The name game

Society & Culture | By Susan Mutambasere, Lawyer | 02 October 2015

Despite the fact that I have been married for almost 10 years now, I never assumed my husband’s name. Not because I had feminist objections, but simply because I found the process tedious. Having to go through the process of getting a new identification card, a new passport, changing my banking details etc., I just honestly didn’t have the energy for it. My husband has never been bothered by the continued use of my maiden name, but is clearly confident in knowing that I am loyal to him as his wife. It doesn’t mean I do not honour or respect him, in fact in all matters that fall under our traditions and social set up, I am addressed by my married name. My children have at some point questioned why I use a different name from them, but as they grow older, they now appreciate the dynamics of a family unit, where I share my name with my side of the family and that there are two family trees that they are descendant from. 

I have faced criticism from some quarters, with one person blatantly asking me if I was unsure about being married to my husband. Some people have supported my lack of initiative in changing my name by saying that it becomes messy in the event of a divorce to untangle yourself from the name, However, no one gets into a marriage with the intention of getting out at some point, so that could never be a valid reason for not wanting to change. So, my reason for not changing my name all along is simple, I am just lazy.

Recently, I joined a law practice and for all intents and purposes your name means everything in building your practice. It is what recommends you or otherwise. A colleague of mine highlighted a somewhat feminist-eque view on the subject. The ultimate goal for lawyers who join legal practice is to have their name put up on a plaque, whether as a name partner or simply on the letterhead.  Why therefore would one want to have some other family’s name up when for twenty-something or more years you did not even know them. Why should the goodwill of your success be visited upon that family as compared to your parents who moulded you to become who you are, the success that you are. This got me to perk up and consider it. After all I have a very unique surname, I can most assuredly tell you that anyone you meet with that name is definitely a part of my extended family, descended from the same family tree. Therefore should my name go up anywhere, anyone who knows of my family is bound to take notice.

On the other hand I learnt a lot from an Ethiopian colleague who told me that in her culture they do not use surnames or family names. At birth a child has a given name and what is attached to it is her father’s first name. So for example if I was named Susan at birth, and my father’s name is Joe, I would go by Susan Joe. However, it also means that I do not answer to Miss Joe, instead you call me Miss Susan, and I maintain my identity like that. In turn when I get married I do not take my husband’s name at all. Food for thought; what’s in a name? What is it about a name that gets people in knots? Should it matter at all if I feel attached to a certain name? And like some people I know, should I choose to just get a notarial deed of change of name and get a brand new name altogether, should that be anyone’s concern? Do we not put more emphasis on the name itself than on building the relationships that those names are premised on? I am a girl child yes but I think I will keep this name alive for this one last generation in my line since my children have already taken their father’s. What do you know, my reasons are feministic after all!