The Sunday News
Feature Robin Muchetu
GETTING married in an African context is usually celebrated and having a white wedding is icing on the cake hence the joy associated with it. Marriage confirms oneness and that unity is made more solid when names are changed with the woman assuming the man’s family name to become a “Mrs”. In the olden days the woman would cease to use her maiden name and adopt the man’s surname but now there is a growing trend where women prefer taking both surnames. For one reason or another, women prefer to use both surnames. But why the sudden craze of having double barrelled surnames when one can just use a single surname? What benefits does it come with?
Lawyer Mr Lizwe Jamela from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said generally most women who were adopting the double-barrelled surname were doing it so that they are easily identified.
“Some women have adopted the double barrelled surname because their maiden name brought a lot of fame to them before marriage such that dropping it and assuming the new name will make them somewhat invisible. They then add the marriage name to theirs so that people do not forget them,” he said.
Mr Jamela said this was common with many professionals and celebrities who were popularly known by their maiden names. Singers such as Fungisai Zvakavapano have added their marriage names (Mashavave) to their own because they were famous before marriage and people identify her more with Zvakavapano than Mashavave. Other musicians of note in Zimbabwe who got famous before marriage and are still riding high on their maiden names include Plaxedes Wenyika, Selmor Mutukudzi, Sandra Ndebele and Prudence Katomeni just to name a few.
Even some Cabinet Ministers and Parliamentarians have taken that same route and are being identified with two surnames. Mr Jamela explained that there was no law that obliges a woman to adopt the last name of her husband but it was a matter of choice.
“In Zimbabwe there is no law that says when a woman gets married they assume the surname of their husband, you are free to maintain your maiden name. If one wishes to change to the husband’s surname all they do is approach the Registrar General’s office with their marriage certificate and they get a new identity,” he said.
He said the same applies when one gets a divorce, some women may be divorced but still maintain the former husband’s name while others would go and have a change of name again back to their maiden names. Mr Jamela said it was all a matter of personal choice that pushed people to have their names appearing in a particular way on their identity cards.
Cultural expert Pathisa Nyathi had this to say: “The issue of double barrelled surnames is a movement going forward coming from the back, women if married never changed their totems before. They were instead called by their biological fathers name e.g oka Pathisa and never assumed the father’s name,” he said.
He said the issue of taking the husband’s name came with colonisation where Africans began to adopt the name of their husbands and later on taking double-barrelled surnames.
Journalist and blogger Sibusisiwe Ndlovu kaBhebhe is one writer who has looked into the issue of double-barrelled surnames. “Is there anything that changes in my commitment, character or demeanour with my change of surname? Does it make my husband more faithful or loyal to me? Does it make me more identifiable as a member of his family, and hence a better daughter-in-law? Will it make people in the streets see that I am married? Will it stop other men making crude comments or making passes at me despite the ring on my finger?
“Will it stop other women from going after my husband or him going after them? Will it make my prospects for voting, access to economic funds, legal recognition, social and cultural freedoms better? What does the title ‘Mrs so and so’ on paper hold for me or any other woman?,” she questioned in one of her articles.
Some women said they have had challenges with their double-barrelled surnames when they had to travel with their children.
“I travelled outside the country with my son and at the border I was told that the surnames on my passport were not tallying with my son’s passport and they doubted that I was the biological mother to my son and I was denied entry into that country with him,” said a city woman.
Some women said maintaining their maiden names was a sign of asserting themselves and celebrating their identity.
“All my life I have been called Mercy Ncube, I am 34 years old now and I am getting married to a Dube, I do not see any big reason why I should then change it now. I will maintain my maiden name and add his to have a hyphenated name,” said Mercy.
Experts believe that the move from traditional marriages is inspired by a rise in feminist movements.
“I suppose it’s a sign of the times. We no longer expect women to stay at home and look after the house when they get married, I don’t think we expect them automatically to take their husband’s names either,” said one feminist.
She said the maiden names gave women an original identity where people still recognised them as their true selves.
Mrs Julia Masango from Bulawayo said she changed her name from Ncube because she wanted to be able to get any paperwork and travel documents easily for her children.
“I realised that if I maintained my surname on my ID card it would pose challenges when I want to sort out paper work especially for my children. I once contemplated having a double-barrelled surname but I had the future in mind and I am happy I have a less complicated life,” she said.
Men on the other side said it was disrespectful that some women want to carry on with their maiden names.
“When a man marries he wants his wife to show him love and appreciation but taking a double-barrelled surname is a sign of not letting go, the woman will be disrespectful if she does this, I do not support this at all,” said Mr Lovemore Sibanda, a teacher.
A pastor from a local church who refused to be named had this to say, “I believe the marriage covenant was designed by God to last till death of either one or both parties involved in it and it says the two shall become one. The name then used is the husband’s name because he is the head of the family. I think one needs to understand the marriage covenant that God designed,” he said.
Social media on the other end is awash with women who bear the double-barrelled surname. Many women who have married have adopted both surnames, probably for easy identification.
However, it still remains a personal choice for a woman to use both her last name and her husband’s name or to take the husband’s name or to maintain her maiden name when married.