Friday, September 18, 2009

The name's the thing

This is a guest post from Chally, a scary feminist. Among other things, she’s a non-white, heterosexual, cis, disabled, middle class woman. She lives in Australia and enjoys knitting, Doctor Who and cake. You can find her at Zero at the Bone.

My mother changed her name back to her pre-marital name a few years back now.

She’s the most darling person I know. She seems to have gotten on many charities’ phone lists over the years. When we’re hanging out together and the phone rings, this is what I all too often hear as her side of the conversation:

‘Hi, yes, that’s not my name though… It used to be Mrs Oldname, now it’s Ms Name… I mean you’ve got my details wrong… Actually, I donated some money when you called me before and the operator promised me they’d changed my record then. And this has happened before… My name has changed, can you remove my old name from your system?… I think you do really good work, it’s not that… I just want you to have my name right because this is getting- … I know charities aren’t a part of the do not call scheme, I’m asking-’

You’re asking the woman for money. Don’t deny her identity while doing so.

One organisation with which I was registered required me to yearly fill out a form listing my personal details, including my parents’ names. This was primarily aimed at correcting any out of date information they might have on file. When my mother changed her name and title, I submitted these changes. I did it again and again. In letters, in forms, in everything, the organisation ignored these changes. I made a fuss every time. For years. Eventually I ended up yelling, tearful, in public. Someone nipped off to the registration office and got the records to reflect my mother’s actual name. But she was still listed as a Mrs, not her preferred Ms. She probably still is.

None of this shit happened when she changed her name upon marriage.

How dare this amazing, wonderful being claim her own identity?

Note: I got her to read this through before publishing. An objection: ‘Can a lady say “shit”?’ My response to this sort of thing is always ‘well, I’m a lady, and I [whatever], so yes.’ It’s one of our running jokes.
Note II: Regarding the title, yes, I know it’s a mishmash of quotes. I went to drama school, I can do what I like.


  1. Thank you for posting this. It rings so true to my life - my mom and dad divorced a few years ago and she changed her name back. People close to her seem to have completely embraced her identity, and when telemarketers call or she's mailed something from somewhere that says her old name, she just blows it off.

    She actually left a comment to my post here: explaining her choices. She's Linda V. and I'm so proud she's my mom.

  2. My mum has kept her last name in the late sixties/early seventies.

    And still people refer to her as mrs. [Husband]. Forty years on.

    And I keep correcting people who mistake her name.

    It must be so much worse for you...

  3. semi-related: I changed MY name to my step-father and mother's name 15 years ago as I had no ties to my biological father and didn't really like the name. I find it so offensive when forms ask for maiden name (if any). I don't mind some forms that have previous alias but c'mon not everyone gets married and changes her name! I esp. got mad that my college, Simmons, had this on a form when I went to get transcripts. I cross out maiden and write in former. I know that they sometimes need to know my other name!

  4. For a time, my graduate school had my "maiden" name listed as "Nicholas." And sometimes people assume it is because my full legal name is Justine Nicholas Valinotti.

    The truth is that "Nicholas" was the first name I was given at birth. And, of course, it was my first name until I began living as a woman and became Justine.

    I guess I wasn't a very good maiden, was I?


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