The significance and importance of names cannot be ignored as names carry deep personal, cultural, familial, and historical connections, giving us a sense of who we are and our place in the world. Consequently, names depict relationships between bearers of the same surname.
In some cultures, marriage may or may not necessitate a change of name. Some cultures traditionally require that the woman changes her surname and adopts that of her husband when she gets married, while in other cultures, the woman retains her family name or adopts the first name of her husband. Increasingly, however, couples are moving away from tradition and doing the unusual which has resulted in an increase in the incidence of double-barrelled names.
Take the case of Dike Obienu and Motara Wilson. Motara is an accomplished Digital Media Personality and Influencer in her late thirties who has established a strong brand that includes her surname – Wilson Laughs – and always signs off as – Motara Wilson. As the sole heir to the Wilson family, she feels obliged to retain the family surname in the absence of a male sibling. Obidike on the other hand is a suave, liberal-minded marketing Manager in a multinational organisation but hails from an extremely conservative background. While discussing their prospect of marriage, Motara had communicated her intention to maintain her family name for continued brand visibility and its attendant benefits. She also reminded Obidike that her father had “no son to perpetuate his name.” While doing a census of contracts and legal agreements that would need to be reviewed if she were to effect a change of name, Motara had felt overwhelmed at the amount of paperwork required and opined “What is in a name after all? The important thing is to have a successful marriage where mutual respect and understanding are practised.” Dike had agreed but had requested that they consider how it would impact the children. After agreeing that the children would bear the Obienu name, they debated the confusion it could create in the minds of young children who would have mostly friends and peers whose parents shared a common surname with them. How would it sound to have Mum bearing the name Wilson while Dad and the kids are Obienu? He had suggested that a possible midway point was to unite their names and adopt Mr. and Mrs. Wilson-Obienu. After settling this and other issues, the wedding was contracted while they were in the UK but shortly after they returned to their home country, all hell broke loose as Motera’s in-laws could not understand the compromise. Dike’s mum kicked up a fuss as she philosophised “She certainly gives herself airs thinking she is too good for us. Who does that? What woman who intends to stay married retains her father’s name? She should assume our family name if she intends to bond with our family.” Dike however stood his ground and Mrs. Motara Wilson-Obienu has not only proved to be a devoted wife and mother but an asset to the extended family. She is well-loved by all, including mama Obienu.
It is pertinent to consider some of the reasons that are often presented for eschewing the traditional change of name in favour of combined names or retention of the family name:
- Lack of a male heir to perpetuate the family name.
- Professional visibility and attainment in the family name.
- Affiliation of the name to Traditional worship or religion.
While some of the reasons sound plausible Havilah considers it an increasingly important discussion to have prior to getting married as this seemingly trivial matter can generate complications for the couple, especially in climes where the concept of retention of the family name or merging the two surnames is little understood by the extended family and the society at large. There are a lot of sentiments attached to names and one must tread gently in order not to offend people’s sensibilities.