‘Mrs’ is a title which is generally used for married women who do not have another professional or academic title. It has its origination in the word ‘Mistress’ (the female equivalent of Mister or Master) and was originally applied to both married and unmarried women.
Overtime, the word ‘Mistress’ evolved into a word with multiple meanings and was defined by Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary of 1755 as: “1. A woman who governs; correlative to subject or servant; 2 A woman skilled in anything; 3. A woman teacher; 4. A woman beloved and courted; 5. A term of contemptuous address; 6. A whore or concubine.” Eventually, it became necessary that linguists drew a distinction between married and unmarried women giving rise to the titles ‘Mrs’ and ‘Miss’ respectively and the subsequent introduction of “Ms” in the early 20th century which became the default address for women regardless of their marital status.
Women in many parts of the world use the “Mrs” title in conjunction with their husbands’ surname as their official names and for some it is an element of honour and distinction and would consider it impudent of anyone who addressed them otherwise. This I find rather puny and an unwarranted adoption or perhaps imposition of a western practice that is hardly comprehensible. It emasculates a woman’s so called femininity and infantilises her individuality, innate and unalienable capacity to be great all by her-self.
Identity. I do not think your identity as a woman should be subsumed in the identity of any other human being. As an individual, the creator intended for you to be distinct, unique and pursue your own version of achievement and significance. The notion of oneness as provided for in the scriptures implies something much deeper than a mere appropriation of names. It more accurately refers to a union of hearts, and minds in the purposeful pursuit of your collective and individual endeavours. Margaret Thatcher (born Margaret Hilda Roberts), was the longest serving British Prime Minister and the first woman to ever hold that office. She became Mrs Thatcher after her marriage to Denis Thatcher in 1951 and went on to occupy the highest political office in Britain. Mrs Thatcher’s biographer is quoted as saying that Mr. Denis Thatcher became a celebrity “exclusively because of whom he had married”, a celebratory status he fortuitously yanked off the Roberts family where Margaret came from.
Divorce. Strained friendships and broken relationships of all kinds are most unpalatable and painful. Divorce is also perhaps one of the most egregious disruptions to human relationships and families. According to data from the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, over one (1) in four (4) marriages registered in 2021 got dissolved. Again according to studies by various scholars, nearly 40% of all marriages in Ghana end in divorce. While I pray that your marriage lasts till eternity, the sad and sometimes ignominious possibility of a divorce is a potent reality. And in the unfortunate event of that happening, a woman either retains the name of a man she is divorced from or assumes the monumental responsibility of updating and apprising everyone to now address her as “thus and so”. In her memoir “Unbowed”, Wangari Maathai (born Wangari Muta) narrates the story of how her husband Mwangi Mathai filed for divorce in 1979, citing her attributes as “being too strong-minded for a woman” and his inability to “control her”. After their rancorous and messy divorce, Mr. Mathai sent a letter through his lawyers demanding that Wangari dropped his surname from her name. The global renown she had now achieved with that name made her unable to change it but instead added an extra “a” in the surname making it “Maathai”. She would go on to fight for many causes including democracy, environmental conservation and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, all of this honour coming to her as Wangari Maathai (a modified name of her ex-husband she had adopted at marriage) with zero acknowledgement to her Muta family.
Lineage. Your name typifies your genealogy and ostensibly preserves its tenets and assumed or given attributes. Your name also keeps alive the memory and cultural symbolism of your forebears and its abandonment only extinguishes what your genealogy represents. Indeed, it would not be out of place for a woman to negotiate to have at least one (1) of your children to bear a compound surname of your name and your husband’s family names. That perhaps even signifies your bond in more profound ways than the mere adoption of a ‘Mrs’ title by the woman in a marital context.
Any woman who assumes the name of her husband almost automatically cocoons her life within the ambit of a man whose heart and will as a human-being could either be in the hands of God or the devil himself. Hopefully your husband’s actions are divinely guided and inspired, but in the ill-fated event that the devil’s philosophy and wishes holds sway in your husband’s wilful conduct, then, perhaps like Wangari, you might need extraordinary revelation knowledge and strong will to redeem yourself from an inglorious association. Just imagine if we had a certain “Oprah Graham” instead of “Oprah Winfrey” or on the other hand imagine that we actually had a certain “Gloria Lamptey” who was previously known as “Gloria Appiah”.
To be safe keep your name. That way, every greatness or infamy you achieve shall be appropriately traced to the person that named you and then if your husband is lucky or unlucky as the case may be, a little of it would rub off him, FOREVER!
By Muniru Husseini
The writer is a Marketing Strategist and lecturer
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