International Women’s Day is a call to equality, so why don’t women in Australia stop adopting their husband’s name upon marriage? Why don't they keep their own?
|Will this 2018 Melbourne bride change her name?|
Men don’t have to change their names and assume a new identity when they marry. By changing our names we make an ongoing acknowledgment that we play a secondary role in society. Women learn early to show their willingness to concede ground to their husbands and children so that their family unit presents one united front to the world. It often sets them into a somewhat subservient role for the rest of their lives.
Yet I know women who keep their surnames while their children carry their husband’s surname. Their husband copes. Schools can cope. Banks can cope. One of my daughter's friends made this choice. She married years ago and has two children but never changed her own name to her husband's. He accepts this.
I married (for the first time) at twenty and in my day, women were expected to marry and stop working after children were born. We unthinkingly and naively changed our surnames, unaware of the huge cultural change just around the corner, the women’s liberation movement. Back in 1963 I was only vaguely aware of what was to come. I’d earned a Commonwealth Scholarship and when the Commonwealth Bank advertised cadetships for boys interested in a career in banking I rang up and said “What about girls?” Thus, in 1963, I became the first girl to embark on a professional career in banking in Australia. Yet stupidly I changed my name when I graduated from Sydney University in 1966 and married later that year. I began decades of giving up my name and career to suit others.
|Me with my maiden name, back in 1966|
Decades later my daughter changed her surname to please the man she loved and now, four children later, she regrets it too. She’s divorced and wants to get back into the professional workforce ... but who among those who knew her workforce achievements in her old life will recognise her new identity? Only those who still know her personally, as a friend. She could revert to her maiden name, but she herself has got used to her new identity and it’s a real hassle to change everything. Bank accounts. Passport. Driver’s licence. Council rates notices. Children's records at school. Etc, etc. It’s very limiting. Women find themselves stalled, having to explain themselves, wasting time on unnecessary administration. Men just carve out their name in the world, moving onwards … and upwards, if they’re lucky.
The name-changing tradition doesn’t happen in some cultures in Europe and Asia. And we know that plenty of successful women in Australia are happily married yet have a different surname from their husbands and children.
|Will this 2018 bride in Rome change her name?|
Some women choose to struggle for a while and maintain two surnames – from the family of origin and the new husband's family. But it’s not easy. Writers well know how tricky it is to have a personal name and a nom-de-plume, bank accounts being an obvious problem, but at least a female writer does not usually adopt another name to please the man in her life.
It’s much easier just to have one name through life, as men do. In our convict era, officialdom got it right – no matter how many husbands a woman had in Australia, she was recorded under the name by which she was transported.
As my contribution to International Women’s Day, 8 March, I’m encouraging my granddaughter to keep her own surname and identity throughout her life, no matter how many husbands she might have! It's one of the obvious ways for women to achieve equality. Governments please note - it doesn't cost anything!