I started planning this post months ago, when I was first writing about getting married, but it somehow slipped off my To Do list until something reminded me last week. A colleague who I don’t see all that often (I work for a very large organisation) asked me for my email address, “because you’ve changed your name.” I was puzzled. “No, you must be confusing me with someone else,” I replied, and then it all became clear. “But didn’t you get married though, and… oh, sorry, I just assumed!”
I don’t blame her, as a great many women still do change their name upon getting married and, to most people, I might appear to be the sort of woman who would. After all, my surname is Smith. Back in 2016, Smith was the most common surname in the UK (there were 546,960 of us), and it probably still is. I can totally understand why someone might assume I’d jump at the chance of changing it to something more interesting.
There really shouldn’t be any assumption these days though, as there are so many different ways to approach post-marriage name changes. I know couples who’ve gone with a portmanteau, attaching their names together in some fashion to create a brand new moniker that only they have. I know male-female couples who now both have the bride’s name. And same-sex couples… would you automatically assume that one of them would change their name?
Much like The Pool writer Sali Hughes, mine was a very personal choice. I had spent 42 years with those three names, strung together in that particular order, and I have grown to love it. My surname comes from my dad’s family, my middle name from my mum’s family, and my given name was chosen by both parents (and first shortened to Lori by my dad). It not only tells my history, but it gives me a bit of anonymity online as long as I miss out my middle name. Another reason for not changing it is that my husband’s surname is what I call him by most often. So taking the name Topper would feel very strange to me, even though it’s a great name.
I totally agree with Sali when she says “if my partner doesn’t have to change his name, then why do I? Why should I even declare my marital status when engaging in unemotional bureaucracy, like booking an eye test or renewing a railcard?” but also, like her, I am predominantly keeping my name because… well, it’s me.
I was the L Smith at primary school who got confused with Laura Smith on the sportsday programme by one of our classmates. I was the Smith who befriended a Rees and a Sykes at secondary school because we all got chatting after the teacher asked us to sit in alphabetical order of surname at the start of our first year. I was the one who always got the comment “oh, that’s appropriate, you working here” when customers caught sight of my name badge in my Saturday job at WH Smith. It was the name on my first passport, which I got aged 17 in a few hours of panic with my dad while the rest of our family and friends headed off to Florida*. It was the name read out at two graduations, printed on countless payslips – including when I got paid in cash at WH Smith and would go straight to Our Price or Topshop to spend it – and I love it, even though getting a Gmail handle that wasn’t already taken was tough.
Keeping my name does not mean I love my husband less (far from it!). Keeping my name doesn’t mean I’m disrespecting his family. I just want to continue being me, just with the addition of a wedding ring on my finger. I don’t want to change my personal brand – this is the start of a new chapter, not the beginning of a completely different story.
UPDATE: Fast-forward to 2023 and I decided that I did want to change my name after all. The time finally felt right and, do you know what? It’s not the start of a completely different story at all. I still feel like me but it took a while to realise that having a different surname wouldn’t change that feeling.
*Back in 1992 kids could travel on their parents’ passports until they were 16 but, until we got to the airport, my mum was convinced it was 18! The staff at the passport office and airport were all lovely though, and we managed to get on a later flight with no problem.