My family name

I am a feminist. I also changed my name after getting married, to match my husband’s.

For some, these ideas sit in conflict with each other — but not for me. You see, my name has always been an expression of my choices, even the name I carried before marriage, and I have changed my name a number of times in the past.

Let me explain.

Are you sitting comfortably? This may take a while:

I’ve had a lot of different names in my life. Shortly after I was born I was christened Zoë Joan Tricia Mates. Four names, all given to me by other people. I don’t recognise it as my own.

When I was around six years old, something in me realised this name didn’t feel like mine. There’s a cute story about how I was playing in the woods with the fairies, and I came home to tell my mum that “the fairies told me my name was actually Jade, not Zoë” – I don’t really remember what happened that day, but I do remember the feeling of dysphoria that followed me around afterwards. Mum saw it too, and after a few months where we had multiple conversations about it, she agreed to let me change my name to Jade.

This name change also coincided with my mum changing her last name, to match her then-partner David. They had a beautiful handfasting ceremony where they became Mr and Mrs James, and I asked if, while we were changing my first name, we could also change my last name to James as well.

So, at age six or seven, I became Jade James. In many ways, that’s when I became me.

The decision to change my surname at that age came from my strong sense of family, rooted in my close relationship with my mother. Having come through my parents’ divorce and separation, which was ugly on its best days, I knew, as young as I was, that my mum was my family. To carry another family’s name just felt wrong when that family was not mine in any ways that mattered to me.

If names are about belonging, then I belonged to my mum completely. So if her surname was going to be James, then so was mine.

Fast forward another four years, and mum is getting married to Dr. Forester. I ask the question again, and my request is granted again. I become Jade Forester. This is the name I carry with me for almost two decades.

As you can probably tell, I’ve never had a particular attachment to names. I always liked when a surname was referred to as the ‘family name’ because, to me, that made sense. For the first 28 years of my life, my mum was my family. So our family name was whatever surname we both carried. The man who brought us that name never mattered as much to me as the choices I made to keep my mother’s name, whatever it was.

The one execption to this was my mum’s last marriage. It’s not that I don’t like the name she and her husband carry, but as I was living in the US on a student visa, there were a number of practical reasons not to change my name. I was also 18 by that time, and beginning to move out of my mother’s nest. The trauma and uncertainty of the past remained in the past; I  no longer needed the security of sharing her name.

When I met Jake, it felt in many ways like coming home. He felt like family, and I knew as soon as we started discussing marriage that I wanted to change my name one last time.

So on 1st September, 2017, I became Mrs Jade Morley.

There was never any expectation of me to take Jake’s name. Neither of Jake’s sisters-in-law changed their names; it hardly even occurred to me that this was the case until a year or more after I’d met them.

I chose to change my name because my strongest sense of family is here, with Jake. It isn’t with my ex-step-fathers, and certainly not my biological father. It’s not even with my mum anymore: we are still as close as ever, but I don’t need to carry her name to feel her with me.

So yes, I changed my name when I got married. But I did so freely, as an expression of my right to choose my family (and by extension, the name my family carries).

And, as I said very pubclicly two weeks ago, I choose Jake.

Me and my mama, me and my husband. I didn’t notice the symmetry in these photos until I was stitching them together for this blog post.



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