Recently I was thinking about using a pseudonym for my writing name and it lead me to experiencing a disturbing epiphany. There isn't a name I could choose from my family that would relate to the women in my ancestry, not one that actually belongs to a woman! Take a moment to consider that truth...any name you choose will belong to the man that last "owned" that woman. You may be thinking that I am a stupid raging feminist by now, you're probably thinking: "you can keep your maiden name if you want" or " I kept my name when we got married", but consider this- if you keep your maiden name your are simply keeping the name of your Father, face it- surnames are man tags.
Your surname most likely doesn't relate to your mothers ancestral line since matrilineal surnames are not very common. Your surname is most likely to be your Fathers surname, your mother had her fathers surname, until she got married and took your fathers surname or continued to keep her original surname. You'll either keep your Father's surname or if you are a woman and you marry chances are high that you'll take the name of your husband. So, to summarise- if you are a man you will most likely inherit your fathers name upon your birth, keep that name throughout your life and eventually pass that on to your children- awesome. Solid ideas about where you come from, great for tracking genealogy, strong sense of identity. If you are a woman, you will most likely be born with your fathers name, take the name of your husband upon marriage and your name will not be passed on to any of your children. No fucking idea where you're from, difficulty tracking genealogy, feeling like you have a slave name! This bothers me- who am I? Who were my foremothers? Where is my sense of pride and belonging to a long line of women way back into the past?
When I got married I willingly and happily took my husbands name. There was absolutely no expectation from him that I should, but it was important to me that our future family be unified with one name. I came from a broken home and knew what it was like to not share the same last name, and the difficulties with my parents divorce meant that I also felt a sense of shame about my Father's name and just wanted to be rid of it. This is not a sob story segment about my childhood, I'm just framing up my reasons for leaping into taking the next man name on offer. For more reasons on why women choose to take or not to take their husbands names this article covers a few of these things as well as the writers own view on changing names which is limited to keeping her maiden name and not the concern about her foremothers names. Very infrequently is it considered that a man will take his wife's name upon marriage (although this man came up with a new and interesting solution with his wife which worked for them). This would be seen as somewhat effeminate and almost traitorous to this man's proud name. In saying that I must say that my husband claims that if I had wanted to keep my name he would happily have changed his name to mine(hero). You see, the reasons that people choose to change their names to their husbands name is not really because men are forcing us to(although 50% of Americans believe that women entering heterosexual marriages should be legally required to take their husbands names), or owning us anymore- it's just an accepted social convention. And, what makes this convention even easier to continue is that women's last names are so transient, usually only lasting for part of their lifetime, as well as the shocking truth that there are no women's surnames!!!! Fortunately the UN has a convention about women's last names- In 1979, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women ("CEDAW") which declared in effect that women and men, and specifically wife and husband, shall have the same rights to choose a "family name", as well as a "profession" and an "occupation".
My husband and his male family members use their family name with pride, even getting tattoo's with the family shield on it, their family name that they can trace way back to a place and time in England emblazoned proudly on their skin. I have been bewildered by this seemingly arrogant sense of family patriotism, what were they doing, why are they so proud? The answer to that question at the time seemed like it was just maybe testosterone, maybe just what guys do- they're so childish, but now after this epiphany I totally get it!!! Yes- fuck yes!!! What a celebration it would be if I was together with my womenfolk and we had our ancestral women family name tattooed on us and could celebrate this long line of women before us back to a place and time in the world and we could see the children that we grew in our ripe distended bellies carrying our name into the future. The pride of having our children carry our names into the future and looking back upon us with pride too. The thought of it is so potent and dizzying, I can't believe I've been missing out on it.
And what sort of names would womenfolk have? Well many of the surnames we see and hear today have very traditional meaningful roots. Think of names like Smith or Cooper that actually relate back to a profession. Once again awesome identity right back to your roots. Of course some names are more prestigious than others and surely that would be the same for women's last names- let's not let this fantasy get out of control. So here's some ideas of what our women's names would have been and could be- Maid, Whore, Barmaid, Nurse, Belle(beauty is always important), Washer, Cook, Seamstress now lets get modern: Architect, Engineer, Editor, Model, Athlete, Celebrity. But these just relate to occupations which not all names do, some relate to places so: New York, Paris, London, Fiji, oh the possibilities. Now lets just go for some shit hot, really cool last names just to be indulgent: Coco, Chanel, Ruby, Diamond, Jewel, Fashion, Beauty, Bliss, Cleopatra, of Arc, Coven, Love, Mankiller(oh I lol), Mantrap, Manhater...I'm really getting on a roll now. And what of the associated professions. I come from a long line of...Rugby players, Farmers, Teachers. What do I come from a long line of? Warrior Women, Midwives, Healers, Cooks, Seamstresses...? Truth is it's bloody exhilarating thinking about having an actual name to follow through time though I guess Rachel Whore would be hard to swallow- excuse the pun!
So, I got to thinking. What name would I choose for myself, what did I have that I owned, that was just for me, that secured me to some womenfolk in my family. The answer to this question was swift and simple. I would choose the names my Mother gave me- Rachel Joy(Joy is my middle name). The reason this choice was simple is that there is a beautiful family connection in this name. My Nana on my Mums side had this as her first name, my Mum has it as her middle name, and my eldest daughter also has it as her middle name. If we were all to change our middle names to our last names we would share a name over several generations and that would be so sweet and wonderful. We would be the 'Joy Family' and I might even be tempted to get that tattooed on my skin and celebrate loud and proud with my women! We are the Joys, we claim this name as ours for our women- hear us ROAR!!!!!! And maybe bring some joy...