Guest Girl Talk: A rose by any other name by Sarah Ayoub of wordsmithlane.com
Over the weekend, I found myself sharing with friends the warm and fuzzy feeling I get when my husband calls me by my maiden name: a cheeky, throw-away "Hey, Holburn" conjures up feelings of nostalgia, pride and comfort all at once.
While I felt changing my name was a mark of respect for my new husband, and a symbol of a new beginning, there was definitely a BIG part of me that grappled with identity issues as I came to grips with my new relationship (and name) status. It's partly why I started this blog shortly after our engagement – the longing to grip onto a sense of self (digging my feminist heels in online, so to speak).
I needn't have worried – it takes more than a name change to separate a girl from her heritage, says she who retains the 'nee' in her blog byline – but the issue is particularly pertinent to women whose professional careers have been built on a single, distinguishable and (hopefully) reputable name, particularly now in the era of search engines.
Here, bride-to-be Sarah Ayoub of wordsmithlane.com discusses her thoughts on the practicalities of the convention – in terms of commerce, career prosperity and identity – for a professional journalist...
Most people jump straight into frenzied, exciting wedding planning when they get proposed to. I jumped straight into salvaging my identity.
Before I became a journalist, I was adamant that I’d change my name after marriage. There was no question about it. I didn’t want to be a woman who was threatened by her identity being usurped by that of her husband’s.
Furthermore, I had spent the formative years of my university education simply giddy with the excitement at the prospect that I’d lose the ethnic name that no one knew how to pronounce or spell when and if I married my Anglo-Saxon boyfriend.
But now the day that prospect has arrived, I couldn’t be more torn. As a freelance journalist, my name is my business and my brand – it’s my trademark in each article I write, the keyword in my website domain and the aspect of copyright that makes every idea that I develop into a story permanently mine.
I can't help thinking that I’ll be losing three years of media profiling – dozens of articles in big-name publications, presentations at industry events and interviews on TV and radio – simply by removing the surname that I’ve known all my life and adding on someone else’s.
In March 2008, The Daily Telegraph revealed that, according to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, the practice of changing your name to that of your husband’s had tripled in a decade, up to 12,923 in 2006 from 4020 in 1996. It seems that women are pursuing the more conventional route for the sake of sharing the same name as their children, a decision which I find noble and cute, but which I consider to be made in a situation different to my own.
My pop-cultural heroine Lois Lane spent years wistfully waiting for her superman while simultaneously kicking corruption’s butt as the Daily Planet’s most renowned investigative reporter, earning herself an infamous reputation in the process. Her joy at finding out he was masquerading as her geeky partner-in-journalism Clark Kent was diminished somewhat when she realised, upon their happy-ever-after engagement, that she’d have to leave some of that infamous achievement behind if she took his last name as her own.
Far be it from me to consider myself a journalist in the league of my heroine, but her predicament certainly echoes my own. My name is synonymous with my job and the area I have fashioned as my specialty. It is the manifestation of my area of expertise in my profession because I write about race and identity and assimilation with regards to the Arab-Australian community. And I have an Arab-Australian name to validate what I'm saying more than text or interviews ever could. My name translates to me living my profession, and my career and work is more credible because of it.
I know I'm being dramatic, but I can’t bear the thought of losing that spark of recognition if someone were to read an article with my by-line and not register to associate it with the work I have written in the past. But what am I going to do? Stick a ‘nee’ in every by-line of a story when sub-editors have enough work to do with word counts and layouts? Or hyphenate it, creating a potentially more cumbersome name to accommodate, complete with all the email, business card, website and social networking profile changes?
When it comes down to it, I realise I have burdened myself with this decision because I feel that it is more than career history that I am potentially throwing away. The ethnic name that I was so anxious to be rid of has also became my mark. It symbolises a piece of cultural heritage, a mark of my ancestry, not just in terms of family, but in faith and race too. I find it hard to see myself making kibbeh and vine leaves and tabouli without retaining an aspect of the Lebanese typecast that could help justify it all.
In the end, I have spent one of the most exciting times of my life pondering whether the portfolio I’ve spent years nurturing and cultivating would smell just as sweet if I said goodbye to the old me, and ushered in a girl who was basically making a name for herself from scratch.
I know that with all this passion for my work, I’ll still be worth reading no matter the name under the headline. Moreover, I realise that marriage is a beginning and not an end – and that I still have my words, I still have my personality and, most importantly, I have my true love, who is ultimately the byline that will stick long after the music of the media - and the wedding - fades away.
Is trading in a name the ultimate love sacrifice, needless career suicide or the relinquishing of girlhood identity? Come December 5, I hope to have settled that conundrum. Perhaps you, dear GWAS readers, can help me?
Read Sarah's pre-nuptial columns for Bride To Be magazine here.
Sarah Ayoub @ Girl With a Satchel