All Woman

Why women keep their husbands' names after divorce

By DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE All Woman writer

Monday, February 28, 2011    

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MANY women who have been divorced for years continue to hold on to the name from the marriage. Some have even gone as far as to wear their wedding rings, giving the impression that they are still legally married.

This sometimes happens even after the man has moved on with his life and maybe started a new family.

A popular case is that of Mitsy Seaga, ex-wife of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga who he divorced in 1996. Today, she still goes by his surname despite his remarriage.

Another example is Beverly Anderson-Manley who also retained her name after her divorce from Michael Manley, her husband of 21 years.

Psychologist Dr Leachim Semaj said women will opt to keep their ex-husband's name for various reasons, for example if they have developed their identity during the marriage; if they continue reaping benefits from the name; and when children are involved.

"Sometimes the identity they (women) consolidated with as adults is in that name," Dr Semaj said. "Because her personal identity has been consolidated in that name, to go back (to her maiden name) is almost like she is a different person. It is not even about the man anymore, it's really the name she has come to know as hers."

The other reason, he said, is for the status value.

"The predominant issue is that the man she was married to is a significant person in society," he explained. "And everyone has now come to know her as the wife of so and so. And so to go back is giving up on that identity."

Dr Semaj said while those two reasons overlap, there are two different categories as women who keep the name for status reasons are the ones who were married to prominent men and they may not have been recognised before the marriage.

"Prior to that (marriage) persons may not have known them," Dr Semaj said. "Many women come to their identity during the course of their marriages."

Where children are involved, it is easier to continue identifying with the name that they too share, he said.

"You find that it complicates the children's life to give up that name," Dr Semaj said. "She will now have to explain to them why she has gone back to her previous name while they still bear the name; and having to explain that she was once married to their father. And so it is easier to continue using that name."

Dr Semaj said there is no legal convention that says a woman has to let go of her married name, but women choose to do so if the marriage was especially hurtful.

"There are some (women) who have been so hurt that they want nothing to do with the name," he said. "But there is too much [hassle] involved to change back the name. If you are upset you will change it, but it is easier to just continue using it."

Yvonne McCalla-Sobers, author and human rights activist who still uses her ex-husband's name after 22 years of divorce, agreed with Dr Semaj.

"I have been using that name for close to 30 years, so it was my name! It stopped being just his name," she said.

McCalla-Sobers laughingly explained that it was a matter of 'lease to buy' when she got into the marriage and so she has opted to 'buy' the name.

"It's not that I haven't thought of it (changing it back)," she explained. "But one of the main reasons was identity with my children. Plus I don't really hate the man. It's just that I couldn't live with him — well we just couldn't live with each other!"

She said another reason was the fact that she was just not motivated to go through all the hassle involved in changing back all her documents to her former name.

"I did make sure I called myself McCalla-Sobers, so I still had my identity. But the truth is that both names belong to a man — one belongs to my father and one to my husband — so I would have to make a brand new name for myself," she said matter-of-factly.

Several other women interviewed named the hassle of having to change back their documents as their main reason for keeping the man's name after years of divorce. They felt they would only make the change if they choose to marry someone else.

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