Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The ‘Jennifer Affleck’ Question: Would You Change Your Surname After Getting Married? I Didn’t

We have all watched the unfolding reunion and love story between Jennifer Lopez & Ben Affleck unfold over the past year and news of their low-key Vegas wedding made us simply beam with joy. But the news of her name change to Jennifer Affleck came as quite a surprise to many of us… but should it be? In the year 2022, should we still expect women to change their names when they get married?

When my lovely husband proposed to me, there were two out-of-the-blue things from his very lovely Piha proposal that stood out to both of us. Number one, a group of beach goers were playing Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl loudly and it was a jazzy summer soundtrack to have while I got to answer the easiest question of my life. Number two, Shahab remembers that after I said “YES!!!!!!!”, the second thing I said shortly after was “…by the way I’m not changing my name.”

Romance, thy name is (still) Clifton.

For the record, Shahab’s surname is the magnificent ‘Ramhormozian’ and it is a STUNNER. I love it! Is ‘Emma Ramhormozian’ a badass name? Jesus, is it what. So many ‘M’s, a classic power letter. Did I consider a hyphen? I did, yes (but the length!). It was never about the name, it wasn’t even so much the symbolism. After all, it’s not a huge feminist move when you’re just keeping one man’s name (father’s) over your husband’s (and honestly, when I write it that way… huh.)

It’s not a huge feminist move when you’re just keeping one man’s name (father’s) over your husband’s (and honestly, when I write it that way… huh.

It’s just that from a very young age, I knew I was going to keep my name, because there weren’t that many Cliftons to go around. I’m an only child, and there are no first or second cousins, so in order to keep the family tree somewhat thriving, I’m the only branch there is. I don’t love to use the phrase “keep the family name alive”, because it implies we are some sort of ‘House of Gucci’ dynasty, which… we are not. I mean, my dad maintains we are related to political journalist Jane Clifton but I’ve never seen the paperwork to confirm it, either way.

Anyway, Clifton it is and it’s been a very firmly entrenched part of my identity for a long time. So long, that I forget that not every woman feels the same way. I don’t want to make yet another difference between myself and Jennifer Lopez (the list is considerable) but when I heard the news that she had married Ben Affleck and changed her name to “Jennifer Affleck”, I will admit my reaction was one of surprise.

And a good few group chats I’m in also registered their surprise that Jennifer Lopez (JENNIFER LOPEZ!!!) should so willingly change her name after being Jennifer Lopez (!!!!) for over half a century.

But perhaps I’m in the minority for this, because we ran a poll on our Instagram on whether you would change your name and the results were leaning towards yes. To be specific (at time of writing this) “Have Done/Will Do” got 44%, “Didn’t Do/Won’t Do” is sitting on 34% and “Depends On The Name” is on 22% (I love this as a category: fair-weather surnames, we salute you).

Marriage itself can seem like such an outdated concept when you break into many of the traditions: wearing white past a certain age, a bridal registry over a certain age (sensing a theme here?), not seeing each other the day before the wedding… there are a whole litany of things that hit a bit different in a 2022 context. And it’s not that they are wrong, per se, it’s just that they invite a little bit more reflection as to why they are ‘a thing’.

For instance, some people were surprised that I wasn’t changing my name when I got married and I was equally as surprised that they were surprised, and it made for some dead-end conversations, to be honest. “Why wouldn’t you?” “Well, why WOULD you?” repeat, repeat.

The argument that is often made is “what about the children?” and I will tell you, I worked at primary schools when I was at high school and at university and not once did any parent ever give their – or their child’s – surname. “I’m Robert from Room 2’s Dad!” is how all parents hurriedly identify themselves and you don’t need to order a new passport to make that happen.

But maybe the fact that I – and the very many group chats – were so surprised that Jennifer Lopez would change her name shows that maybe there has been a little bit of progress in that department, that it’s not just a given anymore. While I would simply never wish ‘marrying your ex’ on anyone, she and Ben have proven to be the exception to the rule (*fingers crossed*) so far and their love story is a piece of feel-good news in a mostly feel-bad world. I just hope that all women get the opportunity to have a conversation about their own decision, rather than just have the assumption that their post-wedding identity has to be a new one.

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