From the moment we leave the womb and a little plastic tag is placed around our tiny wrists, our names signify to the world who we are. Those few letters become our identity forever more, adorning everything from our school uniform and social media pages to passports and personalised jewellery; they travel with us wherever we go and become so ingrained in who we are as people, that it’s often impossible to distinguish between where the person ends and the name begins. Even though I went through a few years of deciding I wanted to be called Rosie as a child (which later became Sophie – I was so jealous when my baby cousin whipped that from me a few years later!) for the majority of my life I’ve actually loved my moniker; Hayley has never been that common and I’ve only ever met a handful of other people throughout my thirty five years that have shared it with me. It feels part of who I am so much that I have it engraved, embossed or stuck on whenever I can: one of my most treasured possessions is my ‘Hayley’ necklace my Nan bought me for my 21st birthday when I, like the majority of other young women at the time, was going through the ‘obsessed with Carrie Bradshaw’ stage. However, one part of me that’s never really felt like ‘me’ was my surname.
During my formative years I longed for a more exotic, complex or exciting surname, but alas I was stuck with a four letter descriptor of a vehicle that later became synonymous with comedians; I never felt a particularly strong bond with it, but after my relationship with my father started to break down (that’s a long story for another day) it honestly started to feel like a noose around my neck I couldn’t wait to rid myself of; it felt like his influence was still bearing down over me and I had no way to break free – even if it did connect my mum, sister and I as an impenetrable unit of women. It’s not something that kept me awake at night, but in retrospect I can now see how much I grew to dislike my maiden name and everything it represented as a strong-willed and independent woman: I’d spent the last two decades building a life away from my dad’s influence, but those four little letters still held some power.
I didn’t meet my now husband until I was thirty, but when it was clear this was a serious and potential life-long relationship there wasn’t a question in my mind that I wanted to take his name. Some may see it as unnecessary, anti-feminist and old fashioned, but for me it was a way to adopt a new persona and cement our relationship in the most committed way I knew how. It was a way I could finally leave behind many of the painful memories and a link to a man who’s added little to my life in the last twenty years, while becoming a member of a new family I adored simultaneously. Although Josh probably just assumed I would change my name, the choice was always mine – and it was a choice I was more than happy to make.
So much is now written about the increasing number of women choosing to retain their surname or double-barrel after marriage, as we move towards equality rather than the outdated assumption of ‘ownership’ of your new spouse; so many articles exist discussing why women want to keep their identities they’ve become so fond of, as a way of continuing their family name or showcasing that they remain the same person regardless of whether they’ve chosen to make a lifelong commitment. I wholeheartedly applaud this and I’m a firm believer in choice: whatever is right for you, your partner and your family is what you should do, regardless of what society dictates. However, for many of us there’s a deeper meaning behind the choice to drop our names and adopt a new one – and that deserves the same respect as any other decision, rather than judgement or sneering for choosing to ‘conform’.
In the days leading up to my wedding I did feel a pang of sadness to leave behind my old name (100% because I shared it with my mum and sister,) but I was also incredibly excited to adopt my new one. I’ve always loved the sound of Hayley Hall, and I already had plans to rebrand using my new moniker, so from the day after our wedding I said goodbye to Hayley Carr and hello to the new woman in my life. Even though I thought it would take me months to get used to it, honestly it took me a matter of weeks; seven months on I can absolutely say it feels like that’s always been who I am and even looking at my maiden name feels strange. I feel like this is always who I’ve meant to be and it’s allowed me to break free of the last thing connecting me to a man I have nothing but pity for; I’d much prefer to be linked forever more to a husband who brings me joy, love and commitment.
Yes, I may have wanted to feel more connected and committed to my husband-to-be; yes, I wanted to have a family unit and share the same name if we’re ever blessed with children; yes, I wanted to command a little more respect when my baby face still gets me asked for ID in Sainsburys; but truth be told it was more about breaking free and starting a new chapter in my life – not unlike a caterpillar breaking out of the cocoon as a butterfly. Whatever you decide to do, or have decided to do in the past, is up to you – it’s your choice as an individual to make, and we all have our reasons. Once that change is made you have to answer, sign and be identified as
that new person forever more… So you better blooming like it, and
everything it stands for.
Feminism and equality is all about the ability to choose and finding the right path for you. So in a modern world we should be able to keep, change, swap or join our names without having to answer to anyone but ourselves – whatever our reasons for doing so.
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