On my surname

I’ve been married for nearly five months. I still use the surname on my birth certificate rather than my husband’s surname. I haven’t talked to anyone about why, and no one has asked either, so this isn’t That Entry.

This is, however, Another Entry, which is about why people who call my house think that my name is Mrs B. This isn’t even so much about being actually married. It’s been going on for years. If I answer the phone, and it’s a telemarketer, or back when Andrew was looking for work, a recruiter, they will automatically assume that any woman who answers the phone where he lives must be both married to him and using his surname.

And this is positively weird to me. It’s true that married couples using different surnames are getting less common as time goes on after peaking about 10 to 15 years ago. However, living arrangements other than husband and wife are getting more common. De factos are common, and they almost inevitably have different surnames. We could also be platonic housemates. In any of those cases I could have any name in the world. When they want something from me, a donation or a sale, addressing me by the wrong name is a mistake. I know that English doesn’t really have a polite telephone script when you don’t have someone’s name, but that’s really too bad: it isn’t somehow better to have just guessed that I might have picked up a name from the man who lives in the house. Surnames are only communicable in a limited number of circumstances.

It’s doubly weird from telemarketers. We happen to be listed in the phone book under his first initial and surname alone thanks to old share house division of labour when it came to accounts (likewise, the electricity has been in my name since 2002, three houses ago). So the person calling has no prior knowledge that there’s even a Mr B at all. I could be the person listed in the phonebook. And yet inevitably it’s Mrs B for me. I have a surname don’t I? Stands to reason it’s because I’m married to someone.

I’ve only had the pleasure of the reverse a few times yet: where people assume from the different last names that we’re not married. Of course most people don’t give a rats nowadays, so whatever assumptions they make don’t really make it out of their heads. The only exception is the travel agent who recently booked our flights to Thailand put me down as Miss G (my understanding is that married women really don’t use the title ‘Miss’ even if we keep our surnames), that’s about it. It wouldn’t rate a mention as a bit peculiar except that we both sat in front of her wearing gold rings on our left ring fingers for half an hour.