Saturday, 1 June 2013

34 years of Independence

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.

Certainly in Australia it seems a rose by any other name is not as sweet.  A recent Australian National University study  found that you're significantly less likely to get a job interview if you have a non-European name. The researchers sent fake CVs in response to job ads, changing only the name of the applicant.  The study found that those with Chinese and Middle- Eastern last names had to submit at least 50% more applications to receive the same number of job interviews as those with Anglo last names.  Those with Indigenous last names were similarly disadvantaged (though not to the same level).  The study didn't test Polynesian names, but I'm certain the results would be similar.  Perhaps this is the reason so many migrants anglicise their names.  According to the same ANU study, specialist job seeking companies for migrants certainly advise it.   I don't judge changing your name, it's pragmatic. It is also something I could never do. I have carried my name proudly all 34 years of my life and (despite the study and the stats) I have forged what I consider to be a pretty good career with it.  I can’t just shrug it off as you would an old ‘ie lavalava.  Not even if it is for something some may think prettier or easier to pronounce.

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. 

For my fiancé, it’s a declaration of love and respect and togetherness.  But he will not change his name for me.  There-in lies the rub. For I proposed a compromise (being the charming and reasonable person that I am).  That he change his name by deed poll to include my last name and I would change mine to include his.

'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. 


Anonymous said...

Much as I love your beloved's surname, I'm in full support of keeping the name you were born with. It's like you're giving up part of your identity if you change it. My husband offered to change his name to mine for pragmatic reasons; he was tired of having to spell it out each time and having it misspelt. I didn't change mine simply because I couldn't be bothered with the all the paperwork and the thought of having to spell both my first and surname didn't appeal. You have achieved much in a male dominated world not only as a women but one with an exotic name. Convincing your man? Sounds like there's work to be done... good luck :)

Teine Samoa said...

My own anaethma to paperwork/ general laziness is definitely also a factor!!! :-)

Anonymous said...

I an unashamedly impressed by the quality of this and other blogs written by Samoan bloggers whose defining features are other than being insightful and eloquent are the fact they are written by the fairer sex. As a man in awe of of your literary prowess, I acknowlegdge the simlicity and power of these short but to the point observations which prove brevity is the soul of wit. Salutations from one who is lost in paradise.

Teine Samoa said...

Awwww shucks... Thank you Anon. I was inspired by those same bloggers. When you blog you put a little bit of yourself out there into the ether. It's always fantastic to get feedback and feel that you are connecting. Salutations from someone who is slightly jealous she isn't lost in paradise too.

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