A friend of mine recently changed her surname to her husband’s. I found out on social media and was surprised to be reminded that this practice, which traditionally indicated that a woman now belonged to her husband, is still so common today. According to a New York Times survey, only 22 percent of women married in recent years have kept their names.
It reminds me of when brands merge, and the new organisation takes the name of the partner with the most financial power or the strongest reputation. It is a clear signal of who owns whom.
Changing your name is a major rebrand, signifying a major change of status: in the case of my friend, a change from single to married. But I wonder, is getting married really such a significant change? Does it change either partner’s personality or their world view? And if that’s the case, what about the husbands? Didn’t their lives change enough to justify a name change?
Personally, I believe there are other experiences that change you much more fundamentally, like graduating, moving out of your parents’ home, becoming a parent or climbing Kilimanjaro. Why is marriage seen as a reason for a rebrand and these occasions are not?
Sociologists argue patriarchal marital tradition and societal expectations are to blame. It is the idea of ownership, the idea of hierarchy – one being more important than the other – that I find most problematic. Hierarchy and power should not define a relationship. And this is true for both personal and business relationships.
Hierarchy and power should not define a relationship
One of my first projects at Redhouse was to create a brand as a result of a strategic merger. NHG and Clinicare joined forces to create one of the leading care home suppliers in the UK. They decided that naming the new organisation after one of the partners would send the wrong message to both customers and staff. Neither partner was taking over the other; they were forming a brand new organisation together, greater than the sum of its parts. They decided on a brand new name, Blueleaf, and a radically different brand identity.
In business and in personal relationships, keeping your name, adopting your partner’s and creating a new one together are all valid options. But which option you choose should be a conscious decision, not based on assumptions about which partner is the most important. Before making the decision, you should reflect on the situation and understand what each option would mean for you and the people around you, whether that’s your family and friends, or your employees and customers.
At the end of the day, a Teapigs cup of tea wouldn’t taste the same if it was called Tetley, and neither would an Innocent smoothie if it was called Coca-Cola.