I have an unusual maiden name – ‘Mumby’ – and it’s rare that I stumble across it anywhere else but I found it on a tiny war memorial in the small church at Croft Castle, near Leominster. I was so surprised that I had to take a picture of it (it’s in the bottom right-hand corner).
This got me thinking about creating female characters by looking at what they choose to do with their surname when they get married and what motivates them to behave in this way. I think we women fall into one of several camps when we walk down the aisle:
- The majority of us go with convention and take our husband’s name – so maybe we don’t want to rock the boat or stand out from the crowd
- Keeping our maiden name – this is the course usually followed by the famous but I know ‘ordinary’ women who have done this and get quite cross when they get lumped together with their husband as Mr & Mrs ‘Husband’s surname’. Could this be the basis for a fictional character desperate to carve her own way in the world or afraid of living in her husband’s shadow?
- Going double-barrelled – some couples choose to join their surnames together when they tie the knot. Could this a social-climbing couple? Double-barrelled names always sound quite posh to me.
- And there’s the choice of Mrs or Ms, if you don’t want the whole world to know you’re married. Why does a character who’s married want to keep it hidden?
Plus don’t forget until quite recently married women were often addressed by their husband’s Christian name as well as his surname, for example Mrs John Smith. An elderly lady in a story might unintentionally annoy her daughter-in-law by sending birthday cards addressed in this way.
Then what happens when we get divorced? Many of us (understandably) decide to revert back to our maiden names but those with young children might choose to keep their married name to avoid confusion. Or what about the high-flyer who’s made a name for herself in her married name – does she drop it or resentfully keep it?
So next time you’re dreaming up a female character think about her marital status and the surname and title she’s chosen to use – it might make you think about her in a whole new way.
#1 by Angela Greenwood on June 4, 2012 - 2:27 pm
What an interesting idea. I’m on my fourth surname (maiden name and three married ones) Perhaps a character like this could be trying to hide her real identity by starting a new life every time she changed her surname.
#2 by Sally Jenkins on June 4, 2012 - 3:59 pm
This could be a really intriguing character, Angela. She could be a bigamist, a gold-digger or just a bad judge of men ( By the way, I’m not suggesting you are any of these, Angela!)
#3 by Laith on June 4, 2012 - 4:02 pm
Wow, I hadn’t even thought about some of these points! Great post here.
Something I will have to keep in mind as I work on my own stories.
#4 by Sally Jenkins on June 4, 2012 - 4:09 pm
Glad you found it useful, Laith.
#5 by susanjanejones on June 4, 2012 - 4:16 pm
Hi Sally, I knew a woman who married a man with the same surname as hers just so that she could keep the same name. Also another lady who insists on keeping the family name as she’s one of two girls, and the name would get lost otherwise. Something to think about with our characters.
#6 by Sally Jenkins on June 4, 2012 - 4:32 pm
Two good storylines here, Susan. Imagine limiting your choice of husband to someone with the same surname!
#7 by Laith on June 4, 2012 - 4:33 pm
This is a good point, I’m the oldest son and I only have daughters 🙂 But my brother has a son (adopted) and my other brother is only 21.
It is still another interesting option as to character motivations on keeping/changing name.
#8 by Patsy Collins on June 4, 2012 - 5:00 pm
Wonder what you make of me. I’m about to get married and will use both my maiden name and fiance’s surname – although not at the same time.
#9 by Sally Jenkins on June 4, 2012 - 5:37 pm
Sounds confusing, Patsy but I’m sure there’s a sensible reason behind it! Maybe a fictional character doing this would pop up in some sort of comedy stage play?
#10 by Keith Havers on June 5, 2012 - 8:45 am
You’ve made some good points here, Sally. In fact there’s probably enough material in your post and in the comments for a short story.
#11 by Sally Jenkins on June 5, 2012 - 9:54 am
Yes, Keith – no excuse then for not spending the bank holiday concocting something really good!
#12 by Sue on June 5, 2012 - 11:20 am
Lovely idea, Sally. Gets me thinking …
#13 by Anne Harvey on June 5, 2012 - 6:34 pm
Some excellent suggestions here, Sally. But then I wouldn’t expect anything else from such a prolific blogger! (sighs with envy)
#14 by Sally Jenkins on June 6, 2012 - 12:16 pm
Thanks for the kind words, Anne!