Thursday, May 25, 2017

Surnames #3

from here

My new birth certificate arrived today; my surname change is official. The forms I had to submit a couple of weeks ago asked my reason for changing my name, and I’d hurriedly scrawled something about sexism while sitting in Services NSW and waiting for my number to be called; I had no idea if my reason would be deemed acceptable by whoever it is that judges such things, or what would happen if my request was rejected. Sending my birth certificate off to be destroyed felt particularly scary. As usual, though, the time I spent preparing for every possible negative outcome was wasted: this afternoon I saw my new name printed on my new birth certificate, and breathed a sigh of relief.

The day after writing my last post, I started the name-choosing process by searching for the maiden names of women on my mother’s side of my family tree. I ended up at Stevens (although I’m not entirely sure this woman is actually related to me; genealogy research is like a maze for which I had only the first few steps of a map; it’s quite possible I took a wrong turn after my grandmother’s tips ran out. I came to a dead end at Stevens, which I assume means that a) the internet’s records end sometime around the mid-1800s, b) I did something wrong, or c) my great-great-great grandmother was immaculately conceived. I haven’t ruled out any of these possibilities). Choosing a man’s name as a surname seemed antithetical to the point of my project, and I didn’t love the surnames of closer (less great) grandmothers (cool as they were; Moment was one of them), so I gave up on the genealogy idea. The fact that I could find so much information simply by signing up to the one website reassured me that future generations would most likely have zero problems figuring out to whom I was related no matter what name I eventually chose.

Next, I read through lengthy lists of surnames on various sites, many of which turned out to have been compiled for writers wanting names for their characters (Dragonslayer is super cool, but not really what I was after). These searches were helpful: from them I added a couple of options to my list, and quickly saw how many surnames have maleness wrapped up in them, including, I was very sad to discover, those beginning with my favourite surname prefix: “Mc” (or “Mac”) apparently means “son.” I unhappily crossed off a few possibilities after finding out that disappointing piece of information. Starting this way reminded me of the hours spent reading through names when thinking of what to call my children; choosing a surname is almost as fun as naming a baby, but I was surprised by the difference: surnames feel as though they have far more history attached to them, and the idea of taking on someone else’s felt strange. 

Having realised this, I briefly tossed up verbs I could use as a surname, à la Cheryl Strayed, but Woke was the least wanky of a very small bunch, and even it was far too wanky. Eventually I read Alan my shortlist of random surname-sounding words I liked the sound of, and together we culled Bell, Rose, Ocean, Black, and Wild (“But you’re not…,” he said, which I’ve just realised may have been an insult). The last word/potential name I read out was “Grey,” at which Alan perked up. I’ve loved the name for a long time (it’s made the list for both children), and Alan pointed out that it paid tribute to the non-black-and-white ways in which I’d begun to see the world, which instantly decided it for me (along with the fact that it suited both Hazel’s and my names).

We’ve talked with the kids about the name change; Hazel couldn’t care less, whereas Moses seemed unsure at first but accepted the decision after a brief chat on the way to school about the insidious nature of patriarchy. And Alan’s already started trying it out on me: while I was making school lunches last week he came up behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist, saying, “Good morning, Ms Grey.” (Motherhood: hearing the sexiest thing ever while spreading Vegemite on sandwiches.) So now the fun starts: letting the rest of the world – particularly those in charge of the many (MANY! [horrified-face emoji]) various accounts I’m linked to – know my new name. On the upside, it’ll be a teeny bit easier to prove who I am now that I’ll need just my birth certificate to present for identification, rather than the birth-and-marriage-certificate combination I’ve had to show/certify to accompany every important form I’ve filled out over the last 9-and-a-half years. (Admittedly this will save minutes rather than hours of my time in future, but I’ll take simplicity wherever I can find it.)

On the even-further-upside, once this giant pile of paperwork has been surmounted, my name will match my beliefs and my identity will be one I’ve chosen for myself, both of which will make whatever administrative challenges I face completely worth it. 

Watch out, world.


Ms Grey

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Surnames #2

from here
Alan recently created an account in my name, and signed me up as a “Mrs” instead of a “Ms.” He seemed surprised by my dismay at this discovery: “I didn’t think even think about it!” he protested. “This is exactly the problem!” I retorted. “You never have to think about it as a man! There’s only one option for men because they’re not defined by their marital status!” I called the company to request the forms required to change to “Ms,” then spent some time fuming specifically over how much time this process had taken from my day and how much I regretted changing my name when I married (I was [half-]sure Alan would think twice about my title if we didn’t share a surname). And then I spent a little more time fuming generally over patriarchy. And then, dear readers, I had an epiphany.

Before we went down to Currarong recently, I compiled a playlist for the roadtrip featuring 156 songs. We started off shuffling the entire playlist and skipping through songs until we found one we could all agree on listening to, but it didn’t take long before we just found the beginning of the soundtracks section and played 9 or so Moana and Matilda the Musical songs on repeat for the rest of the trip (with a few others thrown in every now and then to mix things up a little). This is probably why, as I thought about names and patriarchy and fumed to myself that afternoon, I started humming the tune to Naughty from Matilda.
If you're stuck in your story and want to get out,
You don't have to cry; you don't have to shout.

'Cause if you're little, you can do a lot, you
Mustn't let a little thing like "little" stop you.
If you sit around and let them get on top, you
Won't change a thing. 
Just because you find that life's not fair, it
Doesn't mean that you just have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it,
You might as well be saying you think that it's OK.
And that's not right.
And if it's not right, you have to put it right.

But nobody else is gonna put it right for me.
Nobody but me is gonna change my story.
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.
I first admitted to regretting changing my name in this post about weddings at the end of 2014, although I’d thought about it a lot over the years before that (the fact that I can track – through this blog – my thoughts on all the topics I’ve deemed important from 2011 to now is both very handy and very embarrassing). At first I’d justified my name change, thinking it’d been an unbiased choice, but reflecting on the decision I saw that it’d been made based on what was expected and what seemed normal (all but one of the women I’m related to changed her name when she married – I gave up counting at 18 relatives), rather than on thoroughly weighing up two equal alternatives; as Clementine Ford said in an article from earlier this year, “Either it is only women who end up saddled with hard-to-pronounce names and terrible fathers (unlikely) or these are instead excuses offered to soften the blow of what seems in other respects to be an intellectually unsound choice.” Since 2014 I’ve had an “Oh well, it was a mistake, but what’s done is done” attitude about it, but finding myself singing the lyrics to Naughty suddenly reminded me that I was not as powerless over this situation as I’d previously imagined myself to be.

It struck me for the first time: I COULD CHANGE MY SURNAME AGAIN. This idea filled me with intense excitement followed quickly by intense anxiety: Would Alan change his name too? How would his family react? Would everyone assume it was because we were on the brink of divorce? Would I be okay with not sharing a name with my children? Why/why not? Could I deal with that much extra paperwork?! I turned to my pool of wisdom (a Facebook group made up of hundreds of folk from around the world who’ve been on similar journeys away from conservative evangelical versions of Christianity), and asked for their thoughts on the matter. The responses mostly suggested that I hyphenate my maiden name and Alan’s surname, but I’d already rejected this idea – I’m naturally inclined towards minimalism, and having three syllables in my first name already feels like a burden; adding an extra two to my surname was not an option. Others pointed out that my maiden name was also my father’s name, so what difference would it make whether I was named after my husband or father? I may as well keep things simple by sticking with my husband’s, they said (I’d considered and dismissed this argument already).

One woman told me she’d dropped her surname completely, which is something many women in her circles had done as a small way of sticking it to The Man. Another woman told me she’d made up a brand new name, and it still brought her joy to say and write it, even years down the track. A few respondents encouraged me to think of poor future historians trying to keep track of my genealogy (they had no idea how messy my tree was already) and to choose something family-related. Meanwhile, Alan was excited about the idea of me changing my name (he was also high on pain medication for his recently-injured back, so it’s quite possible it was the drugs talking/smiling). He wasn’t interested in changing his surname, but he was fine with the kids’ surnames changing. SO.

I realised that the idea of keeping Alan’s surname had become unacceptable; I’m far less willing to live with cognitive dissonance these days, and I couldn’t, with integrity, keep both the name and my feminist ideas about how the world should look. Changing to a different name would not be a rejection of Alan or his family, rather a rejection of everything that me taking a new name in the first place had represented: that I was Alan’s property, that the work of adapting would be entirely mine, that my identity was less important than his, that he would be the sun around which our family would orbit. I also realised that me going by the same surname as my children was a strange hang-up to have, given I’ve had a different surname to my mother for most of my life and in no other scenario would I consider sharing a name a valid indication of closeness. 

But I also realised that I’ve been left out of almost all photographs with my children thanks to my unfortunate over-functioning (and Alan’s unfortunate under-functioning) as the memory-maker in our family (I may return and write about this soon, once I’m done crying about it), and I didn’t want to erase myself from my kids’ lives by name as well. SO.

I’m currently researching my family’s history to find the maiden names of my grandmothers and their mothers and grandmothers that have been discarded upon marriage. Richardson and Conran are among the options, but I’m enjoying exploring higher branches of my family’s tree for the first time. The plan is that Hazel and I will change our surnames once we’ve picked The One. (I love Mo’s full name too much to change it; I figured aesthetics was as good a reason as any to help decide which kid would be lumped with me, name-wise. Also, I really like the idea of giving Hazel as much of a patriarchy-free start as I possibly can in this world in which sexism – exemplified well by the expectations around name-changing – is still so normal; this feels like a small gift to my precious Moana-and-Matilda-loving girl.)

The paperwork ahead is filling me with dread (the emphasis is to help you imagine the poem I briefly considered writing; alas, I have more important things to do with my time), but my license is due for renewal very soon, which is timely: deadlines are my friend. SO. That’s what’s happening. 

(I wish I had a pithier end to this post.)