To celebrate Samoa's 51st year of Independence, I'm going to blog a bit about the 34 years of mine (because I'm self-involved like that).
Samoa is the country of my heart, it has shaped me
into the plus plus plus size model that I am today,
it is a central part of who I am. And so I have always been happy
not to have a name like Jane or Jennifer. Even though person
after person struggles and stumbles over the eight syllables, even as
they mispronounce and mutilate it, I have always loved my name. I have
loved it for its very foreignness- for the fact it pronounces me Polynesian in
each softly rounded vowel. That it is Samoan. Like me.
So the subject of changing my last name has been a heated topic between my beloved and I. He who carries the two-syllabled British last name of his much-loved grandpa, while I carry the Samoan first name of mine (Samoans traditionally take the first name of their father as their last name, this is how we 'tala le gafa', how we recite our genealogy).
My name is a part of me, it is who he met, it is who he fell in love with. Though I love Shakespeare, even my 13-year-old self was not impressed by Juliet's plea:
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy.Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name, which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
And it's not just because I felt that these two were less star-crossed lovers, more melodramatic, naïve teenagers. Our names grow with us. We have lived and loved and laughed with our names. Our names have defined us and we have defined them. Indeed since I was 13, I have only grown more attached to it.
Over the course of that career I have often been confused as the Katies, Elizabeths and Amys of my acquaintance would shed their last names (so routinely used by us, their colleagues, to identify them) to take on their husband's. Each conversation became long-winded. 'Amy Randwick is the contact point on that, you should call her.' 'Amy Randwick?' 'Yes, Amy, you know, she's in criminal justice, she's got straight brown hair.' 'Amy Gibbs?' 'No, that's a different Amy, Amy Gibbs is Amy Marion now'. 'Amy Randwick' she used to be in MA, I can't remember her maiden name, maybe Thomas or Smith' 'Oh Amy Smith, ok, yep I know her'.
My mum tells me she chose to take her husband's name, for what was her last name, except her father's name and his father's before him. She felt that, since the whole system was patriarchal, she may as well take her husband's last name, a name she would share with her children.
'Guys don't change their names. It's just how it is.'
And beneath that is the sub-text, that people will think he is whipped, less of a man, that this will somehow signal some type of submission. While not considering what giving up my last name would symbolise to me. For me it would be an admission that my name is not mine, that it merely is some sort of marker of who I belong to (because being a woman I couldn't possibly just belong to myself). It would symbolise entering into a sexist institution that requires sacrifice... which would be fine, if it were not only from me. That is not the marriage I want or can believe in. I love and respect my partner and myself enough to want to be in the only type of marriage that could sustain our relationship. A marriage of equals.
As Samoa celebrates its 51st year of Independence, I also celebrate mine. It 1997 Samoa changed its name to the name of her birth. Refusing to be determined in relation to arbitrary lines of colonisation. We have come so far, my country and I.