/ 4 August 2004

Love me, leave my name

Chicken Licken. That’s what it sounds like — my name if I were to marry my beloved and take on his name. Megan Egan. No can do. But the unhappy rhyme is not the real reason I’d never take his name, although there’s nothing remarkable about my own, except that it was derived from the Viking for ship tax collector.

I watched my mother change her name twice before returning to the original. But that’s still not why I wouldn’t change mine. No, I would not like to wed with an eye on the flickering exit sign. But I would like to stake out my space in a marriage: this is me. I am yours to love, but not yours to own. I am not you and I am not your name.

Why would you want to belong to a man? By all means, share the newspaper, the duvet, the mortgage, the kids, your innermost thoughts and desires. But don’t go belonging to anyone — it’s such a debilitating notion.

The name changers among us, it seems, are searching for security. If I take on his name I am insured. They justify the switch as a badge of commitment. Part of the exhilaration of falling in love is letting down the barriers, merging with the other. But this is also dangerously claustrophobic in the long term. Any self-help book (those founts of wisdom!) will urge one to remain one’s own person.

A common rallying cry for name changing is that it is ”better for the kids”. Utter baloney, I say. It didn’t bother me when my mother’s name changed and was no longer mine; it was just an awful lot of queuing at home affairs. My sister’s marriage is one reason I still have some faith in the institution; she’s kept her name and her children go by her husband’s. Everything’s hunky-dory.

Double-barrelling, truly, is no solution. It’s pretentious and what do you do with the next generation? Triple- or quadruple-barrel their names? My grandchildren would run out of little blocks on application forms, have to bend their names back in on themselves or send them at 90° down the margin.

Keeping one’s maiden name for professional purposes seems just as convoluted. Two personas, professional and social. This is me who does engaging work and earns an equal salary and is known as X. This is me who changes nappies and is confidante to my husband and is known as Y. And never the twain shall meet? Sounds a tad schizoid.

You probably detect some ambivalence on my part towards marriage per se, and, of course, you are correct. Possibly I feel a little confetti’d out, since I attended a wedding, two more lots of friends got engaged this week, and someone else eloped to Zanzibar.

Over coffee recently, a friend still reeling from a split-up related a dream she’d had the night before. She was about to walk the aisle when she discovered she had no dress to wear. I nearly choked on my croissant, because I’d dreamed the exact same thing the previous night. The available frocks were all hideous, far too white and none fitted. I suspect one doesn’t require Psych 101 to decipher the warning signs bubbling up from my beleaguered subconscious.

Is it that I’m terrified of being left behind? No, I’m not in a rush, though when my biological clock mutates from ticking wristwatch to chiming Big Ben I may well get antsy. Then I’ll probably marry to keep the taxman and the in-laws happy, or to bestow on them in-law status in the first place.

Facetiousness aside, I am as hopelessly romantic as the next person, despite the fact that I know two out of three marriages in this country end in divorce. Yet we all think we can make a better go of it. Someone I know has been a bridesmaid seven times and every one of those unions has broken up. It’s not because ”seven” is an unlucky number or that she’s a Jonah in the system. The institution is tricky. But when it works, it seems little is more rewarding.

I adore said Mr Egan from the tips of my toes and I can’t think of anyone nicer to grow old and cantankerous with. Maybe one day I’ll even murmur the ”I dos”. But because I have no desire to belong to him or anyone else, wild horse-drawn carriages could not drive me to exchange my name for his.