Royal weddings don't tend to break many boundaries when it comes to feminism.
But yesterday's was different – because in becoming the first royal bride in history to keep her own name, Zara Phillips is sending a message to young women everywhere: and it's a message that's far more significant, and empowering, than the usual messages that royal women send out about whether a fascinator is more stylish than a hat, and what style of dress a bottom looks best in.
Zara's message is about identity, it's about individuality, and it's about equality in marriage. What she's saying is that, in marrying Mike Tindall, she's not giving up the person she herself is. She has no intention of becoming her husband's "other half"; she isn't going to be subsumed into his persona and become "Mrs Tindall". She will remain who she's always been – Zara Phillips – just as he will remain who he's always been, Mike Tindall.
Twenty three years ago, when I got married, I made the same choice. It was frowned on then, as I suspect Zara Phillips' choice will be frowned on this weekend. Because keeping your own name is a strong statement; it signifies a firm choice about who you are, and who you are going to be. The tradition of name-changing on marriage, after all, harks back to a time when a woman was seen as the property of a man. First she belonged to her father, so she had his name. Then she belonged to her husband, so she changed her name to his. (The same tradition, incidentally, was applied to slaves in some colonies.) Keeping my own name meant I was rejecting the idea that I belonged to anyone (yes, it was my father's name, but I'd made it my own over the 25 years I'd had it; the crucial thing was, I wasn't going to change it, just like that, for anyone).
Back in 1988, I thought I was in the vanguard of a new trend; if you'd asked me, I've have been certain that, two decades on, my trail-blazing would be the norm. Sadly, these days, when I ask brides-to-be whether they will change their name, a depressingly large number tell me that yes, they will.
Some say it doesn't matter what you're called; others say they like the idea of being "unified" as a family with one surname (especially when children come along). But I say this: the longer you're married, as a woman, the more likely it is your identity will be eroded. Once babies arrive, a woman's needs are likely to be way down the pecking order.
Holding on to your own name is a way of enshrining the principle that you – a woman, a mother, probably a lower-earner – are an equal, in every way, to the man you're married to. Every time I have to tell someone – teacher, plumber, mortgage adviser – that, no, I'm not '"Mrs Smith", I'm making a small, but not insignificant, stand for feminism.
Equality – it's all feminism has ever been about, really. What you call yourself is one of the easiest, most effective, ways to spell out what you believe. My advice to Zara Phillips (not that she needs it) would be: don't ever allow your resolve to be undermined. As your life goes on, and becomes more complicated, you'll be more and more pleased that you made this stand, and it will become more and more significant to you that you did.Reuse content