When the customer assistant asked for my name, I hesitated. Should I offer my married name, although I am no longer married, or my maiden name?
If I give my maiden name, at least I know how to answer the next question: “Is that Miss or Mrs?” I didn’t marry my dad, so it’s Miss – obviously. But giving the name still on my bank account, passport and bills throws me into confusion because that one goes with Mrs and I haven’t been anyone’s missus for ages.
If I answer the Miss or Mrs question with: “I don’t really know,” I sound like one of those newspaper stories about a bewildered individual apparently suffering from amnesia who remembers how to play complex piano concertos but is stumped when asked, “Who are you?”
Many women are opting not to change their names on marriage, but what happens after divorce?
I asked my divorce solicitor what I had to do should I ever decide to ditch the one I’d been using for years and use my birth name again. She told me there were no legal requirements as that’s technically who I still am. It sounded more of an identity issue suddenly and as my identity was firmly connected to my children at the time, I wasn’t in a hurry to have a different name from theirs. It did mean there were no further legal charges though, so we should keep it between us or someone might decide we should pay to be ourselves.
I’ve heard there is a rising number of women in their forties, fifties and sixties filing for divorce since we’ve been better positioned to choose independence over a bad marriage. Is the choice of name (with which goes a title and therefore a declaration of marital status) tricky when you’ve likely been using the same one for more than twenty years? We know many women are now opting not to change their names on marriage, but what do those of us, who chose to change, do about it after we get divorced?
In my experience, a mature woman who no longer has a husband, but has kept her personal title and husband’s name is sometimes presumed to be widowed, which can be awkward and, for someone like me, difficult not to joke about when it happens. No kids, of course I don’t really wish your dad was dead, I just meant I’d rather not have sole responsibility for my mortgage.
Feminists of all ages rightly object to being made to declare ourselves married or not by having to tell anyone who asks whether we are Miss or Mrs when usually all that’s required is confirmation of whether or not you’re a man – oh hang on, that’s not good either.
You’re probably thinking why not use ‘Ms’? Nobody actually likes ‘Ms’, that’s why. Apart from the lack of confidence when pronouncing it (muzz? mizz? Was this even a word before it became an abbreviation?) a lot can go through a person’s mind on hearing ‘Ms’ – their own prejudices mostly. Their faces indicate they’re puzzling over whether you’re a bitter divorcee, a radical (man-hating) feminazi or a little too fiercely proclaiming your right to be attracted to other women. All rather negative.
And then if you really can’t be bothered with the admin to change your name back, but find yourself living with a different life-partner, it’s sometimes necessary to have to point out that he’s Mr Someone and you’re Mrs Someone Else. At hotel check-ins, you will appear to be having an affair with each other. If it bothers you, simply avoid eye-contact with the staff rather than try to explain. No one cares in that context except you and it might even make your holiday a little more exciting.
Consider this: if remarriage is your ‘ambition’ and you’d like your certificate to show Miss Whatshername married Mr So-and-So, rather than Mrs Whatshisname married Mr So-and-So, you’d have to revert to your maiden name to be able to change to a new married name – if that’s what you want. Do you follow me?
Does any of this really matter? Well, yes it does because how women of all ages are identified in society is at odds with their independence from the men in their lives and their rights to equality and to privacy.
The next time you’re asked: “Is that Miss or Mrs?” shake it up a bit if you dare. Ask ‘Why do you need to know?’ Ask ‘Are you married?’ Say ‘I’ll tell if you will,” or whatever you feel like. None of which means you’ll be able to play a piano concerto any better than you can now, but you’ll be making a point worth making.