Image: The Hunt
My friends and I have been talking about the name change thing we are required to do when we get married. While some of them cannot wait to be a ‘Mrs. Somebody’, a couple of us are worried about that. Discussing it doesn’t bring any form of reprieve because it is not an easy topic to explain. Even if it was, we know we are not only going to have to deal with our men, but our combined families.
It is common knowledge that women are supposed to change their names when they marry. They go from bearing their fathers’ names to bearing their husbands’ names. And in most African societies, she becomes ‘mummy this’ or ‘mama that’ when she becomes a mother. People forget that she had a name before she got married and became a mother.
Well…some of us don’t want that. We want to keep our own names when we marry. Before you write this conversation off, try and walk in our stilettoes.
My friends have a myriad of reasons why they want to keep their names but my reasons include;
1. I love my name. I have always been Ramatu Ada Ochekliye and I have always loved the special ring it has to it. I love explaining to people why my name is so multicultural and religious. I love seeing people try to place my state, tribe, and religion by rolling my name off their tongues. I love knowing that my name is like me; different, yet whole.
2. My name has been my identity all my life; my identity as a Nigerian first, my identity as a person who loves all tribes and religions, my identity as me.
3. My father’s name, Ochekliye, is not associated with anything fantastic. But by being Ochekliyes, my sisters and I have done fantastic things. We love our names not because it had a precedent for greatness but because we set the precedent. You would hear something like ‘The Ochekliye girls are wonderful’, ‘Nobody messes with the Ochekliye girls’, ‘The Ochekliye girls can do all things’ and my personal favorite, ‘Don’t you know I am an Ochekliye?’. We made our name worth it for us. As a result, our name has become our heritage.
4. A man comes into a marriage and is not expected to change his name; or anything for that matter. He is always ‘Mr. A’. When I change my name, I have to change my identity. I have to get used to being called ‘Mrs. A’. What many people do not understand is that it can be quite disorienting to go from being addressed as Ramat to ‘Mrs. A’.
5. The process for changing my name is a lot of work. I have to apply to the courts and then put up an advert in the newspapers. When approved, I need to do a new national identity card, driver’s license and all other documents. If I have an international passport, I have to apply for a new one to reflect the change. All other documents carrying my original name then have to reflect my new name. I even have to change my business cards, bank details and generally, my entire life to fit my new status. Isn’t it simply easier to maintain my name?
6. I am expected to don my husband’s identity, an identity that he is used to, and an identity he isn’t expected to change even though we are both starting this new family. It doesn’t matter that my identity – my heritage – gets erased gradually until his heritage becomes mine. Whatever I achieve becomes his achievements but what he achieves remains his.
7. I am no less married to my husband if I do not bear his name as if I do. So in the real sense, changing my name is immaterial to my role as his wife and partner.
8. I feel that the need to have the woman change her name is because we have been taught that men are our prizes and that our worth is tied to marriage. I love my man but my identity is not tied to him. He is his own person and I am mine. We chose to be together but didn’t choose to be less of ourselves. We both have our dreams and aspirations that are in many cases, independent of each other. We both have our stories, motivations and baggage that make us the people we are. He doesn’t expect me to live for him and vice versa. So while I madly love him, I am still my own person.
9. Patriarchy is still one of the biggest problems of the world. That belief that a woman is only good enough when properly married and bearing her husband’s name is tired. And for many of these patriarchal men (and women), a husband’s name is a brand on his wife. It is no better than branding an animal or say, a property. Truth is, that is how many men view their wives. And yes, you could argue that it is patriarchal to bare my father’s name and you would be right. But it is name I have grown to love because it is mine.
10. I believe in the equality of the sexes and hence, equality in marriage. If the woman is expected to change her name, the man should too. One of my friends suggested that the man and his wife choose an entirely new name and start their own family. Most men however would not hear of it.
These are my reasons for wanting to keep my name. I do not begrudge any woman the choice to change her name; as long as it is her choice to do so. I am wary of conforming to norms just because that is always the way things have been done. Just because things have been done a certain way for centuries doesn’t mean that they are right or should continue.
I believe the reason why humanity is still in existence is because of our dynamism. This dynamism has led to the advancement that moved us from cave dwellers to people at the precipice of global implementation of artificial intelligence. I think we shouldn’t still be grappling with whether a woman bears her husband’s name or not.
A friend said he could understand if the woman was a celebrity or a popular figure but I think a woman doesn’t have to be in the limelight to be able to keep her own name and still be a wonderful wife. Is it unconventional? Of course. But this isn’t medieval England and truth is, no proper woman ever made history.
When people hear some of my feminist views, they tell me it is a phase and that eventually, I would have to conform to popular opinion. They believe that my ‘need’ for a husband will make me ‘calm down’. While I don’t agree with that conjecture, I must admit that I am afraid that holding on to this view may cost me. Would I find someone who understands? Will I be able to get it across to my parents…and his? Would pressure make me conform? Will I be happy alone if it means maintaining my views? I have weighed this very much in the past few months and believe it is a sacrifice I am willing to make. I will rather be alone and be myself than be married and lost. After all, isn’t that what principles are made of? The sacrifices that make them worth it?
So dear future husband, I hope you can understand me and my view. I know we still have a lot to talk about but I think I am resolute on this. If you understand, what joy awaits us. If you don’t, I may not be the one for you. And that is okay. You have a right to want a woman who wants your name. In like manner, I have a right to want to hold onto my name, my identity, my heritage.
Ladies, do what YOU want to do. Change your name if that is what rocks your boat. Keep it if you desire. Just stay true to the person you are; always.