Is Patriarchy Alive and Well? - Part 1
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Thoughts of a Humanist Wedding Celebrant – Should I Take My Husband’s Name?
I recently came across this article entitled…
…it immediately sparked my curiosity. My eyes widened, and my ears pricked up, knowing I had a fair few veins of interest here. Firstly, as a celebrant. Secondly, as a feminist. And thirdly as a married woman who chose to take her husband’s name.
Non-Religious Wedding Ceremony Rituals– is a Name Change Right For Me?
I encounter lots of women, and couples in fact, who take time pondering how they should approach this antiquated tradition, so, I unquestionably feel that this topic needs to be picked apart and explored with a thirst-quenching curiosity. And the easiest way for me to launch this discussion is to take you through the reasons why I chose to take my husband’s name. Get comfortable people! This may take some unravelling…
I was born Siân Louise Stuttard, first child of Julia and Ian, and I only had to wait 14 months for the best present my parents ever gave me: a happy little human called Bethan, made from the same splicing of DNA. I'm pretty sure I was the test run as evolution definitely did a better job the second time around!
My Dad insisted his surname was rare, and I always liked the idea of being a bit different. When I was a teenager, I came to realise that I am likely to be the only Siân Louise Stuttard who has ever graced this planet. Stuttard is an uncommon English name, held by approximately 1,000 people worldwide. So that, coupled with a Welsh first name and a middle name, makes it quite improbable that anyone else has ever been bestowed this exact trio of names!
When I was about 12 or 13 the internet was becoming ‘a thing’ and a friend suggested it would be fun to type my name into the search engine to see how many other Siân Stuttards were out there. I had never met another family of Stuttards before. Proud of my apparent exclusivity, I was deeply concerned that I might discover another and this exercise could shatter my secret perception that I was some sort of extraordinary magical unicorn, the only one of its kind, frolicking in the peaks and troughs of the South Wales Valleys.
But that’s not what happened… I didn’t find another unicorn, I am the only one. But instead of reinforcing my pride, this revelation stripped the magic and mystery away from my fantastical notion of being unique.
To my horror, all that appeared on Google (it could well have been Ask Jeeves at that point!) was information about me. More specifically, a catastrophic accident my family had been involved in when I was 10 years old. I will never forget the feeling that washed over me when I first laid eyes on those articles, with intimate details of the accident and the court case that ensued thereafter. I felt sick… I still do now, even as I’m writing this nearly 25 years on. It shocked the shit out of me. I suddenly realised I had no anonymity. Anyone who cared to look could type my name into this mysterious ‘tech-oracle’ and read the painful underscores of my past. My poor little brain, in a crucial stage of its development, was trying so hard to wipe any remnants of that day away, and there it was for all to see.
So, after that, I had mixed feelings about my name: I loved being unusual, a proper Welsh rarebit! But felt taunted by the lack of security that comes with being so distinctive, especially given the uprising of the enigmatic phenomenon known then as the World Wide Web. I know it may seem I have strayed a tad from the topic here, but this is crucial and why I’m telling you will become apparent shortly.
A decade on, social media started to seep into my world. I’d managed to resist Myspace but at some stage I got a Facebook account, predominantly because I wanted to track down an old boyfriend. I soon realised how many Chris Dixons there are in the world and quickly abandoned my quest. But, as predicted, it wasn’t long before he found me. A super easy task for him. He typed 12 letters into Facebook’s search bar and of course my mug-shot popped up instantly (actually, I think my first Facebook profile photo was of a duckodile, featured below, even rarer that a Siân Stuttard!). But once I’d finished using the online platform as fishing bait, I adopted an alias (yes you could do that back then no problem) so I could retreat, undetected into the mystical murk of the internet.
In 2010 I found my forever man, well, I won him in a fight, but that’s a tale for another time! It wasn’t love at first sight or a crazy, instant, fizzling passion but more of a long drawn out process of getting to know each other and trust building while negotiating the excess baggage that followed me, quite literally, from my previous relationship. Doesn’t sound romantic at all, does it? But we did have a ton of fun along the way and our gentle approach paved the way for the solid platform our relationship is now grounded on.
It probably took about a year for us to properly fall in love. It was a slow burner, but our honeymoon period lasted for years… People often asked us “how long have you two been together?” and were stunned when we told them it was years and not months. And, very gradually, I came to realise I wanted to marry this man. At the time, I didn’t fully understand why I felt the desire to guild our relationship with society’s seal of approval. I suppose I just knew that I wanted to continue our adventures together indefinitely.
Eventually, after five years, a little persuasion and a lot of booze, he finally asked me. I was never that little girl who’d dreamt of her big white wedding. I’d never even considered marriage until I met my remarkable man and, until he asked, I hadn’t given our potential wedding day a passing thought. I wasn’t really that interested in the minutiae of our wedding: the dress, venue, flowers, hen do, favours, cakes and all that sort of stuff. I just knew that I wanted to BE married. But after he finally proposed I did get excited and started thinking about all the logistics and technicalities that come hand in hand with weddings and marriage…like changing my name… I told you I’d eventually get back on topic!
Marriage and Name Change - What That Means To Me
I didn’t actually put much conscious effort into considering my married name. So, when I read the above article, I rigorously reflected and dissected my decision. I knew, even though it wasn’t a choice I agonised over, I must’ve gone through a rational process to make it.
I do remember my mind softly suggesting that it would be ‘nice’ to share the same name as my husband (I can hear your inner feminists shouting out in protest, mine is certainly piping up!). I felt a desire to unite us outwardly to the world. I also thought that if we had a family, I would want us all to share the same name, that seemed important. It’s clear to me that these impressions were formed through cultural conditioning. I’m well aware that the historical reasoning behind this ‘usual’ set up is undeniably sexist, but I don’t feel that overly affected my decision. I can easily identify other factors that were stronger in swaying me.
My husband is known to all, other than his family, as Jackson. I knew him before we started seeing each other and always assumed that Jackson was his last name. So, on our first date I asked him to reveal his first name which he, unenthusiastically, told me was Lee. With this new knowledge I now felt slightly uncomfortable calling this guy by his last name; it somehow felt unfamiliar. And Lee, well that didn’t make much sense to me either… no one I knew called him Lee.
So, I came up with a steadfast solution which thankfully worked: I managed not to call him by any name until I was comfortable calling him Babe. To this day, I have NEVER called my husband Lee or Jackson to his face. I use a whole manner of ridiculous pet names to grab his attention like, Beebee, Chicken-pea, Chicken-chop, Gorgeous-ness, Naked Mole Rat, My Newt, to name just a few. But most often I opt for Babe or Baby. Even if we are on a busy street, or in a supermarket I’ll still call out “Babe!” at the top of my lungs. As you can tell I’m quite good at going off on tangents, but I promise we will return to the main point!
The point is this, my husband’s identity is intrinsically linked with his last name. If given the choice he would probably take Jackson over Lee and I wouldn’t ask him to change his name for that reason. I never even brought up the idea of him changing his name, but that had nothing to do with societal expectation it’s because I understand the strong affinity he has with his last name. As accustomed as I was with being a Stuttard I would be mortified if that’s what people called me instead of Siân, but its not like that for Jackson (of course, when I refer to him I have to pick one of his names, Babe wouldn’t have worked in that last sentence for example!).
Double barrelling was always out for me. Siân Stuttard was already a mouthful, so Siân Stuttard-Jackson was not an option I entertained. I could, of course, have stuck with Stuttard. I felt ZERO pressure, from the man I was marrying, my family, his family, friends or society to become a Jackson. And if I had married someone with a shit surname, I can unequivocally confirm that I would have remained a Stuttard. A previous long-term boyfriend’s last name was Lloyd… meaning I could’ve been Siân Lloyd. Not a bad name, but I didn’t fancy sharing it with the wonderful weather woman, and national treasure, of the same name. I had a brief dalliance with a dashing man by the name of Bland… but I could never have been Siân Bland. Just for the record, this chap was far from Bland. I wrote to him on one occasion and began the letter ‘Dear Matt, not so Bland…’. Other surnames I evaded on my crazy-paved path of love were Jones and Davies. Both far too common after having such an exclusive name. There was also Batterick, Dixon and Hollebeke… not sure what conclusions I would’ve drawn based on those last three. I’m fairly sure two of them would’ve made terrible husbands, so I dodged a couple of bullets there anyway! But the name Jackson, didn’t seem too bad. Strong, certain, common but not too common.
When I thought about becoming a Jackson, I began to consider the benefits it may bring. Being a Stuttard, I endured many variations of my name spat back to me. Everything ranging from STUTGART to SLUT-ARD. It’s a name that needs spelling out EVERY single time, usually using the phonetic alphabet to make allowances for the repetitive, plosive consonants ‘t’ and ‘d’ which get so easily confused. In contrast, everyone knows Jackson. Even in foreign countries people say to us “Oh, like Michael?!”. You never have to repeat it or spell it out. I saw the opportunity to save, what must add up to hours of my life, spelling out my name to strangers.
Returning to one of my earlier points, (which you thought I’d never come to!) I saw the prospect of anonymity. It’s not really my style to blend into a crowd but, as explained above, in the back of my mind there was always an air of unease about being a ‘one-off’ and so easily trackable. I began to wonder if being Siân Jackson offered me the chance to shape a new identity for myself, but I was still not convinced.
You Have A Choice
Let’s go back to the name my parents chose for me at birth, Sian Louise Stuttard, I never really came to terms with my middle name. It wasn’t that I disliked Louise, although it was a particularly popular middle name for girls born in the mid-eighties. My real problem was that I knew it was my mother’s second choice. She wanted to call me Siân Eleri, which I think makes for a pleasant combination. But my Dad drew the line, having two welsh names was a step too far. He is English, not patriotic or anything, but thought his family would struggle to wrap their tongues around it. As it happens, we’ve had little to do with my father’s family so it wouldn’t have mattered diddley-squat! Anyway, I never truly felt a connection with Louise and never used it.
While talking love and life one day with the other true love of my life, my little sister, she thoughtfully suggested, ‘Why don’t you change your middle name as well?’. And this my friends, was the game changer. My sister’s middle name is Julia, our mother’s first name. Julia Stuttard sadly died in the tragic accident I referred to earlier. Her death inevitably had a huge impact on our lives. My sister proudly uses her middle name and feels privileged to have that very precious name as part of hers. Then it clicked. I could dump Louise and become Siân Julia Jackson… and my new identity was born.
Having always had an alliterated name, Siân Stuttard, the alliteration allure of Julia Jackson appealed to me. Siân Julia Jackson felt sharper, and more sonically pleasing than just Siân Jackson. And of course, being a sentimental sod, adopting my mother’s name as part of my new identity felt poetic. The pieces of the puzzle neatly fell into place. This felt like the right choice for me. To re-visit the broader topic of name changing, for me and many others, it comes down to choice.
In this day and age, here in the UK, for MOST people marriage is a choice and not a societal must. When divorce became more acceptable divorce statistics spiked, perhaps proving that many people had been trapped in unhappy marriages, encouraged by the conventions of the time. Another notable trend is that marriage numbers have fallen in recent years. Plenty of couples just don’t feel the need to formalise, legalise or whack a label on their relationship. Marriage is now a choice. As a result, divorce rates are now falling. Although most women in Britain do choose to take their husband’s name, more and more couples are realising that this too is a choice.
Changing or Not Changing Your Name After Marriage, That Is The Question
I’ve been a wedding celebrant for six years now and about 30% of my couples have chosen to do something unconventional with their married name.
In some cases, both partners chose to take the other’s name, both double barrelling; couples have stuck to their individual names; grooms have chosen to take their wife’s family name and one very bold pair decided to merge Miley and Jones to become Jiley! The Jiley’s love their name and are fully aware it’s got quite a silly ring to it! But what's important for them both is the meaning that laminates their new name: two people, two identities, two pasts, joining forces to create a new future.
I also heard of a couple who both started out with double barrelled names. Instead of going for a monumental quadruple barrel, they took the first letters of each of their surnames and found WEST. So, both opted for a shorter, neater name which paid homage to all their original names while carving out a new identity for themselves. Unfortunately, the shit hit the fan when they had a baby and were forced to announce this news to their unknowing families!
Most of the brides I work with do take their husbands name, but they chose to do so.
Their process of coming to that decision may have been more straightforward than mine and most probably chose to do it because it is traditional… and there is fuck all wrong with that!
Marriage has evolved more in the last few decades than it has for thousands of years. And one of the most empowering changes is that couples are now free to pick and choose which traditions feel meaningful and relevant to them, and which ones they can simply chuck down the drain.
Most brides choose to wear a white dress because it’s traditional, but don’t get shunned for being a slave to patriarchy or harassed about the symbolism previously attached to white dresses untouched virgins! Plenty of brides enjoy a precious moment with their father as they accompany them on their final journey as an unmarried woman, without believing that he is actually exchanging her for six acres of land and 150 sheep!
Therefore, a woman can choose to take her husband’s name without fear of derailing the feminist train... on which I have a first-class ticket by the way!
However, I wholeheartedly agree that patriarchy is alive and well. But for the many modern couples who see marriage as an institution of love and equality, patriarchy is diminishing for them more than in many other elements of our society like politics, business, organised religion, law or science. And I fully acknowledge that patriarchy is alive and well in masses of marriages across the world. Women still have many battles to win in our war of equality, but I think name changing is the least of our worries…
Patriarchy – a man sized ‘issue - is alive and well
Sadly, the very union-ship which provides me with security, support, love and warmth is used by many across the globe to control, manipulate, abuse and terrorise. Surely if we are to discuss patriarchy in marriage, we should focus our attention on fighting these real issues that cause pain and suffering for so many women and children. Violence. Forced marriage. Paedophilia. Female genital mutilation (FGM). Rape. Trafficking. Slavery. These are some of the frightening consequences of patriarchy. Patriarchy is to blame for these atrocities and marriage is often used to disguise or justify some of these inhumane acts.
For many women marriage isn’t a choice, that doesn’t just come with the price-tag of a new name; it comes with duties, exploitation, mistreatment or fear. I feel strongly that every woman should have a right to choose her name but even more strongly that every woman should have a right to choose her life but, sorrowfully, that’s not the case.
In many parts of the world marriage is now a positive choice that two people, of any sex or gender, can make together and more and more legal/cultural systems are waking up to that. But there is still a long way to go to make marriage a choice, or even an option, for everyone. Women, and sometimes men, are forced into marriages and so many people are denied marriage because their identity doesn’t meet the criteria offered to them by the society they find themselves in.
For me, writing this blog has opened up many more questions than I initially intended to address, but I now feel compelled to open up this crazy can of worms!
In writing the last few paragraphs I’ve began to ponder some serious questions. I feel so passionately about women’s rights, and human rights, but by stating my opinions am I automatically, and unintentionally, shunning other cultures’ practices that I just don’t understand due my cultural lens and the position of privilege I’m fortunate to have in this world?
I feel able to articulate some of my views with assertion, ones which are prevalent in the cultures I do understand. For example, I will not hide my deep loathing of the sex industry which is known to be intrinsically linked to trafficking, slavery and subjects countless lives to trauma. But how can I sit here and judge other cultures I have no lived experience of?
My gut tells me that forced marriages and FGM are wrong. I feel that in some cases human rights should supersede cultural rights. To be clear, I’m not blaming any specific cultures or religions here; all human societies are on a never-ending evolutionary journey. Quite frankly, I’m stuck with this one. I really have no idea of the lines I might be crossing and feel dangerously close to the edge. But I do feel inspired to learn more, and a good friend suggested that I should look to those who have lived experience of these practices for guidance which I think is a sensible place to commence my own educational journey. Thank you Carys for that tip!
So, stay tuned… I feel a Patriarchy is Alive and Well - Part 2 blog coming on after some much needed research!
Please feel free to share your thoughts or point me in the direction of some experts on the matter!