A rose by any other name…

5 Oct

Rose in Winter. Image © Robert JE Simpson.

It’s a matter of public record that I am a divorced man. There’s little escaping that, and I will be reminded of it from time to time in legal matters. But I’m lucky. There’s nothing to tie me to that past, no messy alimony or children or shared property to deal with. And so, I don’t see why that former contract should define my existence.

I don’t get why (at least in my situation) I need to fill in forms or declare myself as ‘divorced’. I’ve had other relationships that lasted longer but they aren’t acknowledged in any way formally, and yet people can look at you a little different when they know you were married. Breaking apart from a long term stable relationship doesn’t carry the same taboos or connotations. Is it because with formerly married couples there is often a baggage of financial and domestic ties? I have friends who were never married but who carry similar experiences, so why this prejudice? 

If asked to define my status I would say ‘single’ because that’s what I am. I might be dating, seeing someone etc, at any given moment, but I’m not quite ready to say this is me in the throws of full-blown relationships. Unless I am, in which case I’d probably make that clear. The mental scars I carry from the past are hardly unique to ex-marrieds. 

One of the problems with relationships is that people do tend to view you purely within the context of that coupling and loose sight of you as an individual. Asserting independence is desperately important. You’re with someone (hopefully) because you like them, because you enjoy those shared experiences, but you have to keep a sense of self that exists outside that coupling. 

Marriage as a convention still places emphasis on the mingling of individuals – fusing them together in a display of patriarchal persistence. It remains the man’s family name that becomes adopted by spouses (in heterosexual marriages) and there is a sense of giving over to that. 

I’m still surprised by the number of strong feminist friends that have bought into this status quo. I wouldn’t want to change my name for a partner, so why should we men demand that our women should?

Regardless of my relationship or marital status I remain me. I carry the name I was given at birth and which identifies me. But for a woman it can be more complicated. Statistically nearly every other marriage ends in divorce. So adopting the name of your betrothed can lead to an association that lasts long after the decoupling, maintaining a psychological and perceived tie that is potentially harmful. 

I can just about understand why partners of some celebrities have kept their married names – it gives them a weird celebrity status by proxy and can ensure a career in the media (Angie Bowie for example – a woman from whom husband and son both have distanced themselves).

Beyond the marriage it might suggest a stability and dependability that is otherwise undermined by the embracing of a maiden name. Certainly flitting back and forth as relationships come and go could get complicated. It’s for these reason I wouldn’t ask a partner to take on my name. Kids might be different – and I might be more likely to suggest double-barelling and creating a new dynasty with a unique identity.

Names have meaning, and a change of name may indicate a different aspect of personality. Maybe a nom de plume for creative purposes? A way of avoiding unwanted intrusion into one’s private life, or to evade perceptions.

Being the third person in three generations to carry my given name it’s little wonder I cherish my middle names as my personal identity stamp, but to be subsumed into that of another, no thank you.

Ultimately does it matter? One can change one’s name or status as one might an outfit or hair colour but there’s no hiding the person inside. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.


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