Thursday 8 May 2008

By any other name...

Over at Public Address, David Slack has written about the quandry of naming people, particularly for children, prompting this interesting discussion in comments. I started writing a response there, but it got quite long, so I figured I would turn it into a post here instead.

When I got hitched I kept my own name. There was never any discussion, it was just a given. At one point a member of my then-future-husband's family asked if I would change it, I said no, and that was the end of that. I introduce myself as Julie, or Julie Fairey, and when I fill out forms I put Ms for title. So far, so straight forward.

But people keep phoning for Mrs Fairey. Or addressing mail to Mrs Wood. Occasionally they even write on the envelope Mr & Mrs M Wood. The first I find annoying, the second makes me vaguely angry, and the third seems like a denial that I exist as anything other than an apendage of my partner. Perhaps a second appendix, or maybe a sixth toe.

I have now had a number of frustrating conversations, particularly with telemarketers, about the Mrs Fairey issue. Along the lines of:
Telemarketer: "Is this Mrs Fairey?"
Me: "No, there is no Mrs Fairey at this number, it's Ms Fairey."
Telemarketer: "Oh, ok, will Mrs Fairey be back later."
Me: "No, there is no Mrs Fairey at this number, it's Ms Fairey."
Telemarketer: "Ok Mrs Fairey---"
Me: "It's MS Fairey."
Telemarketer: "Ok. I'm ringing tonight about X. Have you considered getting some X, Mrs Fairey?"
Me: "Look, it's MS Fairey, and I'm really not interested. Better luck with your other calls."

On the weekend I got my hair cut, by a recent English immigrant who was really impressing me until he exhibited some unsightly racism.* As I paid he asked for my name to put in the system, and assumed, as I had mentioned my husband in our discussions while he saw to my locks, that I was Mrs Fairey. I explained, again, that I was Ms and that I hadn't changed my name. I didn't get shirty about it at all, but he thought this Ms thing was hilarious and said keeping your name was mainly a rich woman's thing in the UK. Humph.

As for those who change my surname entirely, to Mrs Wood, I do tend to swallow my irritation. I growl to myself about it, sometimes to the Mr involved, but generally I know that people don't do it to hurt me. Although I do tend to get angrier when it is someone who knows I haven't changed my name. And I have noticed that since Wriggly's arrival in the world a lot** more people are making me a Mrs and a Wood.

The observant reader will have noticed that hyphenation was not an option for myself and Mr Wood, and therefore also for our child. Hubby and I discussed which moniker any progeny could get, even before there was a bump to talk about, and decided that we would alternate last names. The deal was, and remains, that the first child's surname would be determined by its gender*** - a girl would take my last name, a boy his - and any second child would then get the other surname. As Wriggly is of the XY variety he is a Wood, but the next one, if there is one, will be a Fairey. Before we had picked a first name for Wriggly I had three days of the hospital referring to him as "Baby Fairey" which was nice. I hadn't realised they would automatically give the child the same last name as the mother and it was refreshing.

When Wriggly has friends who can talk**** I'm unsure what I would like them to call me. Probably just Julie, or maybe Auntie Julie. I do like the acknowledgement that someone is in the generation of a child's parents, and we are doing this with many of our own friends, in relation to Wriggly. Perhaps one of the reasons I like the Auntie/Uncle approach is because I don't have many relatives in that category myself, and so I grew up with a lot of Aunties and Uncles who were no blood relation at all, but close friends of my parents.

In the end really I just want us all to respect how we wish our names to be used. If Wriggly's Year Two teacher wants to be Ralph rather than Mr Hotere, that's cool. And if Auntie Megan prefers her friends' son to call her Ms Hall, so be it. When it's your name you get to determine how it's used, surely?

Update: First phone call after writing this post? Telemarketer for Slingshot, a very nice lady calling from India, asked for Mrs Fairey. Said there was no Mrs Fairey, but I was Ms Fairey. She graciously accepted this and proceeded to refer to me as Ms Fairey throughout. Finally! Also, at least I don't live in California, where it seems to be virtually impossible for a man to change his surname to match his wife's.

* He talked about the difficulty he and his family (all English) had had with getting into NZ to live. He told me, in hushed tones, that some of the other customers complained about too many Chinese and Polynesian immigrants, but that NZ should let "us" in. By which I am 99% sure he meant fellow white folk. Oh dear.
** Tak, I need you to remind me whether "a lot" is one word or two please. Thanks :-)
*** As this is the genetic equivalent of flipping a coin, i.e. a 50-50 chance either way.
**** Last I checked Kinsey the Rabbit is unable to clearly enunciate vowel sounds.


Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling said...

Telemarketer: "Is this Mrs Fairey?"
Me: "No, there is no Mrs Fairey at this number, it's Ms Fairey."


Telemarketer: "Is this Mrs Fairey?"
Me: "Hang on, I'll just go get her...



Go have a cup of tea or whatever you feel like :-)

What's wrong with mail addressed to Mrs Wood? Female relations of mine seem to cope? :-)

Julie said...

I think the problem may be Eric that I'm getting their mail ;-)

Tui said...

FWIW, I think your idea for Wriggly & potential sibs is a very good one (though I bet you get some double-takes later in life). It's the same thing my parents did (well, sort of: I started off with my father's name and then they changed it to my mother's a few years later. A good decision all round, because now there are four of us, two of each gender & name!) My sister and I also have my father's name as a middle name, and my brothers vice versa. It's such a perfect compromise to me that I couldn't imagine doing anything else (and I'm always amazed at how few people it's occurred to.)

I also have to concur at how frustrating it is to get people to use the correct title (my father's parents used occasionally to send things to my parents addressed to "Mr & Mrs Fatherssurname", which always struck me as very unpleasant) - I'm not married, and it's still a hassle to be called "Ms."

Martha Craig said...

I kept my name, having had it for 26 years I was pretty fond of it, plus I can't imagine ever changing it, it holds my identity. We have done a similar thing with the kids names. FIrst one got my husband's name, second mine, and I'm pretty sure I want the third to have mine too (mainly to piss off my in-laws who are the only people to have ever raised their eyebrows about the name thing). I do love having a child with my name.

Martha Craig said...

My computer is being shitty, so I apologise for poorly formed sentences, the text is doubling up.

Julie said...

Have you encountered any troubles because of the different names Martha? When I explain our plan some people comment that it will be impractical and there will be confusion. I beg to differ, but would be interested in your first hand experience.

From my point of view if the only thing holding your family together is that you all share last names then you have bigger problems than monikers.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the shocked looks people get to this very day when they try to get my mother's "maiden name" for passwords and the like. Whoops, it's the same as my surname.

Getting into a relationship with a man whose surname is actually the same as my great-grandmother's (good old sixth-generation European Kiwis, we're all related, and not in creepy ways) has made the whole hypothetical married name/kids' names question much less of a hassle.

whatsername said...

I don't mind Mrs. but my husband's family keeps addressing letters to me with my husband last name. Um, no. He doesn't even want to keep his last name. :P But we were waiting for that lawsuit to be settled here in CA about husbands taking their wives' last names before we decided anything.

As it is, we'll probably be too lazy to do anything in the near future. I anticipate if/until we decide to have kids.