Actor Chris O'Dowd

What's in a Name?

31st August 2018

Asks Lisa Botwright…

When tv presenter Dawn Porter married actor Chris O’Dowd, she joined the growing number of people choosing to blend their surnames to create a new ‘portmanteau’ one. “I am lucky that I have the option to keep Porter prominent and take a tiny letter that, for me, expresses the unity with my husband that I am proud of,” explains Dawn, who now goes by the name of O’Porter.

The trend for modern couple to blend names upon marriage, or for ‘meshing’ as the Deed Poll Office calls it, is one of the most popular reasons for name change registrations, along with double barrelling, or the woman choosing to take the man’s surname.

Their reasons for doing so vary. Some women, like Dawn, may have spent years building up a professional profile; they want to acknowledge their new status, but are reluctant to radically to change their identity overnight.

Some are actively keen to challenge the anachronistic ‘patriarchal’ assumption that they’ll automatically take their husband’s name. Richard Harland and Louise Anderson opted to become the Harlandersons when they got married. Mr Harlanderson, 51, a council park development officer in Hartlepool, said: “We thought the idea of a wife taking a husband’s name was old-fashioned. Women aren’t chattels any more. “We put the surnames together and found they mixed very well. It makes a statement that we are a unit and treat each other as equal.”

With the rise of same-sex formal declarations of love, and reduced emphasis on entrenched religious or cultural expectations, the age-old institution of marriage itself is in flux and happily open to modern re-interpretation…

When Zoe Hammerstone and Holly Jenkins got a civil partnership back in 2013, it took a while for them to decide on their new name: “In the year after we got hitched, we knew we wanted the same name but neither wanted to take or have the other take our existing names,” Zoe said. “We played around with every combination possible, including anagrams!” Eventually, Hammerstone and Jenkins became Kinstone: “We like it as not only is it a part of our previous names, but we both got a new initial, so it felt fair.” Zoe explains that reactions were positive, though at first their parents were surprised – expecting them to either double-barrel or just not bother.

The practice of meshing names appears to have originated across the Atlantic, with the first recorded example being of Jean Westhafer and Paul Moore, of Grand Island, New York, who became the Westmoores back in 1975. Now there are hundreds of people in the UK who have made this choice.

Claudia Duncan, an officer at the UK Deed Poll Service, says: “Meshing has allowed couples the freedom of reinvention — a symbolic reflection of their union with a completely new start without any history being tied to their surname.”

However, Debrett’s, the etiquette guide, is rather cool about the idea, saying: “I suppose if you are fodder for the gossip columns like Jedward you can mesh your names, but we wouldn’t advise it.”

If you are open to the idea, there’s even a website that can help you come up with the perfect hybrid name –
Although I’m very glad I didn’t know about it when I got married. My maiden name and my husband’s surname create a meshed result that I don’t even want to share in print…

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