Strange news from France, where married women will now be addressed in official correspondence by their maiden names. The idea is to correct gender inequality. I’m sorry, but referring to a woman by her father’s surname instead of by her husband’s is not going to shake the foundations of the patriarchy, is it?
Their intentions are good, but there are more fundamental issues which they might think about. For instance, the very word wife in French is just the same as the word for woman. So a man is saying ‘my woman’ when he refers to his wife. Whereas a woman will usually talk about her ‘mari’, husband, or ‘epoux’, spouse. And, every time you go into a shop, the proprietor will weigh up your age and likely marital status and ‘Mademoiselle’ or ‘Madame’ you accordingly. It’s all pretty caveman stuff. Let’s not even talk about the Pantheon, where France buries its glorious dead. Oh, all right then – it’s stuffed to the gills with men, while there are only two women there – Marie Curie, and somebody whose husband didn’t want to leave her behind. Meanwhile, Francois Hollande throws France’s first lady out of the Elysee because he’s tired of her. Nice.
I’m jaded, I know, because I find the whole surname business a bit of a bind. I’ve had three – a maiden name I was very happy to ditch, my first married name which I did really like, and now my second married name, which no one can spell, pronounce or understand, but which, obviously, means a lot to me. I’ve got bank accounts in two different names, two email accounts, an NHS card in my first name, one of my daughters’ schools knows me by my first married name and at the other I go by the second married name. My early journalistic career was in my first name, my books are published in my second and I use my new name for work nowadays. Sometimes I feel like the least successful spy of all time.
Maybe the solution is to go a bit Spanish, and tack together the father and the mother’s surnames, and maybe stick the husband’s on the end? Or, in my case – maybe not.