WHAT IS IN YOUR HUSBAND’S NAME?
I was having a chat with a female friend of mine a few days back and we were talking about one of my recent articles titled “Dear Naija Feminist – An Open Letter” she disagreed with my views on what feminism should mean and what a feminist in Nigeria should do, particularly when I chose to round up the letter by challenging the ‘Naija feminist’ to do something about the girls that were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Borno State Nigeria. She was of the opinion that it was not the job of the feminists alone to say or do something about the kidnapped girls and she believed that all females should be feminists as that is what feminism connotes. I agreed with the first part because we all must do something and continue to do something until our girls return home safe and sound, but on the second one I didn’t think so. Anyway, our discussions went further, and she mentioned how men generally want to dominate the women in their lives especially their wives, and how she equally does not believe a man should make a woman change her last name after wedding but the woman should choose to change only if she wishes to, she went ahead to me give the example of how the Half Of a Yellow Sun writer, Chimamanda Adichie did not change her name or attach her husband’s name after her’s as a married woman.
To be honest, I didn’t want to comment on that issue because I remembered how it snowballed into a big twitter furore sometime in March when Chimamanda Adichie cautioned her interviewer, that her name was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and she would want to be addressed as such and not Mrs Esegie, so many people were miffed, maybe because she just got married to one Dr. Ivara Esegie and she should not have objected to being addressed as Mrs Esegie. There were so many but majorly three opinions on twitter, Some thought it was her prerogative to retain her maiden name or change it to her husband’s, some other people felt her action was simply un-African and could mark the beginning of a bad example for other young Nigerian women and a demonstration to them that marriage is nothing but a contract and not a commitment; while the third group felt Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a world renowned writer with global acclaim, and therefore could not just change her name or add a surname just like that as doing that could affect her brand which was already global.
But my questions really are; does marriage validate a woman? What is in her husband’s last name? Does her personality melt into her husband’s when she changes her last name after marriage? Does her last name (husband’s/father’s) go a long way in defining who she is? And should women have the liberty to bear whichever last name they choose after marriage?
First, I do not believe that marriage validates a woman, but the society we live in is still antiquated in the fact that a woman must be romantically connected to someone in order to be viewed as anyone, and we believe that regardless of how successful a woman becomes or how many accomplishments she achieves, she is not deemed as “having it all” unless she is married, and please don’t shake your head because you still have this line of thought even with all your degrees. Now, a woman who decides to marry and have children but chooses not to have a career is viewed as noble individual; for motherhood, quite arguably, is considered the hardest yet most rewarding job on the planet. But women who have the great career and sometimes well behaved children but no husband are deemed to be lacking in a major area of their life. While I do realize that it is a completely innate for people to desire companionship, and I am not against marriage because I respect the institution of marriage and believe that family is one of the most beautiful thing on earth, however, to infer that a woman, regardless of how accomplished she is, will not be/is not fulfilled or will never “have it all” unless she has a husband, is completely ridiculous. One’s happiness and validation is solely dependent upon themselves—not a man, a marriage or even children, but only themselves.
I also do not believe that a woman personality should melt into her husband’s after marriage. Yes, one can inspire the other but marriage is, two complete and happy people coming together to complement each other, and not supplement each other.
To my next question: Does a woman’s last name (husband’s/father’s) go a long way in defining who she is? To this, I would say a ‘YES’ and a ‘NO’ maybe not ‘defining’ the woman, but ‘YES’ people will turn and look at you again if your name was ‘Mrs. Jane Dangote’ and I believe you would open many doors and get a lot of things done faster in Nigeria than if your name was ‘Mrs. Jane Bamidele’. So I think it depends on what your husband’s last name is and the weight it carries, maybe not defining but definitely rewarding.
Lastly, I think if you are married, or planning to get married, you should be at liberty to choose the last name you are going to bear, whether you are retaining your maiden name, use hyphenated double-barreled surname, or drop your surname totally and pick your husband’s last name. But since marriage involves two people, I think you and your husband should discuss and agree on it and then leave the society to say whatever they need to say. We men rarely change our names, and some of us won’t even let the thought cross our minds, but the truth is we realize that changing one’s name has personal and professional consequences especially in this internet age where all the works you did as a woman under your previous name will not show up in a Google search if someone were to search with your new name, where it means you may have to process a new driver’s licence, passport, and some other professional documentation alongside an affidavit. A completely new name may also mean someone trying to track you down – a former client, an old classmate, a co-worker from a few years back with an opportunity you may be interested in – is going to have a tough time finding you. That could mean lost opportunities personally and professionally. So, talk about it with your fiancé, he might just agree to you keeping your maiden name.
In conclusion, I’d like to say, life is still about choices, so if a woman chooses to bear her husband’s name, she should be free to do so and not be looked upon as archaic and suppressed, she just wants it that way, and if she retains her maiden name and her husband doesn’t mind why should any of us make it our business?