News, Culture & Society

As Kate Winslet’s husband changes his by deed poll: Is it time more men took their wife’s surname?

Adele Parks argues a change like this can be the height of romance

YES

By Adele Parks 

Edward Abel Smith, formerly Ned RocknRoll, has legally changed his name a third time, now to incorporate his wife Kate Winslet’s surname.

I say hurrah for him! It’s cause for celebration, a step towards equality. But I bet he gets some flak for it. Even though he’s married to a Hollywood A-lister, his revolutionary gesture might still cause a stir.

I know, from personal experience, that breaking with tradition does raise eyebrows. On our third wedding anniversary 14 years ago, my husband Jim presented me with a deed poll document.

A combination of romance and logic led him to make this powerful move — he had taken my surname.

I was stunned, but he explained that as my son from my first marriage bears my surname, he thought we would feel most united as a family if he took my name, too.

Let’s be honest, his choice surprises people. But we’re dissimilar to most couples in many ways.

I met Jim when I was divorcing; my son had just turned one, and my first date with Jim included him picking up nappies from the supermarket for me. A couple of years later we eloped to Vegas. Our only guest was my son, who by that time was very much our son.

A change like this can be the height of romance 

Jim and I work from home, and while that’s the norm now, we’ve done it for 20 years. Maybe that’s why we’re not all that influenced by what other people are doing or thinking; we’re quite a self-contained unit. We are not big on tradition, which helps when bucking the trend for a woman to take her husband’s surname.

Some women do keep their own name after marriage, while other couples hyphenate or mesh, but fewer than 1 per cent of men change their names to their wives’.

Of course, I understand how the tradition became so entrenched. Historically, taking the man’s name offered legal protection and other advantages to the woman and her children.

But laws and society have changed substantially. We haven’t been considered chattel for a long time. Female autonomy is a legal reality in the UK, and it ought to be a social one, too.

Why should a woman automatically give up her name? Change only comes when people courageously challenge outdated ideas and dare to run with new ones.

It shouldn’t be news that my husband did something hundreds of thousands of women do every year. It really shouldn’t. 

  • Adele Parks is author of Just My Luck (HarperCollins)
Rachel Johnson asks why couples must merge their identities

Rachel Johnson asks why couples must merge their identities

NO

By Rachel Johnson  

My name is the most normcore one imaginable. But when I married a man with a dashing surname, I still didn’t consider conflating my identity with his.

I know it’s simpler at passport control if you all have the same name, but I was born in the 1960s. Exchanging my father’s surname for my husband’s at the altar just struck me as a little… old-fashioned. It still does.

And a man taking his wife’s name seems performatively ‘modern’ and not unproblematic, either.

Wouldn’t it be simpler and less stressful if we all kept the names we were born with?

I’m happy my children have my husband Ivo’s surname, Dawnay, but I’ve never been accused of kidnapping them at customs just because my passport remains in my ‘maiden’ name and theirs is different.

I can basically divide my friends into those who kept their birth names — Cosmopolitan would call them ‘career women’ — and those who contentedly took their husbands’ names, particularly if they were an improvement on their own. (I completely get Diary Of An MP’s Wife author Sasha nee Nott becoming the swisher Sasha Swire.)

I tried to explain to my husband that Kate Winslet’s third husband, formerly Ned Rocknroll, had changed his name again to reflect the new, improving, if not improved, times we live in.

Why must couples merge their identities? 

‘Oh, has he decided to call himself Ned Easy Listening then?’ he queried. When I said that no, he had become the more inclusive Edward Wolf Winslet Abel Smith, to match his son Bear Blaze Winslet’s name, I was met with an uneasy silence. Ivo has a fine name and a bloodline he can trace back to the Norman Conquest. He’d never have considered adding my name or subtracting his. Far from it. When the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved in the U.S. last week, he said: ‘I hope it protects the public from at least two Johnsons.’

OK, when my children were at school I went by Mrs Dawnay to help teachers. Ditto when I had babies in hospital. But for all other purposes I retain the name I inherited from my father, as my children inherited their names from my husband.

I admit it’s not a perfect way of doing things. It’s still patriarchal. But it works and is preferable to endless double-barrelling. (If someone with a double-barrelled name marries another, their children will end up with four surnames like MP Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax!)

‘Your place or mine?’ is hard enough. ‘Your name or mine?’ is a step too far for me.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk