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.