What’s in a name?
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;” William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet
Even though I agree with Shakespeare’s verse, which is so beautifully laid out, I must say that one big part of a person’s identity is their name. Before we are even born, our parents spend a good amount of time deciding on the name of their child. Some parents change it immediately the moment that they first lay eyes on their baby claiming that the chosen name doesn’t match their features and personality. Since the beginning, there seems to be a great amount of significance that is given to our names. The name is our first piece of identity, the first thing we are called and the first thing we mention about ourselves. Besides this, a name carries a lot of family history in it. I am sure that everyone has a story to tell in regards to their last name. Some family names give away the nationality of our great-grandparents, some might give away interesting information about our origin and religion. A family name is a piece of history in itself and one of the most important pieces in genealogy studies. Family names can give us clues about our ancestors’ occupations, social status, political interest and even migration patter.
So, a name is more than just a name. It is a part of our identity, part of us, a part of who we are. When I got married I knew that I was expected to change my name. In Romania, it’s still very common to take the name of your husband. Two weeks before getting married, we received from the City Hall a paper on which we were supposed to fill in our personal information and to mention what our new names would be. I avoided filling in the paper until the last minute when we found ourselves in front of the City Hall. In my heart, I felt from the beginning that my name is too important for me to change it. Throughout my life, I struggled with the question: who am I? Who am I supposed to be? And so many times I failed to answer this question. But one thing I knew for sure! That I could always start from: I am Anamaria Olaru. If I would have given up even on this identity, I would have been lost. But, I was struggling with many conflicting thoughts. If we are a family, shouldn’t we have the same name? What will my family and friends say? I didn’t want to be questioned and judged. I didn’t want to stand out and yet my heart so dearly wanted me to keep my name. Once we arrived in front of the City Hall, in a rush, without even thinking about it anymore, I wrote my name down on the paper. The same name I learned to write when I was a little girl, the same name my parents called me first, the same name I told my first school teacher, the same name I introduced myself to my husband.
After that, I felt so relieved and so happy, as if I had escaped a social trap. I could keep my name, I could still be me and be married and have a family. I didn’t have to give up on any part of myself just because I’m getting married. I had a choice and it felt so empowering. And sure enough, I was judged for it and sometimes even ridiculed. And not only me, but especially my husband. Many claimed that I didn’t take his name because I simply didn’t like it. Or because, I am an “opinionated wife” who imposed herself in front of her husband. In conclusion, he had his hands full now that he married a “stubborn feminist”.
I am lucky and happy to live now in a country where it’s not even possible to take your husband’s name. In Belgium, all women have to keep their own name in order to avoid bureaucracy and the loss of the family background. I am also lucky to have married a man who understood me from the very beginning and had absolutely no expectations from my side to take his name.
In the end, I want to mention that this post is not meant to judge or to point the finger at women who choose to change their names once they get married. Chez Pink Elephant is not a place of judgment. This post is just to give a different point of view on this issue and to encourage women to think well before making this decision. It should be a personal decision, and not that of the husband, family, friends or society. As long as it’s your decision, it’s the best decision in the end!
PS: Just to show that this is actually an issue to take into consideration, I am shocked to see that Wikihow actually has an article on their website about how to tell people that you’ve decided to keep your maiden name. Do we really have to justify keeping the name we are born with?
Image copyrights: Artist Anne Taintor
Text in the image: Anamaria Olaru
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