Claire Gardner: Name game gets serious

Workers at Edinburgh's Royal Mail Centre. Picture: PA
Workers at Edinburgh's Royal Mail Centre. Picture: PA
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EVER since the lovestruck Juliet threw up the question “What is in a name?” in William Shakespeare’s famous balcony scene, we have taken great pains to work out just how important what we call things can be.

There was arguably no harsher lesson learnt by Royal Mail which, after an two-year process of racking its brains and hiring consultants to pep up its image, announced that it would take on a completely new identity – Consignia.

Sixteen months later, with its plans to push into overseas markets in tatters, and the meaningless new name a laughing stock, Consignia was consigned to the history books, and Royal Mail bosses hoped the £2million rebranding would be forgotten.

On a wider scale, there are the weeks, if not months, that expectant parents spend deciding what to call their offspring. Bookshops dedicate huge swathes of space to baby name literature – because apparently, there is a whole science to this naming stuff.

According to research, boys with girly-sounding names are twice as likely to misbehave than those with masculine names and girls with masculine names are more likely to choose subjects such as maths – so you it’s not to be taken lightly.

Then we have the whole surname issue, which is no laughing matter – especially if you’re navigating your way through school with a snigger-inducing last name.

A quick internet search revealed some howlers that would guarantee even the toughest kids a few bog-washes from school bullies. Take Handcock, Willy, Pigg, Nutter, Smellie and Bottom for instance.

Luckily, for women saddled with an unfortunate surname, there has always been the institution of marriage to fall back on. For all those ladies landed with a Smellie or a Bottom, there is the option of finding a husband sporting a surname such as Smith or Thompson then saying ‘I do.’

But these days it’s not as simple as that – because the question of ‘What is in a name’ has now become a feminist issue and an increasing number of women are saying ‘I don’t’ when it comes to changing their surname.

A recent survey revealed that married women in their 20s are more likely to keep their maiden name than women in their 60s, with experts claiming that it is a sign the younger generation is increasingly embracing feminism.

In fact, the Facebook study worked out that a third of married women in their 20s have shunned the surname tradition and opted to keep their birth name as a sign of equality.

There has also been an increase in women voting for the double-barrelled option, as well as others who have chosen to create a whole new surname by merging both.

Historically, maiden names have been associated with women’s liberation: the American suffragist Lucy Stone made a national issue of the right to keep one’s own surname in the 1850s, after refusing to change hers to that of her husband, Henry Blackwell. Women who choose not to take their husbands’ surnames in the US have been known as “Lucy Stoners” since.

Now, this ‘new’ phenomenon has been heralded as a feminist issue – but I’m not sure it’s as simple as that.

I am currently in the middle of this sticky issue, having recently married a bloke with the surname Campbell.

I can get down with the feminists as much as the next liberated women but I think the Claire Gardner v Claire Campbell debate is more about identity for me.

Maybe it’s because I tied the knot at the tired and wrinkly age of 40 rather than being a blushing young thing. I’ve had many more years of being me.

If I’m being brutally honest, there is also a lazy element creeping in – the hassle of updating passports, bills and driving licences. After finishing the wedding ‘thank you’ cards, the last thing I feel like tackling is another mountain of paperwork.

On the other hand, our two kids are keen for me to have the same name as them – arguing that it would make us a “proper family.”

But then again, if role models such as Zara Phillips and goodie-two-shoes Gwyneth Paltrow are breaking the mould, then why not me?

The other option is to double-barrel our names or, better still, create a whole new surname by merging the two – introducing Claire Gambell. But then again, I wouldn’t bet on it!