Why Take His Name When I Already Have One of My Own?

Published: 05th October 2014 11:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th October 2014 11:42 AM   |  A+A-

ImranKhan-JeminaKhanAP

Jemima Khan will shortly be no more. Twenty years after marrying the Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan - and 10 years after their divorce - the Goldsmith heiress has announced that she intends to revert to her maiden name.

"I kept 'Khan' originally as my children felt strongly about it," she writes in the New Statesman, "but now they're grown up they don't seem to care." She, on the other hand, feels sad about it. "I've been Khan for as long as I was Goldsmith, and I last used my maiden name when I was a child (OK, 21)." But now her ex-husband has hinted he might like to get remarried soon, so it's time to beat a decorous retreat.

In retrospect, it might seem strange that this clever, wealthy, self-proclaimed feminist should have relinquished her name in the first place. Granted, she was marrying a Muslim from a country where traditional values count, but Imran Khan never seemed the type to be cowed by convention.

As sexist customs go, this is the most bare-faced of the lot. Maiden names are for maidens, not bachelors. Only women are expected, literally, to give up their identity when they marry. People offer all sorts of reasonable-sounding justifications for it. It's nice for the children; less confusing at the school gates; makes the marital paperwork easier. Most of all, it shows a proper commitment to the family unit: why wouldn't you want to share a name with the bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh?

Perhaps the best people to answer that are men. A survey by Men's Health magazine two years ago found that although 63.3 per cent of them would be upset if their wife didn't change her name, they wouldn't dream of returning the favour. In fact, 93.6 per cent would refuse to take their wife's surname if she asked them. "My name is part of who I am," explained one respondent. "Call it pride or ego, whatever," said another. "It's not happening."

My own husband, surveyed this morning, confessed that he would have recoiled at the idea of becoming Mr Lewis. "Because I'm old-fashioned and I want to dominate you," he added with a nervous laugh. Ho ho.

If names weren't important, men wouldn't guard their own so jealously. They instinctively understand that only the powerless - women and slaves, historically - get given other people's names. We don't just belong: we are your belongings. You might as well turn us upside-down and write your phone number on our feet.

A clear-eyed feminist should have no truck with married names. The trouble is, all of us - even feminists - are susceptible to romance. These days, taking your husband's name is a guilty pleasure - so old-fashioned it's kind of sexy.

For those of us who married relatively late, having established our professional and financial independence, adopting a married name is like taking on a secret identity. By day, the brisk and capable career woman; by night, the swooning wifey. It's the linguistic equivalent of letting your husband sling you over his shoulder and carry you off to his cave.

This element of play-acting perhaps explains why so many women now choose to alternate between names. I use my maiden name for work, and my husband's name in private. I am a reassuringly conventional Mrs at the school gates, and a defiant Ms on my pay slip.

The system would work better if I were more organised. I changed my name on my passport and NHS files, but not on my driving licence. I am one person at the GP's and another when paying my taxes. When I ring the bank there's a suspicious pause while I try to remember what name my account is in.

Even so, it works for me. I am proud of both identities: the worker and the spouse. I just wish more men felt the same way.

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