In 100 days I’m going to become ‘Mrs Coxon’. I know. I’ve always said I would never change my name when I get married, but I changed my mind. Undoubtedly, feminist friends and family of mine will be shocked, disappointed in me even, so I feel I need to defend and explain myself.
As cringeworthy as it will sound to many of my critics (I know, because I used to feel the same way) I’m proud to be taking on my fiancé’s name. Believe me, that is not a phrase that comes easily to me. Becoming ‘Annabel Coxon’ is not a decision I’ve taken lightly. I’m not casually shrugging off my feminist principles, nor am I dismissing the choice of other women to keep their own names. This is something I’ve decided to do after years of agonising, debating and discussing with Liam, and talking to other women.
Early on in our relationship it was a thorny subject for Liam and me. I was adamant I wouldn’t change my name. It was a point of principle for me then, and to change my mind would have meant admitting defeat. In the time Liam and I have been together, though, I’ve grown more confident and our relationship has also matured. Publicly declaring that we intend to spend the rest our lives together as one family unit – through getting married and through sharing a family name – is a win for me, not defeat.
Throughout my life strong women like my mum, godmother and teachers at school told me that to keep your maiden name was a powerful and necessary thing to do. It told the world: ‘I am an independent being, I stand up for the equal rights of men and women.’ It has taken time for me to realise that changing my name does not make me a bad feminist or mean that I don’t still advocate for the social, economic and political equality of the sexes. If it’s a question of establishing my feminist credentials, let me be clear. My blog is titled ‘Full Frontal Feminism’. My articles are published on websites including the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association and A Room of Our Own. In London I volunteered at The Feminist Library and (successfully) campaigned to put an end to topless modelling in The Sun. My library is full of authors like Germaine Greer, Susie Orbach and Chimamanda Adichie. None of that has changed just because my name will.
‘Call yourself a feminist, girl?’ my mother demanded as I told her I’d be changing my surname when I get married. Yes, I certainly do.
The thing is, Liam and I have a very egalitarian relationship. He’s better at cooking, I’m better at keeping tabs on our finances. Sometimes he does the clothes washing or the vacuuming, sometimes I do it. And I’m confident enough in myself and my relationship that I don’t feel I’ll suddenly become Liam’s chattel when I adopt his surname. We’ll still be the same equal partnership we were the day before we got married, it’s just that I’ll also have his surname.
So what was it that made me change my mind? Ultimately it came down to something that Liam and I both agreed on, that we wanted to share a family name, and for any children we have to share that name too. Liam and I are partners. Our relationship is built on the understanding that we are a team, one unit working together, supporting one another to become better people every day. We are committing to spending the rest of our lives together and we are a family. If and when we have a child, he or she will become part of this family unit too, and we will become a team of three. Unlike fellow feminists and friends of mine, I couldn’t cope with giving any children I might have my husband’s name and having a different name myself. In fact the thought makes me feel really uncomfortable; I’d feel an outsider in my own family. Liam and I both believe strongly in the importance of providing this solid, supportive foundation for our family, with a real sense of belonging.
There will be other feminists who ask, as I used to, why it is me taking on Liam’s surname rather than the other way around. Or why, rather than choosing one name or the other, we don’t go double-barrelled, or create a new or hybrid name.
This has been a very tricky one for me to get my head around. And if I’m going to be totally honest, this is where there’s a small part of me still slightly annoyed at having to take my husband’s name. The fact is, if Liam took my name or agreed to a totally new name, I’d be so proud of him. What guts it would take to go against society’s norms and say ‘Why should the man’s name always take priority? Let’s shake things up a bit’. The issue is that the exact opposite is true for Liam.
For the most part Liam is a liberal and progressive thinker, but he is also a realist. I’ll let Liam explain in his own words here:
“In an ideal world the solution would be to pick a totally new family name. I respect guys that are prepared to do that. However, we do not live in an ideal world. It has traditions that many people, (some being family members), are not so happy to see change.”
Liam feels that to change his surname would dishonour these deeply held traditions, causing a fair amount of upset, not to mention inviting a lifetime of mockery from certain family members. I agree with Liam that a name alone is not a big enough issue to cause that much trouble over, especially when the rest of our relationship is so equal.
I didn’t ever plan on taking my husband’s name, but Liam point blank would not change his. If we were going to spend the rest of our lives together, I would have to man up. Let me clarify, I still don’t agree that a woman being expected to adopt her husband’s name is a good thing, but for us to have one family name, this is the only option available to us. On this occasion I have to accept that I’m not going to have my way 100%. That’s relationships for you. But if compromising on this means sharing a family name with Liam and any children we might have, and getting to marry the most awesome man and person I love most in the world, I only have one thing to say.
Nice to meet you. I’m Annabel Coxon.