When you’ve worked to build up your name in an industry where people recognise your work predominantly through the sight of that name on a title page, rather than the sight of you in an office or a boardroom, what do you do when you decide you want to change it? After getting married last week, I found myself unexpectedly facing this dilemma. I’m very fond of my surname, and as the only Searle of my generation in my family, I’ve never considered relinquishing a name that has always been a part of me. After spending my school years frustrated at having a name that caused endless confusion regarding my gender, I eventually grew to love it and the fact that it was different. And I don’t believe that getting married should mean your original identity is eclipsed by the new. In some ways, I agree with those who argue against the tradition of women taking their husbands’ names, and particularly with this statement:
Your name is your identity. The term for you is what situates you in the world. The cultural assumption that women will change their names upon marriage – the assumption that we’ll even think about it, and be in a position where we make a “choice” of whether to keep our names or take our husbands’ – cannot be without consequence. Part of how our brains function and make sense of a vast and confusing universe is by naming and categorizing. When women see our names as temporary or not really ours, and when we understand that part of being a woman is subsuming your own identity into our husband’s, that impacts our perception of ourselves and our role in the world. It lessens the belief that our existence is valuable unto itself, and that as individuals we are already whole. It disassociates us from ourselves, and feeds into a female understanding of self as relational – we are not simply who we are, we are defined by our role as someone’s wife or mother or daughter or sister.
At the same time, I do want to undertake some change which symbolises the commitment I have made. My name, as it stands, was given to me before my character became defined, and contributed towards shaping it. My surname comes from my father’s side of the family, while my first name is greatly influenced by the fact that my mother grew up in Canada, where Jamie (and particularly Jamie Lee), is far more often a girl’s name. Getting married has added to my life, rather than replacing or removing something, and I want to pay tribute to that.
For me, this means incorporating the name of my Brazilian husband, and the new extension to my family. So I’ve decided to follow the beautiful but simple Latin tradition of adding it, un-hyphenated, to my own. This is much more common in South America, where children usually take the names of both their mothers and fathers. The Spanish tradition is for the father’s surname to come first, followed by the mother’s, whereas in Portuguese-speaking countries such as Brazil, it is the opposite. There, women can choose to adopt their husband’s name if they wish, but they usually keep their birth names regardless, a custom which I like very much.
This evening, I picked up my new business cards. They were designed swiftly for forthcoming events — and in a small quantity as I eventually hope to add Portuguese to them — but the name already has a good ring to it: Jamie Searle Romanelli, literary translator. And wherever the ‘Lee’ still fits, I’ll use that too.