Monday, June 28, 2010


A rose can be a sweet pea if it wants, right? Nope, it'll still be a rose. But it can call itself Sweet Pea if it wants to.
The reason for this
peculiar statement is not peculiar, simply unusual. In modern society anyway.

The Events section of our Sunday newspaper devotes two pages to photos of recent weddings. I always take a look at them. It's interesting to see the wedding gowns etc., but really I try to pick whether the marriage will last. After all, about 46% these days end in divorce. It's quite impossible to work out who will and who won't stick together, because they all look happy and attractive on their wedding day, and anyway it's seldom possible to judge someone's character by their looks. However, there's another little game I play. I work out the bride's new name, that is, add her first name to his last. For instance, if "Kate Featherstone" marries "Peter King", she'll become "Kate King". (Names have been changed to protect the innocent young married couple from my opinions.)

A few months ago this silly game took a good knock. Headline under the photo said TWIST ON TRADITION. And explained this pair were doing it the opposite way. The bridegroom was taking the bride's surname. I've never seen such an example in all the years I've been gawking at wedding pictures. They're an attractive pair, and good-natured - if one judges by looks again. And intelligent; they both work in the medical profession So he becomes "Peter Featherstone"... And he doesn't look at all as if he thinks it'll be a problem. Even though it is his bride's father's surname.

I was intrigued. Granted there's no legal requirement for a woman to take her husband's name - it is simply a custom. And one which started, like many other things, as a French fashion, in the 1500s. The Scandinavians, bless 'em, always elected to name their girls "someone's daughter", as in "Ericsdottir", in the same way her brothers were called "Ericsson". This local civilized practice meant girls kept their family name and weren't required to be called "Mrs. Bjornson" if she married a son of Bjorn. But, of course, "Ericsdottir" still implied her father's name was the more important.

Some women nowadays elect to keep their family surname when they marry. And of course the family surname is their Dad's, and his dad's, and so on back to whenever legal marriage became the "in" thing. They can, of course, choose to be called by their mothers' maiden names. But hold it right there. If Kate Featherstone's mother was originally Judy Blenkinsop, then Kate would be calling herself by Judy's father's name, her maternal grandfather Bill Blenkinsop. (And actually I don't think Peter would prefer Blenkinsop over Featherstone.) And Bill's male forebears were called Blenkinsop, all the way back to the caves, the tribes, and the giver of names, probably a witchdoctor, who landed him with the name Blenkinsop...

But there's a way out. Kate could call herself Featherstone-Blenkinsop, hyphenated. This solution, unfortunately, for the reason of sheer length, seldom survives past the two generations, unless the surnames are short. "King-Ash-Bell" anyone? If everyone did it, imagine the length of the electoral roll, the crowding of addresses on envelopes, and the suffering inflicted upon those among us afflicted with a stutter. Nope, won't work.

But wait, there's more. In the first paragraph when I mentioned weddings I also mentioned divorce rates. (Like it or not, one often comes after the other, like the tin cans after the wedding limousine.) Now the men who are divorced are in the fortunate position of retaining their surnames. As for the ladies, most of them would be pleased as punch to get rid of his name and return to their own (well, their father's, who warned her the fiance was no good anyway). But there's usually children to consider, and the poor kids have already gone through enough without having their mother change her name to one different from theirs. So most divorcees reluctantly keep the ex-hubby's surname. Bummer, but at least the offspring aren't confused.

Ladies, it looks like we're stuck our husband's surnames. After all, unless we're sensitive about feminism, it doesn't do any harm. Except for the times we start looking for old girlfriends from school whom we only knew by their maiden names... Anyone have other suggestions? I'd love to hear them.

Though of course, if all men possessed the sensitivity of "Peter Featherstone", nee "Peter King", and take their wives' names, the situation would be at least reversed. He's a brave man, that. After all, he's continuing his journey through life with the surname of his father-in-law. And his father-in-law's father, and grandfather, all called "Featherstone" way back to the caves or the tribes or the witch-doctor who landed the first of them with the name "Featherstone"...

Kate Rose-Sweetpea and Peter Rose-Sweetpea, anyone? Or Kate Sweetpea-Rose and Peter Sweetpea-Rose? One of those cases where the possibilities are endless.


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Monya,
Now that was interesting. These hypenated names really throw me though.


Monya Clayton said...

Thanks, Margaret. I found the whole question very interesting myself! At least it got me going on my blog again.
And the responses so far have been interesting as well. How complicated life can be sometimes!

Best wishes,

Kitty Bucholtz said...

We have some friends who hyphenated both of their names when they married. I can't remember whose came first, hers or his, but their new last name is the equivalent of Smith-Jones. Their children also have Smith-Jones as their surname. I thought it was kind of neat!