Sunday Magazine – What’s in a Name?

I once had a friend called Barb.

Nothing unusual about that – except her last name was Dwyer.

Say it out loud: barbed wire.

She couldn’t wait to get married so she could take her husband’s surname.

I get that. It’s not easy being compared with a piece of sharp and twisted metal.

But here’s the thing: For the life of me, I can’t understand why any other woman would choose to change her last name.

For better or for worse, I was born a Spicer and I’ll die a Spicer.

Sure, I’m a tired of being compared with the little-known 6th Spice Girl, Old Spice.

Or being called Spice Rack, when my bosom is not as firm as it used to be.

But it’s part of who I am.

While statistics are sketchy, Swinburne University of Technology senior lecturer in sociology Deborah Dempsey believes between 80 and 95 percent of Australian women assume their husband’s name.

Like the talented Channel 9 news presenter, Alicia Gorey.

All of a sudden, there was a journalist on the tele who looked and sounded exactly like her, but whose last name was Loxley.

I felt discombobulated.

Then last week another clever colleague, in her mid-20s, brought in her wedding photos.

I couldn’t help myself.

“Why didn’t you keep your own name?” I blurted out.

“Oh, I didn’t even think about it. It’s just what you do, right?”

This, from a feisty young woman who calls herself a feminist.

The reason often given is, “It’s just easier”.

But it’s not.

Applying for a passport, bank account or driver’s licence is actually easier if you’ve always had the same surname.

Interestingly, a Florida man who tried to turn tradition on its head by taking his wife’s name has been charged with fraud, because he forgot to pay the $400 fee to change the documentation.

When he explained he’d done this “as an act of love” he was told by a bureaucrat, “That only works for women”.

It makes me want to whack on a girdle and fix hubby a scotch after a hard day in the office.

So much for Mad Men – are we mad women?

Some of my friends put it down to pragmatism: a common surname is better for kids.

Hubby promised his dying grandfather he’d carry on the Thompson name.

Occasionally the kids come out with, “Mum, I don’t think you’re really part of our family because you’re a Spicer and we’re Thompsons”.

To which I say, “Excellent. Now I’m a single girl with no kids, I’m going out for a facial and a long lunch. Might even snag a date with a tall and handsome guy. Woo-hoo!”

The latest trend is for women to use their surname as the baby’s middle name.

It’s viewed as a vanguard of feminism, but the man still retains last-naming rights.

Interestingly, Latin Americans use a double surname with the ‘patronymic’ followed by the ‘matronymic’.

Mexico’s President, Enrique Pena Nieto, bears his mother’s last name.

This is also common in matrilineal communities in India, Indonesia and Iceland.

I often wonder what it will be like 100 years from now (and not only because of the advent of robot maids like in The Jetsons).

In the US, couples are merging their surnames: if Jane Smithfield marries John Winterford they become the Winterfields or the Smithfords.

Which is all very well and good, unless Sally Pocock marries James Ravenshead. Oops.

Another trend is the legalisation of same-sex marriage, in which both parties maintain the status quo.

I tend to live by the philosophy, “To each their own”.

If a woman wants to change her name, for whatever reason, that’s her choice.

But, personally, it would make me feel like a chattel: an item of tangible movable or immovable property.

Like a piece of barbed wire – and no one wants to be called that.

Tracey Spicer is a Sky News anchor, 2UE broadcaster, and media and presentation trainer with


Twitter & Instagram: @spicertracey