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Last Updated: Friday, 15 July, 2005, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
Being Lisa Stansfield

By Lisa M Stansfield
BBC News

Wedding cake figures
When it comes to marriage, where does tradition stop?
Before you ask, yes, I have been around the world. It was a nine-month trip. But unlike my new namesake, I wasn't looking for my baby. I'd found him already, and that's when my dilemma began.

Before my recent wedding, I was plain old Lisa Carpenter. Nothing remotely funny about that name, but it was a name that had served me well for years.

Then I had to face the question that all newly married women must confront these days - to take, or not to take, your husband's surname?

Even in this allegedly post-feminist era, women are still faced with the daunting prospect of having to defend their decision to anyone who asks. Are you really changing your name? Don't you think you're losing your identity if you change it?

Changing strains

There is no legal requirement for a woman to take her husband's surname when she gets married. It is entirely her choice. But marriage is steeped in custom and that steers women into thinking that they should make the "right" and "traditional" choice.

Even in these more enlightened times, tradition seems to be making a comeback. A study by Harvard University last year suggested that the proportion of educated career women choosing to take their husbands' surname is, on the rise again.

It would probably be simpler to close down all accounts in a maiden name and reopen them in a new married name
In a Harvard class in 1980, 44% of students who went on to be brides kept their surnames. In the 1990 class, that had dropped to 32%.

Yet making such a change can be a huge hassle, especially because there are now so many more institutions to inform. As well as the banks, building societies, doctors and dentists, there's also ISPs, e-mail accounts and numerous e-accounts with various retail websites and message boards that one has amassed along the way.

It would probably be simpler to close down all accounts in a maiden name and reopen them in a new married name.

And taking the traditional path means one could lose one's first name as well. If your name is Clare Smith and you marry John Jones, you become formally known as Mrs John Jones. According to the Wedding Guide website, being addressed as Mrs Clare Jones would be incorrect.

Whose identity is it anyway?

On the other hand, there's something to be said for tradition. So why do some people sneer if a woman changes her surname?

The other Lisa Stansfield
Soul sister - the other Lisa Stansfield
Some people equate a surname with one's identity - they believe that if you lose one, the other disappears with it - when in fact a surname tends to evoke the "personality" of one's distant forebears, who were probably given it according to where they lived or what their occupation was.

There are compromises. A woman can keep her maiden name and use it as her middle name or the husband could take on the woman's maiden name and lose his surname. Or one could even change both surnames to something else entirely.

All these arguments ran through my head in the run up to my recent wedding. I felt slightly pressured into not letting "the side" - by which I mean other women - down. Not by anybody in particular, just by myself really.

Reservations, of a sort

In the end my decision wasn't that hard. I went with my gut instinct and decided to take my husband's surname. Why? Because I wanted to. Nothing to do with tradition and nothing to do with what anybody else thought.

Was I selling my sisters down the river? No. What better way of being independent and believing in the social and economic equality of the sexes is there than making your own choice? That choice was mine.

Of course, my circumstances were a little more extreme than most people. By taking my husband's surname I would unavoidably also be adopting the name of a certain pop chanteuse who had a number one several years ago, but who still seems to loom large in public consciousness.

Did I really want to be the butt of all those imminent wisecracks? So what, I thought? It's only a name after all. Now at the very least, it might just get me a table in a posh restaurant.


Here is a selection of your comments.

When I married my first husband I didn't take his name. My son, however, does have his name (Smith). Now I am remarried and the three of us have different names. It's a clumsy situation, but I believe it's right for us. I can't hyphenate our names as I already have a double barrel name from my mother's two husbands. My son's teachers and friends never know what to call us, and are always calling my second husband by my first husband's name. Now his sports friends just call us "Mrs. Andrew's Mom" and Mr. Andrew's Dad". Letters from school are addressed "To the parents of Andrew Smith". Pretty messy really.
Jan, USA

A friend of mine had her husband take her surname when they were married last year. It was his own personal choice as he had come from a broken family background and never had a surname he could truly identify with. I thought it was a romantic gesture, just as a woman taking a man's surname is. I don't think that women should feel obligated to change their name based on an old tradition that would also have had women stay at home. The nice thing about starting a family or becoming married is that you can also give birth to new traditions too, ones that are your own.
Mary, UK

Whats wrong with a wife taking her husbands name? Isnt it her sign of commitment to him? Doesnt tradition mean a thing anymore? If woman stop taking the name, then should men stop opening the door for a lady? Stop paying for her dinners? If this tradition dies, woman will lose all the little things that men should do for their wives.
Dave, Glasgow

When I married my wife she took my surname. It was mostly her choice, but I didn't try to dissuade her. Now at least everyone either remembers it or makes a joke; she became Elaine Lane.
David Lane, Leeds, UK

Lisa Stansfield says that 'It's only a name after all' but I disagree. Once I would have agreed with her, I took my husband's name on marriage but when I divorced some 10 years later I changed my name by legal declaration to a new, chosen name which was not my maiden name. To my surprise it turned out to be very important indeed psychologically. For the first time in my life I was not being defined as someone else's daughter or wife, my name was mine alone by my own choice and it was reflected in my feelings of self worth at a time when it had been badly shaken. I have never regretted making the change and if I were to marry again (unlikely since I have been living with a partner for the last 15 years with no intention to formalise the relationship) I would not take his name.
Pat S,

Any woman who seriously equates changing her surname with losing her identity must have a pretty poor sense of her own identity to begin with!
Janet Jones (nee Bacon), Norwich, UK

There is a long established cultural pressure for a woman to change her surname when she gets married - despite your correspondent's comments to the contrary. The expectation is there from her new husband's family and even her new husband may experience jibes from friends and colleagues if she has not taken his name. On a more practical level, it is inconvenient to say the least, that couples simply double barrel their names ad infinitum. I think it is time the tables were turned and it was simply agreed that for the next two hundred years at least, men should take a woman's name just to redress the balance if nothing else.
Jo, Stirling

I changed from my maiden name Poulton when I was married in South Africa where I lived for 22 yrs. My marriage only lasted six years but due to having a daughter from this union we both use the name Hagenbucher. I would dearly love to revert to my maiden name for us both as she seldom sees her father but the costs from a legal point of view are enormous plus what I find hard to believe is that I require consent from the father who doesn't even live in this country. So much red tape its unbelievable, so not only do I now live with a name I dislike no one can pronounce it.
Kerry, UK

Even though my family name now ends at my generation I can't wait to take my fiancÚ's name when we get married. To me it is showing to the world the absolute commitment that I am making to that one person, women shouldn't be ashamed of changing their name, unless they're ashamed of their new husbands. The hassle of a wedding is far greater than changing your name over.
Liz, England

I have a female friend who was horrified when I said I would take my boyfriend's surname if we got married. The friend has very strong views on this matter and asked me to justify why (she would marry but keep her name). I said that if I was going to for something as traditional as getting married then I would also do the traditional action of taking my husband's surname. To not, would be a bit hypocritical. The friend said that this was the best reason she had heard to date.
Emma, UK




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