Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The choice to adopt a married name has become increasingly complicated

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What's in a name?

Well, for the single-monikered superstar who recently kicked off The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, maybe a clever marketing opportunity.

"Ah, Mrs. Carter, a homespun merchandising moniker fragrant with Good Housekeeping notions of baked peach cobblers," a cynical Grace Dent writes in The Independent of Beyoncé's decision to rebrand herself with her husband's surname. (Mr. Carter, of course, is mega-rapper Shawn Carter, otherwise known as Jay-Z.)

Opinions vary on why the singer known for female-empowerment anthems like Independent Woman and Run the World (Girls), would want to "reclaim the anachronistic honorific 'Mrs.' at this stage in history," as Katrina Onstad put it in a Globe and Mail article. In it, Onstad notes how Beyoncé's declaration coincided with the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan's groundbreaking classic, The Feminine Mystique.

"Those Second Wave feminists noted that while men get to be Mr. from cradle to grave, the honorifics shift along the way for women, from Miss, to Mrs., each a public declaration not only of genitalia but marital status," she writes.

But could it be that Beyoncé Knowles, who is also the mother of a one-year-old, is simply a sentimental sort who's embracing tradition? After all, the end goal in another of her big hits, Single Ladies, is finding someone to "put a ring on it."

Then again, Jay-Z reportedly bucked tradition by hyphenating his last name with his wife's, so actually both members of the power couple have the legal surname Knowles-Carter.

Beyoncé, according to Slate.com, is a "situational name user" -- a married woman who changed her name legally but uses her maiden name professionally. Except on this tour.

What's in a name, indeed.

Jay and Bey can easily avoid any nuptial name-game hassles by reverting to their one-word titles. For the rest of us mere mortals, however, the question of what happens to surnames after the 'I dos' are done can be a thorny one.

Winnipegger Carla Fehr, who just got married in January, thought it would be a non-issue.

"I'm keeping my last name and I'm surprised at the number of times I have to explain my so-called 'choice,'" the 31-year-old writes in an email. "My husband doesn't have to explain keeping his name, so why do I?"

Samantha Turenne, 32, has a different take.

"Call me old-fashioned," she writes, "but I think that if you choose to get married you should take your husband's last name. It completes the process. You go from being two separate beings to one, in every sense of the word. There's a special sense of togetherness when you are referred to as Mr. and Mrs. whatever."

A growing number of women seem to agree with Turenne. A recent New York Magazine article pointed out that the already small percentage of American women who keep their maiden names has been steadily shrinking since the 1990s, when it peaked at 23 per cent.

The article cited a 2011 survey of nearly 19,000 newlywed women by wedding website TheKnot.com that showed only eight per cent kept their last names; 86 per cent took their husband's name, while the remaining six per cent presumably chose hyphenation or some other modification.

In a poll on the Winnipeg Free Press website, nearly half (48 per cent) said that one spouse should take the other's surname while 38 per cent thought spouses should keep their own name and nine per cent voted for hyphenating both surnames. (A total of 1,203 people voted.)

But just because most women are willing to change their names doesn't mean they make the decision lightly.

Julia Kovacs (née Kovalik-Plouffe), who got married last October, says she'd always planned to take her husband's name, but as the wedding date neared, she began having doubts.

"I did feel a little sad, as I felt like I was giving up a part of me that I'd had for 26 years," she recalls. "My name set me apart; there was no one else who had my same exact name. I thought long and hard about it and I knew how meaningful it would be to my husband, and I do feel it is romantic in a way to make the change."

Kovacs, now 27, admits she's considering making her maiden name into her middle name to preserve that part of her identity. Hyphenated surnames wasn't an option, she says, since she was already bringing one to the table.

"When my parents got married, my mom kept her maiden name, so both my brother and I both have hyphenated last names. Growing up it was always annoying," says Kovacs.

"People always made comments about my two last names, and when I would have any type of paperwork to fill out my names wouldn't fit on the line space given." On top of that, by the time she hit her late teens, she says, people would assume she was already married.

Karen Ackerman, 50, says she never considered giving up her surname when she married Jerry Roitelman 20 years ago. "You have your family and I have my family," she recalls thinking. "I had already established myself as Ackerman. Is there a reason I have to give up what I was to become one of you?"

The compromise was that their future kids would get a hyphenated surname -- all 17 letters of it. Try fitting Ackerman-Roitelman on the back of a hockey jersey.

"It got a little goofy after a while," says Roitelman, whose sons, Evan and Dustin, are now 18 and 14, respectively. At one point, the former started signing all his class assignments Evan E-R. The boys now mostly use Roitelman, according to their dad, who issues a warning to would-be hyphenaters.

"I realize times are changing and it's not like my parents' days," he says, "but you've got to think of the kids and how they're going to deal with this down the road."

D'Arcy and Dieter Bruning-Haid concede that things could get interesting if their sons, ages 13 and 10, end up with partners who also possess a double-barrelled name.

"We figured that's theirs to decide. They'll figure it out," says D'Arcy.

Local married actors Arne MacPherson and Deb Patterson inadvertently came up with an alternate way to make sure both family trees were taken into account when children came along.

The original plan, Patterson says, had been to create some hybrid of their surnames and incorporate the Icelandic word for "child" in honour of MacPherson's heritage. But their daughter came early, thwarting their plans for a home birth.

"They were pressuring us, so we just gave her my name because I was in the hospital with her," Patterson recalls.

When their son was born five years later, it only seemed fair, she says, that he should take his dad's surname. Gislina Patterson and Solmund MacPherson are now 19 and 14, respectively.

It's anyone's guess how couples will be handling the name-change debate by the time Curt and Christine Holowick-Sparkes' infant son grows up.

"I suspect that he won't think about his last name much, since he will have had it from birth and it'll probably seem pretty normal," his dad says. "And I bet when he gets to school he won't be the only kid with a long name."

There were 391 children with hyphenated surnames on Manitoba's birth registry in 1993. By 2007, that number had climbed to 766.

They don't have any children, but Danishka Tays and Jonathan Dolin equated getting married with starting a new family. So they decided to co-create a new surname.

Both feminists, they were also university students at the time of their decision, and were driving from Winnipeg to Vancouver to go back to school. Inspiration struck in southeastern Saskatchewan.

"We just decided, completely randomly, as we were driving down the highway, 'Hey, that's a really great name,'" Danishka, an independent filmmaker recalls.

The Esterhazys have been happily married since 1991.

carolin.vesely@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2013 C1

History

Updated on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 10:37 AM CST: replaces photo, changes headline, adds fact box

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