According to this article by Catherine Deveny in The Age today, I must be conservative, insecure or stupid. Why? Because I changed my name (at least to an extent) after I got married. Where’s the option for “D. None of the above”? Deveny was inspired to write the article after seeing Jana Rawlinson (nee Pittman) successfully compete in the World Titles hurdling.
There are a number of reasons why women change their surnames after marriage. When I asked a close friend if she intended to change her surname, she just looked at me for about 5 seconds. Then she said, “My current surname has six letters, but only one vowel. Do you know how much trouble I have with it? And no one in Australia can say it properly anyway.” So she opted for another six letter surname, but with three vowels and three consonants. Another friend had her father’s surname, but she didn’t have much time for him. She was happy to ditch her father’s surname for her husband’s, on the basis that she may as well take the surname of a man she respected. Perhaps in Rawlinson’s case, she wanted to change her name to change her image. Fairly or unfairly, she did suffer some really bad press, and I can understand that she might want to ditch her old name for that reason.
What about me? I must confess that I didn’t change my surname until my little girl was about 8 months old. And I only changed it for home (driver’s license, Medicare card, banking details). So many women I know have done the same as I did. My mother didn’t change her surname until she had me, either. I don’t think it’s marriage which makes the difference, it’s children. My daughter has my husband’s surname. And me having a different surname sometimes leads people to conclude that I’m not her mother. Also, there’s probably a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder in there somewhere: my maiden name looked out of place on the Medicare card, in a way that it didn’t when there were only two names on it.
I haven’t ditched my maiden name altogether. I still use it for work and professionally. This is partly because I had published before I got married, so I didn’t want to lose any meagre reputation I might have built up. Sometimes I do wish I could get rid of my maiden name altogether (partly because there was another girl at high school and law school with almost the same name, right down to the middle initial, and people were always confusing the two of us, on paper at least). But then at other times I feel nostalgic and glad that I’ve held on to it. It has a long, although not altogether glorious, heritage. My forefather who gave me my surname was a 15 year old pickpocket who was deported to Australia on the Second Fleet. He allegedly stole a hanky.
The other option, the “sit-on-the-fence” option, is to adopt a double barreled surname, but I don’t really care for the combination of my husband’s and my names. Also, it might make it hard for our names to fit on licenses, certificates and the like. My sister dated a guy with a long double barreled surname for a while, and apparently his name didn’t fit on his graduation certificate. And what happens when a double barreled surname marries a double barreled surname? Do they become quadruple barreled? Or do they pick one name from each pair?
Does adopting my husband’s surname (at least to a degree) make me conservative, insecure or weak? I don’t think so. Strangely enough, I quite like my husband. And I’m proud to bear his name. Should I demand that he bear my surname instead? I think perhaps I did bow to societal convention a little. In some Asian countries, wives do not take their husband’s names (eg, Vietnam), so perhaps I wouldn’t have felt the same desire if I had grown up in that culture. But it does feel nice for the three of us to have the same name – like we are a little named unit.
I don’t think the name changing issue is that important. The more important issue raised by Deveny is why mothers are criticised if they go back to work, but fathers are not. I think her rant on surnames detracts from the valid point she makes.
I hate that bloody “supermum” title. No mother can have it all. If you go back to work full time, it’s inevitable that your relationship with your child will be affected. And if you are a full time mother, it’s inevitable that your career will be affected. I have no illusions about that. Currently, I’m trying to do both part time, which sometimes feels like juggling 50 balls in the air at once. I think I took on too many things this year, which is part of the reason I was depressed last month. I didn’t feel like a supermum, I felt like someone who was stretched to the limit.
When babies are first born, they are still totally reliant on their mothers. It’s like the umbilical cord is still present, it’s just invisible and the baby is now on the outside. The physical realities of pregnancy and motherhood mean that women do have to drop everything, for at least a time, and concentrate on bringing up baby. But when the baby gets older, parenting is a joint effort, and the focus shouldn’t just be on the mother. There are many different ways of organising your parenting. I know of families where the father stays at home, and of families where both parents work part-time in order to share the care of the children. I also know of families where the mother stays at home, and of families where both parents work full time or almost full time.
I have no idea how Jana Rawlinson managed to win a World Title hurdling medal with a young son. I wonder if she feels like she is juggling 50 balls at once? Good luck to her. But I also wish good luck to all the other parents out there who are juggling work and children and everything else…