Friday, 12 June 2015

Being Mrs Drake

I love my husband. He drives me nuts sometimes, but he also makes me laugh out loud, and I have an enormous amount of respect for him, his attitude to life and his unflappable calm in the face of my Ducky flapping.

One issue I've always had however, is identifying myself as "Mrs Mallard" (bear with me on the clunky pseudonyms here...). I have formally changed my surname in my passport and in most contexts outside work, particularly those associated with Duckling, I present myself Mrs M. I know there's far less stigma out there about unmarried parents these days, but I find having the same surname as my son and husband avoids a lot of administrative confusion. However, at work I am still "Ms de Eend" (The Duck in Dutch for reference) and have no intention of changing that any time soon. My marital status has no bearing on my work (which is why I also use Ms) and I've spent seven years building a name for myself at my organisation so it seems a bit daft to change it.

I think Drake is a bit offended that I haven't wholeheartedly embraced his surname, and, admin issues aside, if I'm being honest, that's the real reason I use Mallard; I love him and I don't want him to feel I dislike his surname or that I'm unhappy being identified as his wife. That doesn't stop me objecting strongly to the archaic and patriarchal nature of the tradition however. It dates back to a time when wives were literally their husband's property, and though this state of affairs is long gone, it still feels like you're proclaiming "I belong to my husband now" when you change your name. Thirty years of being Duck de Eend (which, let's be honest is more exotic), and suddenly I have to start calling myself something totally different, and rather dull and English to boot. But then, as Drake always says, I am only "faux Dutch" (Dutch Dad, English Mum, born and raised in Surrey) so maybe an English surname suits me better. At least people can spell it.

Of course Drake finds the whole thing hilarious (there's not much in life he doesn't laugh about. Except Arsenal losing.) He's particularly amused by my fury when we receive letters addressed to Mr & Mrs Drake Mallard. "My name is not Drake! It's Duck! Why doesn't my name appear?!" is a familiar refrain. Even worse is when I get birthday cards for "Mrs Drake Mallard" (yes, Drake still has some aging relatives that do this). My acceptance of Drake's surname was grudging enough, I'm certainly not willing to change sex and answer to his first name too! I remember reading Pride & Prejudice when quite young and being very confused when Charlotte is referred to as "Mrs William Collins". I honestly thought there must have been a typo in the text - her name was Charlotte, not William! But apparently not, and amazingly this practice still persists today, albeit only amongst those with a penchant for proper letter writing etiquette.

Maybe I'm overreacting. Despite none of my friends (even the most feminist among them) hanging on to their maiden names after marriage, studies of names on Facebook have shown that an increasing number of women - particularly those in their 20s - are now opting to do so. Furthermore, there is absolutely no legal or administrative requirement change one's name. We could have taken our cue from Civil Partnership trendsetters and changed my or both our names to something double-barrelled (Mallard-de Eend?) or hybridised (de Mallard?!), or I could have asked Drake to take my surname, like actress Zoe Saldana did with her husband recently. I didn't because there was no way he was ever going to want to go through all the form filling this would entail (I don't blame him - it's a pain in the bum) and I suspect he would have been endlessly ribbed by his mates. Mainly though, it wouldn't have been fair to ask him to relinquish his surname when I was so reluctant to give up mine - in some respects it would have been even harder for him, given the comparative lack of social precedent.

So, this leaves me with an odd hybrid identity: de Eend at work, Mallard at home. Oh, and The Different Duck online. Annoyingly addressed mail aside, I think I can live with this, and it doesn't yet seem to have led to split personality disorder. I do sometimes regret not having stuck to my feminist guns and kept my name throughout - I actually had a bit of a freak out about it after the wedding - but as time has passed, I have mellowed and become more comfortable, particularly now Duckling is here and the common surname binds us together as a family unit. Given the rise of alternative naming conventions, if he ever gets hitched, I will be very interested to see what name he/his partner takes on. I'm hoping for Duckling Mallard-Pondweed Smythe Dabblington the third. He may not be so keen.

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