Nothing divides opinion quite like, “Will you change your name when you get married?” For women in their twenties and thirties, it’s one of those questions. Just like, “Will you go back to work after the baby?” or “Did you make a speech at your wedding?” The answer is enough to either grant you access to the feminist club or grant you an apologetic smile laced with silent judgement.
I never thought this would be a tough question for me to answer. My name until recently, Jo Kerr, was memorable. It sounded good. It made people chuckle. I’d made it mine for life.
I have often been asked, “What were your parents thinking?” Shortsighted as it might be, they never expected my name to be shortened from Joanna. My Mum hoped I would use my middle name, her maiden name — the very Scottish and unusual — Stroyan. Sadly for them, I’m only Joanna Stroyan Kerr on my birth certificate.
My name was my personal brand
When I began my career in digital for charities I wanted to make a name for myself. I spoke at conferences, wrote blog posts and was nominated for awards. I made contacts and built up my network. I was motivated by the belief that this was good publicity for the charities I worked for, but it was also good for me. Last year I was named The Drum’s #1 Woman in Digital Under 30.
I’m conscious that I’ll sound like a bit of an arse saying this, but I suppose I was investing in my personal brand. And I know I’m not the only one thinks this way. I wanted Jo Kerr to have positive brand association — hard working, strategic, makes a difference. She’s the kind of person you give a job to. She’s fun to work with. She doesn’t take herself too seriously.
Meeting the man who changed my name
At the same time as ‘Jo Kerr the brand’ was starting to acquire value (yes, I admit I’ve gone too far), I met a really amazing guy. Paul Browne was everything I wanted in a partner: The Princess Bride is his favourite film; he’s the devoted owner of a cat called Mabel; he has lovely kind eyes. Early on I knew it was true love and three years after we met, we were planning our wedding.
The feminist argument
You’ll remember I had never planned to change my name. I’m a feminist and I didn’t understand the logic of giving up my identity for someone else. Sure, go back a generation and my Mum gave up her name so that I could have mine, but at least I was exercising my own choice.
Paul was fine with that. He toyed with taking my name, but wasn’t convinced he could pronounce it properly after hearing it in my Scottish accent for years. Then we talked about having kids. Would they have my name, or Paul’s? It seemed a shame that our future family wouldn’t share one name. We considered combining them — Kerr-Browne, Browne-Kerr, Berr, Krowne. They all sounded rubbish.
Choosing our own surname
One day, Paul came home with a book of surnames. It was like a baby-naming book, but I’m not sure anyone had put it to use in the same way we did. Half-serious, we decided to choose our own name. We’d consider anything from Armstrong to Zepher. I almost convinced Paul that we really wanted to be Paul and Jo Indigo. Almost.
We agreed that we wanted a name with substance. Stuck on S, I liked Starr, Striker, and Stirling after where we got married. Towards the end of the book, I rediscovered my love of Virginia Woolf and Tom Wolfe. Paul liked a name that linked with his love of animals. We read that wolves are having a zeitgeist moment. We liked the idea of forming a new pack.
So on 19 September 2015, we became Jo and Paul Wolfe.
Who is Jo Wolfe?
Since then, I’ve updated LinkedIn and my work email, changed my Twitter handle and my Facebook profile. The hard things like bank account and passport can come later. And in the meantime I can figure out who Jo Wolfe is and what she stands for.
The question of whether or not you will change your name is divisive. For women who have their husband’s name, or are more traditional, I’m rather strange or being different just to be difficult. For those who kept their own name, I might be letting the sisterhood down or criticising their choice implicitly. For very career-focussed women, I’m damaging my reputation. And don’t get me started on family tree buffs — I’m really ruining their day.
For some others, Paul and I have hit on an unusual idea. We should be congratulated for our originality. It’s normally for them that I bother to I add in that I’m keeping Ms rather than changing to Mrs. Otherwise, it might be too much information.
From now on, I’ll no longer judge someone’s decision for changing their name or keeping their name. Anything goes as far as I’m concerned. Although, if you become The Indigos, I will be rather jealous.
Join our tribe
We promise to pop a whole host of good stuff into your inbox every Wednesday to brighten up your week. Can't say fairer than that now can we?