Last month my new husband and I had our first serious married disagreement. Some might call it a row....voices were raised, eyes were rolled, F-- bombs were dropped (by me. Restraint isn’t one of my attributes). We recovered quickly and we’re friends again now, but when I tried to discuss the tricky subject of my dispute with my nearest and dearest, I encountered a veritable shitstorm of controversy.
Just over ten months ago, we made the journey from our flat in London to the bright lights of NYC and were married under a big tree on the west side of Central Park. I was delighted, and I still am. Joyously, I updated my facebook profile to my married name, Rachael C, electing to keep my maiden name adjacent, in brackets. I ignored the mini throb of sadness I felt seeing my new moniker flash up on my newsfeed at relinquishing the name that had been mine for 28 years, and proceeded to skip around New York City with Mr C, introducing him as my husband to anyone who’d listen. It’s only facebook, I reasoned. Facebook isn’t real life.
What I didn’t think about at the time was my weird-ass job as a freelance cellist. I forgot that many of the new connections I make with fellow musos and prospective employers occur via facebook and increasingly often, twitter. If I perform with someone I don’t know, I often come home afterwards to find a facebook request from them, which I nearly always accept, unless I suspect they are a pervert (not as rare as one would hope) or a religious nut (ditto). I am pretty busy on the old social networks. My frequent activity on facebook means my name often pops up in the newsfeeds of my friends and colleagues, my bracketed maiden name abandoned in faint lettering on my profile page. And that name was now Rachael C.
If truth be known, I was already reluctant to change my name, for the following reasons.
1. I am emotionally attached to it.
I’ve had my name for almost 30 years. I was the first girl to be born in my paternal family for seven decades. It is not a pretty name, or particularly memorable, but it is mine. I had no idea how attached I was to it until the time came to lose it altogether.
2. My career is insecure enough without confusing the people who employ me with a name change.
Recently I played the cello on a documentary that is being accredited to Rachael C, not Rachael L. The composer went to facebook to check the spelling of my name, saw I’d married, and submitted it to the BBC. It feels like Rachael L was the person who worked really quite hard to be able to play on documentaries. She practised at the crack of dawn for years since she was eight years old. Her journey was a bumpy one fraught with difficulty. Who the frack is this Rachael C getting all the credit? Before my wedding I was working with some more established female musicians, who right after they’d asked about my dress and where we were tying the knot, fell over themselves to say, “For fuck’s sake, don’t change your name.” They went on to warn me of the perils of changing surnames, which included missing out on royalty cheques, not to mention work. Busy contractors looking down a list of cellists to book no longer recognising my name confuses them, and bankrupts me. One happily married violinist whose work I admire said, “It’s hard enough making a name for yourself in this business. Why make it even harder by changing it?” When citing this as a reason to keep my name, I have been called "mercenary" by a few people. I was offended, for about five seconds, before realising that the few who had accused me of this were either a) male or b) not freelance musicians. In other words, they hadn't a clue what they were talking about.
3. I don’t think having matching names is big deal.
I was raised in what is now amusingly known amongst UK politicians as a “blended family”. My parents divorced and remarried when I was young. My mother and her husband had my brother (technically half-brother but I never feel comfortable calling him that) when I was eight years old. In the household I lived in, we all had different surnames. My younger sister and I shared a name, with my father and his wife, but my mother, stepfather and “half” brother had a different name. Just to further complicate things, my stepfather and stepmother already had a child each before they married my parents. Their progeny are both called Thomas. Mindfuck? Certainly. As a result, I’m not precious about names. My family is still my family irrespective of our surnames. We are all very close. Blended, even.
4. It irritates me that women have to publicly announce themselves as a Miss, Mrs or Ms, and men just get to be plain old Mr their whole lives.
I am delighted to the point of insufferability with my husband and our marriage. I have no desire to hide the fact that I’m married. I wear my wedding ring with pride. However, my marital status is not the most interesting thing about me. Why must I declare it before I’ve even opened my mouth, with my name and title? No one asks a bloke to do that. My husband was and is Mr C, regardless of his marital status. Seeing his name written down gives nothing away about his love life, yet I have been declaring the state of mine for as long as I can remember. The double standard gets me all.....strident.
5. I vehemently despise all things administrative.
I already spend a considerable time sweating over paperwork what with being self employed. Posting my original marriage certificate to the passport drones, DVLA, local council and christ knows who else just seems like a monumental ball-ache.
It has been suggested that we double barrell, but the combination of our consecutive names sounds cumbersome. Aside from the inevitable argument about who gets top billing, this process again results in an administrative clusterfuck. When I was reading about this issue today I discovered that there are couples who have reached what I imagine to be a desperate stalemate. They are no doubt claiming that the decision to create a hybrid of both their names was based on mutual respect, but I know better. There’s no way John Smith and Jane Johnson become the Smonsons (or indeed, the Jiths) without a bloody great row. In October’s UK Glamour, established journo and broadcaster Dawn Porter wrote a column about this very issue. She married Girls actor Chris O’Dowd this summer and is now Dawn O’ Porter, which I guess is a nice compromise. Mr C and I do not possess names that lend themselves to this process. All our hybrids sound like types of wool.
My husband is to a fault, logical and reasonable. Not in a dullard way. In a super-brained hot way. However, this name thing has evoked strong feelings within him. FEELINGS. Which are by their nature, illogical. I should know. I’m plagued with the fuckers constantly. It is important to him that we share a name. During last month’s feud-ette I asked, nay, harangued, “Why? Why? Why is it so important? PLEASE explain it to me.” And he used his trump card. “I don’t know! It’s IRRATIONAL.” Well, he had me there. As one of the most irrational people on the planet, feeling things deeply and constantly reigning in emotional chaos, I cannot dismiss this out of hand, particularly as in every other respect, Mr C is a progressive, non-traditional man. He is not remotely territorial or possessive, never has been. I have talked to a few men today, married ones and single ones, some of whom feel that their wife refusing to take their name implies a reticence to commit fully to creating a new family, to which I’m afraid chaps, I had to say, “What a load of old horseshit.” I am no less committed to my marriage if I choose to go by my naissent surname. Surely, it is the vows that are significant, you know, the ones where you solemnly declare to stick together through thick and thin until you both cark it, rather than the handle you take after you’ve made them?
Beyonce Knowles recently announced the name of her upcoming international circuit of arena shows to be “The Mrs Carter Tour”. I’ll be honest, once I’d figured out who Mrs Carter actually was, I felt a wave of disappointment for the er...sisterhood. This decision seems to bellow, ”I’m MARRIED! TO JAY Z! Forget all the stuff I said about being an Independent Woman and girls running the world....pass me a Cath Kidston apron. That casserole won’t stir itself.” Yes, beneath the apron is still a metallic leotard and the best thighs in the western hemisphere, but still. I suppose a name change for a global superstar is no biggie, after all, she has minions to do all her admin. She’s not the one swearing psychotically on the phone to the automatons at the electricity board or queuing at the post office for a recorded delivery of her marriage license. I should have seen this coming when she petulantly (and brilliantly) sang about putting a ring on it.
This whole thing began to become a problem. Mr C and I were at a stalemate. Some friends (male and female) diplomatically tried to tell me I was being selfish, but the idea of rebranding myself entirely made me want to weep with frustration. I kept wondering if it was the other way around, whether he or indeed any man would go through the rigmarole of changing his name. I asked around, and as it turns out, I do know a man, a friend of a friend of a friend, who has taken his wife’s name. He did it because her new name would have been “Emma Wroids” or something similar if she'd taken his. I needn’t have worried. The progressive man I married came home from work shortly after what shall now be called “name-gate” and said, “I get it. You have to keep your name. I’m sorry. I was being a dick.” Then we went out for an omelette (ham and cheese if you're interested.) I am now Ms Rachael Lander. Apart from a (male) colleague facetiously remarking that in print, I look like a lesbian/spinster/lesbian spinster, it's going very well.