To the tune of Eminem:
Hi! My name is … my name is … my name is … R – R – Richard Evans-Lacey!
I was christened (Not my choice – I was too young to decide to live my life by the rules of a religion) Richard Eric Evans (without the Lacey) shortly after my birth in June 1974 and I kept that name until November 2002. This was the year that I decided to change my life. I left my safe, well paid consulting job in order to study Integral Philosophy and Neuro-Linguistic Psychotherapy. To mark my decision to change myself I decided that I also wanted to change the way I symbolise myself – my name.
I considered a number of options and particularly liked the sound of ‘David England’ (my Grandad used to mistakenly call me ‘David’; the ‘England’ came from the idea that if I ever became famous then my name should look good on a poster). But in the end I felt that abandoning the surname of my father was disloyal and, therefore, wrong. Mum’s maiden name was ‘Lacey’ and it struck me that ‘Richard Lacey’ had a very nice actorish ring to it. So instead of changing my name I added to it.
Changing my name was surprisingly (and almost scarily) simple: I simply walked into my local solicitors’ with some ID and £15 and they asked me what I would like to be called. It was at that moment that I realised that I could call myself anything I wanted. For a second I was tempted to add ‘Danger’ as a middle name but the gag had just been done by Austin Powers so I thought better of it. I stuck to my plan and after getting the certificate witnessed by the solicitor down the road I officially became ‘Richard Eric Evans-Lacey Esq.’
The ripples from this change were relatively plain sailing. As I had added to, rather than changed my name outright, it was easy to keep using the same signature, bank accounts and even passport (I simply inserted the certificate as proof). My friends thought it typically eccentric but were not interested in making a big deal of it. And new people who I meet occasionally assume that my ‘double barrelled’ name means that I am more ‘posh’ than I actually am. (When asked I favour Michael Cain’s response in Get Carter: ‘Only relatively…’)
An important evolution
The idea that hyphenated surnames are posh comes from the 18th and 19th centuries. When 2 ‘important’ families were joined through marriage it was common for the couple to take both family names rather than simply drop the wife’s in favour of the husband’s. While this sounds egalitarian enough it is worth remembering that the wife’s family name is most probably her father’s family name and so, in my view, this hyphenating is basically saying that this man and this woman both come from important lines of men. Chances are that you don’t have a double-barrelled surname. If you are male or an unmarried female you probably have the surname of your father’s ancestors. If you are female and married you probably dropped your surname to take on the surname of your husband’s ancestors. This is not a bad thing … it is just tradition.
The tradition of passing the male name from generation to generation has it’s roots in a society in which the man is the hunter, the head of the family, the achiever; men make the rules, police the rules and everyone is eventually judged by a male God. I am reminded of Harry Enfield’s spoof 1930s ‘public improvement film’ in which a woman at a 1930s dinner party attempts to join the conversation with ‘a wild and dangerous opinion of her own’ causing the men to look at her with contempt, the party to break up and the earnest strap line ‘Women: know your limits!’
Happily, thanks to evolution, times have been a-changin’ at quite a pace. Most of us have outgrown the fear of personal judgement by a supernatural God and no longer feel the need to religiously follow the literal truth in whatever holy book our parents happened to have on their shelves. We are free to enjoy and achieve in the real world that rewards talent and hard work with celebrity and material wealth. Fewer businesses can afford to stock their boardrooms with fat, lazy old school ties; glass ceilings have been smashed by ambitious women who are motivated to prove their abilities and get what they want. And many of us have begun to wonder if this selfish, consumerist society is what life is all about. We are concerned with the environment, equality, diversity, disarmament. We are guilty for what we have done to ‘mother’ earth in the name of God and capitalism and we are motivated to care for it and nurse it back to health.
Given where we are at I wouldn’t be surprised if a reasonable number of people (including some apologetic men) could be convinced that it should be the woman’s rather than the man’s name that should be passed on from generation to generation. After all, it is her body and her who decided to have the child and sperm is just a commodity nowadays anyway, isn’t it? And it goes without saying that the world would be a better place if it was run by women, right? Wrong. We do not need weak men and strong women to make the world better: we need balanced and well developed men AND women. We need a society that values the virtues which used to be embodied in the metaphorical Gods and Goddesses that were lost to us so many centuries ago; where the strengths of masculinity and femininity are recognised and celebrated. This is a society in which the contributions of mothers and fathers are different and important.
It works like this:
If you are single and decide you want to honour your masculine and feminine lines take your father’s surname and your mother’s maiden name and simply put them together. (Your mother’s maiden name is probably her father’s name … it would be nice to have your mother’s, mother’s, mother’s … maiden name but where do you stop? Start with your mother.) If you are male your father’s name goes first, if female then your mother’s.
Nice in theory but why should I bother?
Just pause for a moment and consider how close you feel to your parents. Are they together or apart? Are they in your way, holding you back, kept at arms length or at a distance? How different would things be if they were completely on your side? And what if your parents had their parents on side too? And so on, back through the generations. How would life be if you knew that your entire lineage is stable, solid, supportive and open to the love and wisdom that flows through it to you like the blood that is so much thicker than water?
For many of us this sense of belonging in our family is a fantasy. Fault lines permeate the structure and are held together by fear. Open wounds spill blood and may have been there for generations. How many of the issues and problems that you experience now can be traced back to your pre-teenage years? Perhaps you have memories of times when your parents were unreasonable or uncaring and you learned the meaning of anger, sadness, fear or guilt? Do you still feel those emotions now when you remember what your parents did? Do you start acting like a child again when you go home to visit? Do you swear to yourself that you will not be like them?
According to NLP originator Richard Bandler ‘It’s never too late to have a happy childhood’. The first step to healing the self is to become aware of the possibility that things could be different. The next is to understand and forgive the people (including yourself) who made it that way in the first place. And finally to either re-connect with those people (if you want to maintain a relationship with them) or to let their memory go (you can always re-establish a relationship if they come back into your life). For the problems that go back through the generations then you can heal back through those generations. Easier said than done? On your own, yes. But with your commitment and the support and guidance of a talented therapist or coach these deep transformations are probable rather than possible.
The first step to transforming your life is to decide to. And whatever route you choose I am confident that at some time, in some way, you will end up proactively forgiving and asking forgiveness of your parents. Taking responsibility for unilaterally healing the relationships within your family is an important turning point that deserves to be marked and celebrated.
“Hey, I know! Let’s do a ritual!”*
(*This is a quote from the Charles Band movie “Ghoulies”. In the movie this is definitely NOT a good idea. But don’t let that put you off!)
The time we really decide we will do whatever it takes to forgive and love our parents for doing the best that they could is a turning point which I believe marks the start of true adulthood. An ideal time to gather your friends about you and perform a re-naming ritual.
What happens when I get married?
Some people gripe that many of the fun things in life stopped happening when they got married. But I am not talking here about the kind of marriage that constrains people, but rather the kind where 2 people come together and decide that they will be together as one for as long as this is in their best interests. Whether or not you decide to have a legal contract, a re-naming can symbolise the sharing of identity you are undertaking.
Traditionally, of course, it is the woman who takes the man’s surname when they get married. As we enter the integral age the idea of a man ‘loving and protecting’ and the woman ‘serving and obeying’ are amusing (in an ironic kind of way) but inappropriate. I believe the equality of the partnership is better shown by a giving and receiving of names – much as there is a giving and receiving of rings. The man gives his father’s surname to replace her father’s surname. The woman gives her mother’s surname to replace his mother’s surname. Both partners then share the same names.
The only issue with this convention is how to refer to the couple as a whole. It would have been Mr & Mrs Evans but this is no longer accurate and both partners carry mirror images of the surname. If we are going to use the Mr & Ms (or, of course, Mrs or Miss) pre-fix then I suggest that the surnames are in the order masculine then feminine: Mr & Ms Evans-Cowper. If addressing the couple as Ms & Mr then the it would be Ms & Mr Cowper-Evans. Sorted.
And when we have children?
When kids come along it is simple: sons take the father’s married surname and daughters their mothers. If these children marry and have children of their own the boy carries on the masculine line and the girl carries on the feminine line.
And if relationships change?
I believe that one of the most damaging things a couple can do is to stay together ‘for the children’. Even if a couple try not to argue overtly the children will still pick up on the atmosphere. It is easy for a kid to pick up beliefs that may inhibit them for life, for example, commitment is painful, women (or men) are weaker than men (or women) or that the unhappiness of their parents is their fault for being born. At its worst the confusion can lead to a child becoming ‘difficult’ or physically or mentally unwell.
If the partners decide to move apart and become single or re-marry then it is natural that they will want to revert to their original parents names or take on a new married name. But what of the children? Their parents have not changed and so neither should their names.
Some interesting questions
The following questions push the boundaries of my ideas on naming. The answers are my musings and are not intended to be prescriptive. If you have other ideas please let me know.
What if it is a same sex marriage?
If a same sex couple want to have the same surname then I would suggest that they take the same sex component of the other partner. If a man is marrying another man then he would swap the feminine component of his surname for the masculine component of his partner’s surname.
What if the names simply sound terrible together?
Whether something sounds terrible or not is subjective. If you and your partner love each other then perhaps you could learn to love an unusual sounding combination of names? At the end of the day it is your choice: when you are filling out the deed poll form you can choose to be called whatever you like.
What if the woman becomes pregnant by accident or against her will?
Irrespective of the circumstances of the conception it is the father’s genes which are being passed on. It is the father who is connected by blood to the child. I would argue that as a general principle the child should always take the biological father’s surname. Even if the mother and father are not in a loving relationship they have come together and are producing a new life. If the mother chooses to have the child then she is choosing to have his child. In making this decision it will greatly help the child if the mother has fully forgiven the father for any actions she judges as bad. Acknowledging the truth of where we have come from helps us to fully appreciate the situation we are in right now.
What if the father’s name is not known?
If the pregnancy is as a result of a sperm donation or one night stand then the mother may simply have no way of knowing the father’s name. In this case I would suggest that the child takes both elements of their mother’s surname (in reverse order if the child is a boy). If, at some time in the future, the name of the father is found then the masculine component of his surname can be inserted into its rightful place.
What if the child is adopted?
It would be nice if a name could honour both genetic and adoptive parents and if I had to choose one set to suggest over the other I would go with the genetic parents’ names. This may take some coming to terms with for the adopting parents but if they are cool about this then the chances are that the child will be too. Acknowledging the biological parents in the child’s name in no way undermines the love that develops between a child and their adoptive parents and may well help the child to keep a loving connection with their biological parents – however far apart they are in reality.
I am writing this some time after the rest of the article. On reflection I have come to the conclusion that I have miss ordered the names. I now believe that, for a man, the male name should come second and last in the joint surname (and similarly for a woman). This way the name starts and ends with the most important names. Much better than having the penultimate name staying the same and the last one changing upon marriage.
So, I’ll become Mr Richard Eric Lacey-Evans.