Should women trade in their surname when they get married?

As the newly married Rebekah Wade becomes Mrs Charlie Brooks, Clare Dwyer Hogg examines the politics of trading in a surname

So Rebekah Wade, former Sun editor and now News International bigwig, has reportedly decided to change her surname. Following her wedding to horse trainer Charlie Brooks, she is now to be called Rebekah Brooks. This seems surprising. But why? It's still the norm: many women walk down the aisle with the family name they've had since birth, and go off on honeymoon with a completely new identity.

And it isn't unusual, even now, for married couples to receive correspondence that cuts out the female's first name for good measure as well. The subject has all the hallmarks of feminist issue - when are men under pressure to take on their wives' names? - and yet Rebekah Brooks, by all accounts, is hardly a pushover.

Does this turn of events suggest that taking on your husband's name is not, after all, a deletion of identity, but rather a cosy indication of togetherness?

When I turned up to get married I already had two surnames. My mother comes from a long line of sisters who kept their maiden name as well as adopting their married one. With the two-name mantle already bestowed upon me, I didn't feel like taking on a third (this didn't stop amusing acquaintances writing 'Dwyer-Hogg-Ferguson' on subsequent invitations). My husband-to-be didn't mind, although suggested that it might be nice for us to have the same name since we were creating our own unit. So I told him I'd keep my real name for 'business' - yes, I used that word at the time, with all its connotations of briefcases and conferences - and change my name on my passport for everything else. I believed I would, although obviously not very fervently, because four years later nothing has changed. This period of time includes one passport renewal (in my own name). Really, he knew it would never happen when I was bridesmaid for a friend soon after we got married. He came to the top table to say hello, took one look at my name place and said "Here on business?"

Really, I didn't want to lose the identity that, over the years, I had built up with my family name. And - perhaps more ridiculously - didn't really want to be a 'Mrs' either, because that felt like the title for another generation. Professor Ben Fletcher, Head of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and a specialist in family relations, is equivocal. "Taking your husband's name could indicate a very together person," he says. "In a sense, your name is your public identity: you can call yourself Ronald Rabbit but you still are who you are." The issue of name changing should really be neutral territory, he says, no more than a token of commitment. On the other hand, "there are a lot of very traditional men who believe that when you get married that's what you do - this kind of sexism still does operate."

Celebrities are making a career choice when they decide on whether or not to 'take the name'. Would the Beckham 'brand' be as powerful if they were Victoria Adams and David Beckham? And when Ashley Cole was getting into trouble for alleged infidelities, did Cheryl's 'Mrs Cole' tattoo on the back of her neck make the perceived betrayal all the worse? The Mrs Beckhams and Coles of this world are independently rich and powerful within their own celebrity - but probably richer and more powerful as part of a celebrity unit. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, meanwhile, has it both ways, while Jennifer Aniston kept hold of her maiden name during her ill-fated marriage.

As a non-celebrity, I didn't have to worry about whether converting to 'Ferguson' would dent my chances of coverage in OK!. But there is a lot to think about if you change your name. Bank account, mortgage, insurance, passport, email, driving licence, doctor records, dentist information, National insurance...not forgetting Facebook account, Twitter details, Amazon, iTunes. There can't be half measures: if you get around to changing some but not others, you could be in trouble when it comes to identifying yourself.

"One of the reasons I didn't change my name was laziness," admits Lucy Wright, a publisher. "Also, my partner was married before, so there was another Mrs Jaspers knocking around and I didn't fancy being the second one. It was a combination of laziness and independence." Headhunter Debs Johnson, née Watkins, however, was happy to change her name. "I much preferred it to my maiden name, which I'd never really liked. Also, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to completely reinvent myself." This wasn't an option for Helen Micklewright, a civil servant who knew from the off that she wasn't letting go of her unusual surname. "I have investigated my family tree and I hate the way the women's name dies out when she marries and in some cases she becomes untraceable," she says. "I think it's an old-fashioned thing to do."

It all depends on the significance you imbue a name with. The choices Rebekah Brooks makes about her name could be a canny way of dividing her professional persona from her private life, a public declaration of love or merely a fleeting fancy. No-one knows what goes on behind closed doors. "It may be a feminist issue," says Professor Fletcher, "but perhaps the husband does all the ironing – we only know that the woman has changed her name, nothing else."

I'll stick with the 'business' reasons, and think about again it in 10 years' time, when my passport is next up for renewal.

Your Independent

Were you proud to take your husband's surname? Did your wife refuse to take yours? Tell us your stories Write to: yourstory@independent.co.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - North West

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - South West

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Administrator - IT - Fixed Term, Part Time

    £17340 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Come and join one of the UK's leading ca...

    Recruitment Genius: Property Sales Consultant - Chinese Speaking - OTE £70,000

    £18000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity for a Fluent Chines...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent