? But of course, many men opt to break this tradition and go without one.

WHAT'S IN A NAME?: Halle Berry married Eric Benet but did not take his last name

Another of my female colleagues also chimed in, making the valid point that it was once considered tradition for a woman to stay at home while her husband went out to work.

But in today’s tough economic times, how many men would really be happy for their wives to opt not to work and insist upon their husbands being the sole financial providers? For a man who simply can’t afford to be his family’s only breadwinner, his wife playing the “but it is tradition” card probably wouldn’t hold much weight.

So with today’s society picking and choosing which traditions are worth keeping and which should be discarded, I took exception to this vehement stance from my male colleagues that a woman should adhere to tradition when it comes to taking on her husband’s surname in marriage.

Arguing that “it is tradition” seemed like an extremely macho and overly simplistic take on the subject. And what I found particularly disappointing was that neither of my male colleagues appeared to spare any thought for just how significant it is for a woman to give up the name and to some extent, the identity she’s had her entire life.

It’s perfectly understandable to me why some women choose not to take on their husband’s surname. Take famous folks like Halle Berry, Mariah Carey and the late Whitney Houston. With artists of this calibre considered big name acts, it’s no wonder none of them chose to give up those names when they got hitched. After all, Halle Benet, Mariah Cannon and Whitney Brown don’t quite have the same ring as the names that are now synonymous with stardom. 

CHOICES: Whitney Houston continued to use her original stage name despite marrying Bobby Brown

Granted, I’m no celebrity whose name alone carries weight and yes, I made the choice to take on my husband’s surname, but it was exactly that: my choice. It’s not something I, or any married woman was obligated to do, and I wouldn’t have taken kindly to anyone telling me it would have been wrong of me to not change my surname. 

For 27 years of my life, I was Davina Morris. With marriage, I sacrificed my surname, took on a new one, and subsequently had to change my passport, my driver’s licence, my banking details and numerous other important documents – oh, and learn a new signature – to reflect my new married name. 

In addition, imagine how odd it was for me to see my byline printed in the paper as Davina Hamilton after years of seeing my articles preceded by the three words, ‘By Davina Morris’.

It really did take some getting used to, and I imagine it must be the same for many women who built up their careers, their professional reputation and their identity with one name, and then gave up that name in marriage.

Again, I stress that I did all of this willingly and I am glad, particularly now that my daughter is born, that I share the same surname as my husband and child, reflecting the fact that we are a family. But I’ve got little patience for anyone – particularly men, who aren’t ‘expected’ to make this sacrifice in marriage – suggesting that it’s no big thing.

Just because an act is considered traditional, doesn’t mean it will always be undertaken with sheer joy or ease. Women have been giving birth for centuries but that doesn’t mean it’s easy (as I found out three months ago!) 

When I got married, I made the choice to sacrifice my surname in order to take on the name that my future children would also have. But I’ll thank those who haven’t had to make that sacrifice to think twice before saying it’s no big deal.

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