Wednesday, 14 April 2010

What's In A Name?

I get it now... or at least I think I do.
Well... at least it's starting to make sense... a bit.

This is Anthony McLean's latest single: 'My Name',

Most importantly (for the purposes of this article that is) here are (some of ) the lyrics:

Baby you got me falling uncontrollably in love, 
Never felt this way (before)
(You) got my heart, my soul, but baby that just isn't enough
Hey, I wanna give you my name...

and the second verse goes on to say...

my everything and all that I possess
cos you deserve to be offered nothing less
you know i'm there for you like you've been there for me
cos whenever I'm without you girl i find it hard to breathe
you take the pain away, you make it worth the wait
i was broken but you came along and mended me

Ok,  that's enough, to read the full lyrics you can click here , but let me get to my point.
When I got married many many moons ago (after previously coming to the conclusion that I would NEVER EVER get married because it seemed like the woman was getting a raw deal...) HRH and I had a bit of a skirmish about the surname.

Was I a feminist? I don't know, some may have seen me as such... I was definitely one of those independent women - you know the ones who own their own homes, own cars, own jewellery, own everything. Nothing had been handed to me on a platter and definitely nothing paid for by any man and given to me as a token of ownership love.

I had done some modelling and TV commercials, and I had won a few street dance competitions in Barbados  (very good 'old days'!); I had excelled academically  - to the surprise of many - and so my name had been in the papers a couple of times and I knew who I was. I liked who I was. I went to University, I made new friends and I started my career. Professionally I was 'Bajan Lily' (me). And I guess I have to admit that I felt threatened when this man, whom I loved dearly, was now asking me to change all that... to give it all up. To me - changing one's surname felt like the ultimate submission... no longer would I be 'Bajan Lily' from that moment onward, my identity would forever be wrapped up in his, I would be 'Mrs HRH', I felt as though I would disappear into him and I resisted it strongly.

People took this to mean that I didn't love him (or that I loved myself more) but I felt that they didn't understand me. I am one of five, number 4 to be exact, and the concept of family was a BIG deal at home. We were the 'Whites of Mayfair' as far as I was concerned and the family tree, its traditions and legacies were part and parcel of our everyday life. We were proud to be this clan from this place.

When our mother took us on holiday or even daily excursions - there was the whole spiel about being a 'White' and what it meant, and how we shouldn't embarrass her or our father with any bad behaviour (and of course a similar spiel afterwards when we committed some unpardonable infraction). "You're ruining my good name!", "You're bringing disgrace on the family!"... come to think of it, most of those statements were directed at me during my teenage years (I just wanted to dance!!!)

Anyway - bottom line was - this was our name and we were proud of it. Everything we were, where we came from,  from whom we were descended was wrapped up in that name! And sitting here analysing it - it makes me smile a bit because my mother married into that name and yet, the way she said it, you'd think it was her own. Come to think of it, I'd say now that it was more a matter of shared identity than assumed identity - because when she said we (the family) were 'Whites' she was giving equal respect to her maiden name as well, so she could just as easily have been saying: 'we are Fleur-Whites' - such was the pride she instilled into us.

The importance of family and a shared identity were driven home (on a daily basis) and from that fertilised ground I sprang up: at times an unruly vine weaving and intertwining my way through thickets and other adversity, always travelling the road less travelled, carving my road away from the beaten path, living to learn, learning to love and loving to live.

So there I was soaring with eagles, 'making a name for myself' and here's this person asking me to give it all up. At least that's what it felt like - like a clipping of my wings. No more professional Lily, gotta build this new identity up; no more homegirl Lily from 'Mayfair' - no more, no more, no more... it just felt like a really long list of 'no mores'. Of course some will say - well you could have made a link between 'Lily White' and the new 'HRH Lily' and eventually that is what I did (in my own way) but at the time the effort just seemed phenomenal and unjustified. |Why should I have to pay to change the name on my passport, and go through the hassle of changing the name on my bank accounts and legal documents etc when my husband doesn't have to change one darned thing? How is that fair? What part of that is creating an equal partnership?

I keep mentioning I work in investment banking so these are the examples I draw from: when (Swiss Bank) Credit Suisse merged with American bank First Boston - we were presented with Credit Suisse First Boston (a mouthful yes, but we knew the faces behind the name); when Bank of American and Merril Lynch got married we again got a mouthful but again we know the players. In 1935 when Henry Morgan and Harold Stanley left JP Morgan... and is now Morgan Stanley Smith Barney - we still know the players! Compare that to the so-called Bear Sterns 'merger'.... there is no JP Morgan Chase Bear Stearns... just JP Morgan Chase which to me says it all... if you get swallowed up by a bigger fish you don't get your name on the door; only partners appear on the door. I wanted to be a partner not pudding!

I also wanted my children to embrace their dual heritage - yes, that meant double barrelled surnames - because kids today are cheeky and I would go berserk if I said to my kids: 'You don't behave that way, YOU are a 'White'; and the little blighter responded: "well, actually mummy, I am a 'Black'"...

I make no bones about being a daddy's girl, I have 2 brothers: both are fathers (to daughters).  Only one of my brothers is married, and me - being the sentimental silly that I am - felt great pain at the thought of daddy's name (the one mummy made us so proud of) just fizzling away into history... my son wears my daddy's surname like a prize tag (or at least he will once he's old enough to be schooled into the pride lol); but officially he belongs to the HRH clan (not the 'Whites').

Which brings me back to Mclean's song. I rather like it. I think it'd make a good wedding song, maybe not for the first dance but for at least one of them. It surprises people that I like it - particularly when one reads everything I've said before. BUT as I said right at the beginning - I think I finally get it.

Maybe (MAYBE) taking a man's name is not about ownership or being chattel or being swallowed up in someone else's identity; maybe as McLean says it is simply the man's way of offering everything he has. Material things will fade away, possessions can come and go, a man is born into his name and he will die still bearing that name - therefore it is the only thing he has which is everlasting.


ps. Surnames have been changed to protect identities (but of course if you know me - you already know this hahah)


Hibiscus Niki said...

Wow, This was a very interesting post. I can certainly understand why you would have hesitation or not want to get rid of your birth name. However, for me it was simple, I too was very proud of who I was before marriage but the bible says that when a man takes a woman, he takes a good thing. He leaves his father and mother and becomes one with his wife (Please don't ask me to reference exactly where in the bible it says that because I just read it and take from it what I can, but I certainly do read it. Usually things that are relevant to my life at the time that I am reading but it is definitely there.). For me that meant that I was not giving up who I was, but rather gaining more,; all that he was and all that he had, including his name. I was very proud to change my name because his name is who I was meant to be. I only carried my father's name temporarily and I always knew that one day it would change. I can remember being a little girl writing my first name with lots of other last names wondering what my name would officially be one day. Besides, you will carry the new sir name much longer than you ever had the old one.Just something to think abut. Your parents should be very proud that even though you sound like you had some difficult times as a young person, you were "living to learn, learning to love, and loving to live!" So much was instilled in you as far as pride for the family that you truly always wanted to hold onto a piece of that family. You do not need the sir name to hold onto that family though Bajan Lily. All that you need is flowing through your veins.

Before reading this post, I never really understood why people hyphenated their last names. Now, thanks to your post I have a much better understanding and appreciation for those who feel so strongly about where they came from that they just want to keep a little piece of that in their name. What a great topic for conversation for the day.

Just one question for you to ponder. When your daughter gets married (if her name is hyphenated as well) should she just add on and carry then three sir names?

Nai said...

I totally agree with Hibiscus Niki! God said to leave mother and father and cleave and become one flesh ... (Bajan ... I smell rebellion ...hee hee hee)
My heavenly father makes no mistakes, its about letting go of your fathers house to move on and create your own (family)
my head is not good today so I can't remember the whole teaching but I think you get me :)
I is waitin for you answer to that last question of HN's giggle.
tee hee hee.

Bajan Lily said...

Man, Hibiscus gave me a whole sermon to go 'siddown and meditate on'. I gotta think long and hard before I can respond to (most of) her post but at least I can understand where she's coming from - it definitely helped to read her perspective and maybe as you say - there's a bit of rebellion in ME (hence why I need to siddown and check myself!)

As for the last question (lol), my daughter's name is hyphenated, but I think she's the type of gal who will just 'tek de man's name' without any fussing or fighting so it won't be an issue.

There is a difference between adhering to a principle/proving a point and taking things too far. If she did come to me about it I would tell her that having 3 surnames would be ridiculous so she could
a) keep her own surname(s)
b) take her husband's surname
c) drop one of her surnames and add her husband's
but seriously, I think she'd just pick option (b)

Unknown said...

Hi Bajan Lily, I think you are putting forward a very interesting line of reasoning, because on one hand you are reluctant about the idea of taking the HRH name, but on the other hand, you are for keeping your Father's name, not your mother's. It almost seems like "the buck stopped with your dad" if that makes any sense.

You seem to have a really strong, independant personality too! I know in Western civilisation "independance" is looked upon as the ultimate - especially for women, (I know because I would be considered a very strong independant person myself) but its a double edged sword becuase in relationships and marraiges, the independance can help preserve your own personality and not meld into one person (total dependance - not great - Ive been there), but at the same time, if it is the most important aspect of yourself, you can find it can drive you all apart (Ive gone through that too),I guess its about finding a happy medium with things (inter-dependance)

You know with me, as far as the name, I took the DH name because I wasn't particularly attached to my last name, as I know when it all boils down to it, it was a slave name. But my First name was changed to Yahvinah, which means "God will give me Understanding" is VERY important to me, and I strive to live up to it daily. So I can relate to being proui of your name. But with creating a new familyits not the name, its the people who wear it.

hope that makes sense, trying to formulate thoughts while feeding! :P said...

Hey BajanLily

Excellent post. There is indeed power in a name and I loved what Hibsicus Niki said when she said "the name is what I was meant to be".

I struggle with this as well because I think of my name as my brand. This is who I am. This is my identity and I am not sure I want to subsume into someone else- I too want to bring something to the table. However, it is the act of ultimate submission and I think that's what love is. So when the day comes, I will release my surname (prrobably have a lil ceremony for it) and not hyphenate but add my surname as one of my "inside names"- something like how a butterfly shrugs off the cocoon, ama hold on to my cocoon. For all intents and purposes I will be Mrs. (fill in the blank) but I want that when the roll is called I pay homage to my history too.

Bajan Lily said...

@Yahvinah: thanks for sharing. As for my reasoning, I think I mentioned in my post that my mother embraced both her married and maiden names (although on paper she was Mrs White not Ms Fleur or Mrs Fleur-White) - and she instilled in us a sense of identity that equally included both families: so when I say "I am a 'White'" it means I am (both families).

Since this was so strong for me (annual holidays and xmas reunions etc) it is difficult (but not impossible) reconciling the NEED or requirement that I should change from one name to another (to satisfy who? cos society says so?)

This is where I suggest the 'rebellion' NJoi referred to might be coming in. Maybe I don't like being 'forced' or 'expected' to conform/do something I don't entirely understand, something which I therefore feel is unjustified or simply makes no sense.

Like Spiceness mentioned, my name is like my brand... ultimately if Charmin toilet paper changes its name to Cushelle (which it has).. it's still Charmin inside right? (but if you didnt know it had changed - you'd still be looking for Charmin and miss Cushelle altogether). For me, taking someone else's name felt like disappearing... I can't explain it any better than that.

From reading the comments though, it would seem that the concept of love and submission is stronger than that of love and partnership - can the two be reconciled?

I see myself as an equal partner with my husband, at work I am Lily 'white', around family I am Mrs 'Black', and sometimes in between I am 'Lily White Black' or just Lily :)

The changing of the woman's surname has such negative history, dating back to when women weren't seen as being worth much in and of themselves or contributing much to society (besides suitable heirs to their husband's estate) - so I think some of my distaste stems from this.

I am still meditating on Hibiscus' offering :)

Bajan Lily said...

Thank you for taking time out to comment. Reading (and rereading) your post also gave me insight into why some women happily surrender their surnames in deference to the ones they love.
Maybe I hold on to my family surname because it meant so much to me (my family) or because I am afraid that in giving it up I am belittling all that came before I got married or maybe I am afraid that that part of the clan will fade away and be forgotten, that my parents will pass on and there will be nothing left. Right now, when people see my name, and where I grew up, they can connect me to my (birth) families and they can share my families' pride (in me) and vice versa. They can also connect me to my husband and my (new) family. (ps I am not saying I am definitely afraid or that any of the reasons I gave are the reasons I chose not to take HRH's name, just that these came up while I was thinking about my resistance, so maybe there is truth in one or a combination of them. I don't know yet).

I think it was Yahvinah who mentioned letting go one family and embracing/building the new one (my words not hers). I agree with this, and I love HRH and our 3 kids and the (new) family (unit) we are building together - no doubt about that... maybe there's a switch in my head that needs flipping because when I hear 'the Blacks' I still think of his parents /his family as opposed to us/our family - and yet I know that we are certainly not 'the Whites' although I am (or was) a 'White'.

Most days, I think I see us as 'HRH, Lily and their kids' lol - (I guess that's pretty lame!); maybe I feel a disconnect between being a 'Black' and being a 'White' because I didn't grow up as a 'Black' and am not totally familiar with THEIR traditions and idiosyncracies (despite being married for a while now)... maybe that's it, you can't fully embrace the unknown (????)

Or maybe all this discourse is showing me to be more of a feminist than I realised. If so - that's an interesting discovery!

Bajan Lily said...

@Yahvinah, HN, Njoi and Spiceness - thank all of you for commenting and sharing your own unique perspectives and experiences. It's been a bit like receiving a few new pieces to a puzzle I've been trying to complete for some time :)

You've definitely helped deepen my understanding and have even pushed me a few steps forward in my own journey - making me challenge some of my beliefs and dig a lil deeper into myself. I've enjoyed that (for real!)

Respect xx!


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