Wednesday, 25 February 2009

What's in a name...

Two weeks ago I hadn't given what I would be called when I am married any thought beyond whether to bother creating a double-barrelled name from M and my own. I had always assumed that I would become Mrs M's Surname and had never considered any other option.

I suppose I am quite a traditional sort of girl, both in values, expectations and activities that I pursue. I am an active member of my local Women's Institute group, I enjoy baking & sewing & making things. I value family life and my friends above a career, although interestingly because I have to have a job I have ended up/chosen to enter a male dominated profession. I believe in marriage for eternity. I also believe in equal rights for everyone to marry/enter civil partnerships. Yet I also believe men and women are different. I have no issues being female rather than male. I celebrate being female, yet do not feel threatened by men. I do not believe we are judged by our gender rather valued for our differences. I am not a feminist and I do not believe we are judged by our honorifics, which is why I had not given my title a second thought before now.

I am also driven by etiquette. I like to know the correct ways to address people and I still send hand-written thank you letters to anyone who invites us to stay with them, addressed as per correct form, unless I know specifically they choose another form of address (although thinking about it, I don't think I do know anyone that doesn't). I send e-mail thank you messages after suppers, parties etc but those never involve titles, so don't count. On a form I always tick Miss, as I do not consider myself to Mrs (yet) or Ms. To me, Ms is used by divorced women and single women hiding their marital status and I am neither. I stress that is to *me* because it is a personal viewpoint of an arbitrary word, not a slight on divorced or single women.

I then read this post by A Practical Wedding and then Cate's post on Project Subrosa and realised that to some women my age, whether they are known by Mrs or Ms is something they have given a great deal of thought. I understand that there are women to whom it is important that they are not recognised for their marital status, that they believe as Mr does not identify anything particular about a man, other than he is a man, so therefore women should have a suitable title to identify them as female but say nothing further. They choose to use Ms in this instance.

Reading all these viewpoints didn't change my mind rather actually clarified for me that I will choose to use the title Mrs when we are married. I do not see Mrs as indicating that I belong to my husband, as if I am chattel. He knows and I know that we belong to each other and our collective family name of Mr and Mrs HisSurname will indicate that to each other and everyone else. If anything I look forward to being a family unit with a shared surname rather than two individuals who happen to live in the same building. In the same light, I look forward to being Mrs HisFirstName HisSurname as I am confident being my own person yet proud of being his wife. It is also traditional and I enjoy following tradition.

Indeed, that is how we shall be addressing our wedding invitations, to Mr and Mrs John Smith. Unless I know that a female friend has a preference for Ms, I shall be addressing couples who are not married on separate lines as Miss Jane Brown and Mr John Smith or the other way round if we know the man better (I think that is the only deviation from traditional etiquette we shall use). The invitations will also come from Mr and Mrs MyFather'sFirstName TheirSurname despite the fact that my father is a Dr as this is a social occasion and therefore academic titles are not appropriate. Apart from the Chaplain. We shall address him as The Reverend FirstName Surname.


London bride said...

I love being a Mrs and declaring to one and all that I am married and agree entirely with you on many of the points you made. I think these things have to be accepted & respected as personal decisions, although people do naturally question these things if it's not the ordinary way of doing things. I'm still querying every now and then my decision to become a double-barrelled person but at the same time I kind of love it. Now to convince J to do the same! Sorry this turned out longer than planned... LB x x

Meg said...

You know, going by Mrs. is fine, and addressing people by Mrs. is fine, but I would be very very careful addressing people by Mrs. HISFIRSTNAME their last name unless you know it is there preferance. I'm not sure you understand how offensive that can be. I would be appalled if I got mail that way, to the point that I would call the recipient and explain, kindly but firmly, that they should never send anything adressed that way to us again. This is hardly new, my mother has spent her life fighting the same fight.

So, if you know it's fine with people and you like it, go ahead and use it. But do realize that at least in metropolitan areas it is no longer etiquette, and is deeply offensive to many.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to read your point of view on this, especially as you sound a lot more traditional to me (and thus hold rather different opinions!). But very interesting to see it from another point of view.

I would agree with Meg though about addressing things to people - we received a christmas card from my fiance's aunt last year address to mr and mrs hisfirstname hislastname. Aside from the fact that we're not even married yet, I found it pretty insulting.

Cyd said...

The Mrs. thing can be a very loaded question these days...personally, I'm still struggling with it myself because I can see and understand all the reasons why people opt to take or not take their husband's last name, all the reasons to be a Mrs. or to be a Ms. I basically have no clue what I'm doing at this point, so I'm happy for you it's an easy decision to make! :-)

Rachel said...

Thank you all for your interesting points of view.

I live in London, England, which I would consider a metropolitan area. I did a quick poll of some female friends last night and all of them indicated that they would like to be addressed as Miss now, as they are not married, and Mrs HisSurname when they are married. When I asked how they felt about being addressed as Mr and Mrs HisFirstName HisSurname they said that was fine, especially in a traditional social situation such as on a wedding invitation. In fact, some of them went as far to say it made them smile receiving post addressed in this fashion.

Krista said...

Yes, I read some of the back and forth posts on both of A Practical Wedding and Project Subrosa.

I still prefer to be known by Ms. To me, Ms. does not indicate a divorcee. From my understanding of traditional etiquette, a divorcee used to keep her married name, and was denoated as "Mrs. Jane Smith" instead of "Mrs. John Smith".

I respect that you want to change your name and be known as "Mrs.", but I will not be known as "Mrs." (and certainly not as "Mrs. John Smith").

(In North America, it's Mrs. but in the UK, it's Mrs - no period/full stop. I have always found that an interesting and endearing difference)

Rachel said...

Krista - I definitely agree with you that traditional etiquette would indicate a woman was divorced by becoming Mrs Jane Smith rather than Mrs John Smith, I was referring to a more modern usage of the word Ms rather than one of traditional etiquette.

Krista said...

To be hoenst, that's what I figured you meant. Just thought I'd throw it out there.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Although I am neither engaged nor married, I had always assumed that I would keep my name if/when I married. Because I'm the last of my line and if I lost my surname, it would simply die out.

However more recently I have come to realise that there isn't too much point (in my opinion) getting married if you don't take your husband's surname. Surely the whole point of marriage is that you are, as you say, a unit and a family. To me this especially applies if you have children.

So my personal compromise, if/when I marry, will be that I continue to be Miss/Ms MySurname in a professional capacity, and Mrs HisSurname everywhere else.

Incidentally I really have no strong feeling either way about the Miss/Ms thing. Sometimes I feel that Miss makes me sound like an immature young girl (so I'd be a Ms) but other times that Ms makes me sound like a rampant feminist (so I'd be a Miss). I haven't quite decided which I'll be for life, so hopefully someone will make an honest woman of me soon and stop me having this mental deliberation every time I fill in a form!!