I took my husband’s surname when we married many years ago. So much has changed in our social world and someone asked me this International Women’s Day if I would do that now. It has made me think some more about the issue of personal identity and how it is connected to our name.
When I married in America, I kept my ‘maiden’ name in the middle. It was quite common there. If you pick up a book and see the author has a name with two family names after their given name, the odds are it is an American writer. By keeping the Gibson, I embraced the link to my family of origin while at the same time celebrating the formation of our new family under my husband’s name. For quite a number of years, I wrote professionally as a town planner under the three-name style.
But when I returned to Australia in the 70s, official protocol would not accept my name in that format. On my next passport, they insisted that I attach neé Gibson instead. I don’t know when the change happened, but certainly now as names go, you can choose your own style.
So would I change my name if I was marrying now? At the end of a day pondering it, the answer is ‘perhaps not’. But I would want my husband and me (and our children) to have a name in common. It could come from my family of origin, or his. To not have a shared name feels to me like keeping the door open to go your separate ways again sooner or later. I know that is not how everyone sees it, and there are many other factors in the choice women make. There are life events that derail us from our best aspirations too.
But I would want in my choice to affirm the biblical ideal of marriage as a commitment for life. When we were recently celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary, people asked our secret of a long and happy marriage. It was hard to answer because there is no formula. But I found it helpful to think of marriage as a collaborative work of art. That is, it is a creative and valued endeavour that you are doing together. You don’t know what the work of art will become, but you are committed to making it work together under God’s loving hand. It does not come fully formed when you say, “I do”. You work at it over the years.
Love, agape self-giving love, is of course the primary glue that binds a couple together and enables them separately and together to flourish. But sometimes agape love seems rather nebulous. So in our marriage, we have come to think of kindness as the virtue that best expresses what is needed day in, day out, in the ups and downs of life.
We have just celebrated another wedding anniversary and my husband styled the envelope for the card: Mrs Neil Turner. I smiled and got the joke. That was what I was called on our wedding day, but not now. I have my own name back, as well as his.