I’m sick of this silly fad taking over our surnames 18



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Once upon a time when a woman, say Miss Sally Smith, married a man, say, Mr John Brown. She took his name and became Mrs Sally Brown, in an even earlier era, she was known as Mrs John Brown.

For generations, that was accepted as the right and proper way of arranging things.

Then came the feminist movement and even after marriage the blushing bride was still known as Sally Smith, although the “Miss” was contracted to “Ms”. Nowadays it seems every woman on the planet with the exception of my mummy is “Ms” and the use of “Miss” now is probably limited to females under the age of twelve in obscure and undiscovered jungle communities.

It reminds me of a woman I know who refused to take her husband’s name because, as she explained, “I am not going to be known by a man’s name” which was odd because the name she kept was her father’s name.

The next development was the sharing, caring and equal marriage – a true, civilised partnership – where the happy couple let it be known that, henceforth, they would be known as Sally and John Smith-Brown, or perhaps, Brown-Smith. How they decided which name came first is a mystery -– perhaps it was decided by drawing one surname from a hat or perhaps it was decided by the devoted couple arm-wrestling.

The use of hyphenated names was once the preserve of the English aristocracy and those aspiring to be seen as upper class. Snobs all.

Back in late 1993, there was some silly controversy over a proposed dining table for the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, The Lodge, and PM Keating was subject to some asinine criticism, especially from certain society ladies. Never a shrinking violet, Keating let fly in a John Laws radio interview at those who were criticising him and his wife over the matter.

“Look, I think this is the revenge of the hyphenated names,” Keating declared, adding when asked, “The hyphenated names. It’s all the people with their hyphens showing didn’t you see? This is more double names in this stunt than you have ever seen in your life. It is all the … basically it is either the blue rinse set of the hyphenated names striking back. Whenever you read it there is Dawson-Damer, there is all these sorts of hyphenated names…basically it is the old Tory antique club…”

I cannot recall exactly but I presume a Mrs Dawson-Damer was among the public critics which got Keating agitated. If he had really wanted to insult the Dawson-Damer family he could have pointed out that they are related to the Earl of Portalington , an Irish peerage, which is the very lowest rank of the peerage who were never entitled to sit in the House of Lords and who are very definitely “the second eleven”. Being a republican, Keating probably didn’t know that.

Let us presume that the Smith-Browns have a boy Fred who meets a nice girl Mary, the product of an equally caring, sharing and equal relationship, the Black-Thompsons and love blooms and they marry. Will they be as equally caring, sharing and equal as their parents and now become Fred and Mary Smith-Brown-Black-Thompson – in whatever order they decide?

When will this lunacy stop? When great-grandchildren have a hyphenated name that is not only nearly impossible to fit on the birth certificate but every single government form?

It has happened.

One example is the British MP Richard Grosvenor Blunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, a former Coldstream Guards officer and, surprise, surprise, a Conservative. Wisely, he prefers to be known as Richard Drax although he hasn’t actually disowned his illustrious name.  But even gentle, rolling and rural Dorset in south-west England on the Channel coast can only take so much of silly tradition and even sillier names. And, I suppose, the voting paper wasn’t wide enough for his full moniker.

British Conservative PM David Cameron in 2009 appealed to Tory MPs and candidates to shrug off antiquated extended surnames in 2009 to improve the image of the Conservative Party.

So while the British PM was appealing for a more modern image people who probably aren’t likely to vote Conservative – or, here, Liberal or National – are busy resuscitating the tradition. Think of Senators Sarah Hanson-Young and Peter Whish-Wilson who are both Greens although the Liberals have Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

The fact is that this silly fad of hyphenating was surely destined to hit a wall after one generation.

British man Ian McKenna-Thomas met a nice girl with the surname of Camera-Smith and they considered marriage.

“So, sure enough, we had the potential of being the McKenna-Thomas Camera-Smith household which sounded too much like a law firm, really,” he told British media.

Like any good boy, he went to his mother for advice and her comment, according to Ian, was basically, “You figure it out.”

Mother love can only extend so far, can’t it?

What’s your opinion of hyphenated last names?

Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

  1. Many moons ago a hyphenated name was understood to be a sign of illegitimatacy in the aristocracy. With fewer marriages taking place today it is becoming increasingly common? My maiden surname had twelve letters resulting in difficulty when filling in forms. I hoped that one day I would have a husband with a short name and I did. Ms sounds like the first syllable of misery.

  2. It depends where you have been brought up. In my country of birth one usually takes the husbands name, but when signing she uses both her husband’s and her maiden name.
    I find it rather strange that women keep their own name when getting married. But to each her own.
    Ever since I became widowed I often use ‘Ms’ as my title as I am no longer someone’s wife.

    1 REPLY
    • The name that you use is very important. There are many fairy stories and myths about peoples real names, think of Rumplstiltskin. We even see it in T.S.Eliots rhyme (from Cats ) on the importance of a cats secret name.
      When I married I retained my maiden name. I had changed my name to my step fathers name to show how much I loved him. My career, studies, all of my life, etc were all done in my maiden name, so when it came to marriage I was not prepared to change, this was my name, the only name that I recognised as mine. My spouse did not care what I called myself, he recognised that he did not own me in any way. Also his family made it clear that they did not want me in the family so why should I take their last name.
      Of course I used Ms. as a title, just like Mr. it dose not indicate marital status. Women are judge on their marital status especially as I married in an age where many jobs required a married woman to leave the workforce. No one needs to know my marital status. I also never wore a wedding ring, never wore an engagement ring, never saw the reason to waste all that money.

  3. It seems to me that you are living in the past. I will never understand why a woman should change her name when she is married. That tradition is changing thank goodness.

    2 REPLY
    • Isn’t the meaning of Ms “Mistress”?

    • I couldn’t agree more Maxine. I have 2 daughters, one has kept her maiden/own surname, the other changed hers, I guess it’s up to the individual. I am divorced, so I prefer to be known as MS, as technically I am not a MIss or Mrs

  4. I am sixty six years of age, happily married for many years, my surname is my maiden one , my husband has his, no problems, no hyphens. Girls can take mothers boys can take fathers or a new one altogether . No worries, we all know who we are anyway don’t we.
    I have been known as MS for over forty years.

    1 REPLY
    • Back in 1974 a friend of mine, when getting her drivers licence, was asked to select between Miss or Mrs. She wanted Ms. She asked what her marital status had to do with he drivers licence.
      There was a Big Stink for several weeks, including articles in the Courier Mail newspaper.
      Finally she conceded as she really did need the licence.

  5. According to Australian law a either the husband or wife can take the other’s name or have joint names. As a marriage celebrant I usually ask couples what their plan is and inevitable when I tell them this the bride is delighted and the groom looks askance. I still ask, why should it be the man’s privilege to keep his birth name and not the woman’s? I have actually had couple of couples who chose a completely new name after their wedding – but this required an official change of name at BDM. Many cultures are given both their parent’s names in childhood and on marriage they choose which one to keep and join with their partner’s name so that solves the problem of quadruple-barrelled names for the children.

    1 REPLY
    • I remember seeing a marriage certificate from Europe somewhere and it had
      [ family name chosen male / female ]

      I thought it was good.

  6. Ms is not a contraction of Miss.
    it is a replacement for Miss and Mrs and it shows gender but not married status

    It is also used in many computer systems these as the default title for a female.

  7. I think we have much more important things to discuss than what name to use. That is a personal preference. Why get so worked up about it. We have many more important things going on in this world.

  8. It was the custom in Scotland for women to hyphenate their surname with their husband’s surname. In Italy a woman keeps her surname but uses the title of Mrs. In the UK you do not have to change your surname upon marriage. I don’t like Ms (Misery guts) but I am not married and I am too old to be called Miss, I think Mistress should come back unfortunately mistress has a different meaning today than it did hundreds of years ago.

  9. My ‘silly fad’ came about in 1981 after my father died with no male heir. We decided to hyphenate our children’s surnames to keep his name alive and as a surprise to my mother in the hope of giving her some comfort. Sadly she died a few weeks later without knowing this was about to happen.

    People hyphenate their names for many and for personal reasons. Get over yourself.

  10. A name is about identity…not snobbery.
    My name tells me whence I came and who I am….getting married does not change that.
    Methinks the writer makes a mountain out of a molehill and he was short on inspiration the day he wrote thus piece.

  11. I don’t get how women who keep their name if they marry but then if they have kids, the kids more often than not get their father’s surname so patriarchy is still alive and well. Keep their name and maybe if they have more than one child one gets Mum’s surname and one gets Dad’s surname. Oh all too hard. The woes of the first world eh? 🙂

  12. this is the stupidest acticle i’ve seen in a long time. do what you want with your own name, and let others do the same. in fact, just shut up and go away.

    1 REPLY
    • A very gracious reply from a very charming lady! I certainly look forward to your next article, I mean your first article.

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