Have you ever gotten a friend request on Facebook from someone and stared hard at the name, trying to figure out if it was someone you really knew? I do that sometimes and there’s been a few times I came to the conclusion that I really didn’t know this person, only to find out weeks later that it was someone I knew quite well and simply didn’t recognize her name because the last name had changed, thanks to marriage.
I recently came across a blog post recently and the subject of debate was whether the well-accomplished Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Adichie , was right in telling a journalist to address her by her birth name and not her husband’s surname. It was fun to read not only the blog post but also the comments of many readers. Hours after I read that article, I thought less of it as being fun and thought of many of the comments as disturbing and chauvinistic. It made me think more of the whole idea of name change (usually of a woman) after marriage and challenge the norm.
It is customary in Nigeria, for a woman to drop her surname and adopt that of her husband after marriage. Not only is it customary, it is somewhat a thing of pride. Most single ladies not only look forward to when they will be married but they look forward to when they would be addressed as “Mrs”. I mean, what’s the point of getting married if you aren’t addressed as Mrs So and So? It’s almost as if our self-esteem is wrapped up in exchanging our father’s last name for that of our husband. Now, I’m not bashing my sisters on the head, perhaps society is to blame for propagating the belief that a woman who isn’t Mrs. Somebody yet is not to be honoured or respected as much as the one who is.
I asked on my Facebook page what people thought about this whole name change issue and someone responded that it wasn’t “proper” for the woman to keep her surname because she no longer “belongs there”; she is one with the man. This is all rooted in the unspoken belief that girls are their father’s property and at marriage, they become their husband’s. A married woman may now have her husband and children as first priority where family is concerned but her parents and siblings are still very much family to her and before any of my Christian brothers, (or sisters for that matter), throw scriptures at me, remember the Bible states that a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife not a woman shall leave her father and mother so why aren’t men exchanging their last names for their wives’? Don’t get it twisted, marriage was God’s idea but he didn’t ordain name change after marriage, men did. Also, for traditionalists who say “It is not our culture for a woman to keep bearing her father’s name after marriage”, I’ve got news for you, wearing suit, shirt and tie is not our culture; neither is eating spaghetti or speaking English!
Back to the blog post I was telling you about, many commentators, both male and female, spoke unkind and derogatory words about Chimamanda, it was almost as if this talented Writer who has won awards both home and abroad for her works was suddenly worth not much because she dared to refuse to be addressed as Mrs or swap her surname for her husband’s. Now, before you start thinking I am a loud-mouth feminist, (which could be a compliment; really), I am not against name change for married ladies. After all, I did change my last name right after marriage, not just on official records but socially as well but I did it because I wanted to not because I was compelled by societal norms. Perhaps because it was shorter and sounded somewhat Asian, (yes, I know I can be strange).
I respect women who hyphenate their last name with that of their husband and adopt that as their new surname but I didn’t want any part of that. I like short last names and didn’t want to end up with a last name that was more than a mouthful. Since getting married, I have found out that people can get somewhat lazy when it comes to knowing a married woman. They would rather see her as the wife of her husband rather than as an individual. There are people in my church who have no clue what my first name is. They address me as Sister Alao or Sister Wale (my husband’s first name). At times like that, I wished I was from Belgium, Chile or Iceland. Yes, married women in these countries don’t change their names after marriage, they are forever known by their birth names.
Rather than castigate women who don’t let go of their surnames completely or refuse to take on their husband’s names, we should understand that the name change thing isn’t as simple as it sounds for every woman. There are women who have built a name and identity around their so called maiden names and suddenly changing their last name would seem to “wipe out” their achievements. Examples are artist, entertainers, anybody really. Imagine a woman by the name Mary Adeolu who is a lawyer for example and has made giant strides in her career as a single woman, she then gets married and changes her name to Mary Thomas. People can easily relate with the name Mary Adeolu but Mary Thomas is unknown really.
A lot of people know Chimamanda Adichie, that name rings a bell. It speaks of achievement and literary prowess but I doubt if many of us ever heard of Mrs Esege; I mean who is she and what makes her significant right? Well, Chimamanda is married to Mr Esege but she prefers to be called Chimamanda Adichie, why is that so difficult for people to wrap their heads around? Her husband isn’t complaining and why should anyone suggest that she is insubordinate, rebellious and unhappy because she won’t change her name? Now, to answer the question, “Do I have to change my name after marriage?” I believe it’s left to you and your husband. The senate is yet to pass a law on that one.
It’s about time we women get a life and stop acting like our existence solely depends on hiding behind the identity of our husband or husband to be, men should also realise that though the husband (note, I didn’t say the man) is the head of the wife, this is for the sake of order and organisation. Men and women are equal before God. That’s not my opinion, it is God’s so pick a quarrel with him if you wish.