What is better Widdup or Porritt? Did you opt to keep your maiden name?
PUBLISHED: 17:00 18 March 2017
I go by many names. On Starbucks cups, I’m “Alan”. The baristas in Ipswich are real jokers.
At work, I’m “not you, the other one”, because I have a colleague called Elly and another called Helen and it’s all massively confusing – even for us.
I’m an Ellie to some. And Eleanor to one (she does that simply to infuriate me).
I am Mum, Mummy or Mama depending on which child I’m talking to.
I’m a Mrs. I am a Ms. And I use two different surnames.
The latter was a decision I made almost exactly eight years ago when I married Mr Porritt.
The surname didn’t appeal – all ugly, harsh-sounding consonants. I had always vowed to marry a Fox or a Peach - something I would be delighted to put in place of the Widdup which had always caused me problems.
“Word-Up” was one alternative I was given. And then there was the time a disgruntled subject of a newspaper expose referred to me as “Miss Wind Up”.
But Porritt? Yuck.
I was torn.
This was a man I loved with every bone in my body. But it was also a man who, contrary to appearances, rather likes tradition.
“I suppose I am old-fashioned,” he said when we discussed if it would be me or him who would change their surname. “I don’t care if you want to remain a Widdup. But I won’t even consider being anything but a Porritt.”
Which is stupid really. He fought to keep the name of his father when it was his mother – a Taylor – who brought him up.
Ellen Taylor has a certain ring to it. Especially when my middle name is Elizabeth. I wish I’d pushed that point.
In the end I agreed to alternate between names.
I would use my maiden name for work, and take my husband’s name on my legal documents. I would be a reassuringly conventional Mrs Porritt at the school gates, and a defiant Ellen Widdup on my byline.
The trouble was – and is – that I am not very consistent. I changed my name on my passport and driving licence but not at the GP’s or on household bills.
My tax return still doesn’t match my pay slips.
And when I ring the bank there’s always a suspicious pause while I try to remember what name my account is in.
Marital name changes surely remain the most bare-faced sexism that exists in modern society.
After all, its chiefly women who are expected to – quite literally – give up their identity when they wed.
Of course, I’ve heard all the excuses for the custom – mostly out of the mouths of men.
It’s nice for the children. It makes paperwork easier. It shows commitment.
Why then did a survey of newlyweds find that while 80% of brides would choose to take their spouse’s last name a whopping 93.6% of grooms said they wouldn’t even consider it?
As any historians and fans of The Crown will know, The Duke of Edinburgh threw an epic wobbler when HRH, on the advice of PM Winston Churchill, did not take his name when she came to the throne in 1952.
Apoplectic at his loss of identity, he’s said to have declared, “I am nothing but a bloody amoeba”.
If losing your name wasn’t a big deal, men wouldn’t guard their own so carefully.
But they do right.
Historically only the powerless – women and slaves for example – were given other people’s names. They didn’t belong. They were belongings.
So do I regret my decision?
Should I have remained a Widdup as spouse as well as worker?
I’m not sure I could bring myself to admit such a thing just weeks away from my wedding anniversary.
But the truth is, for all my feminist beliefs on the subject, I rather like the fact that I was the one who chose to make us a real unit.
Because choice is important – it’s something women have fought for.
So I will stick with my many names – none of which fully or exclusively define me but all of which (coffee order aside) make up the person I have chosen to be.