At the bank the other day, I overheard a lady complain bitterly at the customer service desk about being sent around in circles and not being able to access her money because of issues regarding her account which was in her maiden name, and her ID which had her married name. Apparently, the bank where she registered her BVN had not updated her records to her married name (even though she had done the necessary months ago). Now our mutual banks customer service was informing her they couldn’t do anything about it. Sound familiar? If you’re a married woman, probably. I sat there and looked at the men who stared blankly and listened while waiting their turn; rousing only to look at the time and complain about the lady railing at the front. I was triggered because even though these men observed the clear difficulties faced by making women change their names, they did and would still expect women to do so. Why? Because it’s not their problem. The headaches and some of the financial costs (itemized in a link below) are not theirs to deal with. Besides, how else do they show that they own the women who married them (and committed to them publicly and in front of their whole family)? How else will anyone possibly know that she is really his?
Barely a month into my marriage, my oldest cousin called me on my own phone, to speak to me. It rang while I was in the kitchen and for some reason my husband at the time (‘husband’ henceforth) picked it up. She proceeded to ask to speak to me, calling me by my childhood name which included my first name and my maiden name. Apparently, it was not okay for her to call me, on my phone, and ask for…me, without using my married name. Husband got offended, told her there was no such person bearing that last name there, and proceeded to re-ask her twice more, who she wanted to speak to, expecting her to of course take the hint that she was talking to my owner (duh right?) and adjust the name accordingly. My cousin later told me that her mind didn’t even go there. She was just thinking…”who the hell is handling my cousin’s phone? Please give her the phone joh!” but used nicer words. She repeated the same name as before, but of course was also getting mildly irritated. Now angry, my husband put the phone on speaker, repeated his question once more, and forbade me to touch the phone if she didn’t ‘correct’ the name. Because up till then, I couldn’t hear her end of the line, until he did this, I thought the back and forth was all in jest. My cousin hung up. I stood there in shock and confusion. What just happened? It was as though the person I was all my life (and still AM), had died and I didn’t even know. And now she was not to be spoken of.
Sigh. The signs of sociopathy are always there. It’s just that women are taught (covertly and overtly) to think it’s our obligatory duty to overlook it for the sake of marriage – whether its marriage anticipated, or already shackled. We learn it when we see our grandmothers, mothers and aunties before us overlook it. Many are further ensnared by the biblical instruction to ‘submit’. At the time, it wasn’t like I was not planning to change my name. My husband and my MIL kept asking me when I was going to change it. I told them they could call me whatever they wanted, but I would change my name in my own time. Biko I had just gotten married. There was so much adjustment in this new phase, and I had the rest of my life right? What was the rush? I’m also a very meticulous person and wanted to make sure I had considered everything I needed to in order to reconcile my whole lifetime before marriage, with my life after the wedding. Plus, I knew Nigerian bureaucracy was arduous and if I rushed and did things incorrectly, I would be stranded and it would cost me in mind bending ways. Meanwhile, the husband would be blissfully unaware and unaffected, so decided I would not let him dictate my pace. If I knew then what I know now, I would have flat out said ‘NO!’
I remember my husband even brought me my laptop and instructed me to change my name on Facebook and Skype. As a dutiful wife, I obliged. Give and take, right? It’s just Facebook. Shey this would make him happy? He even stood there and made sure I did it!! Seconds after I changed it on Facebook he then told me to sign into LinkedIn and change it there too. That’s when I snapped. “What the hell? You want me to reattach my professional persona/achievements to your name and risk hurting my professional growth because future employers can’t find me?? Now you’re going too far”. He pulled back then. But not before suggesting I also change my signature because it had my maiden name in it. My signature? So that I will have to relearn a new one, and risk being locked out of my accounts because of your ego? Tufiakwa! But the surprise and confusion of his attitude were so surreal that at this point I started wondering if I was going mad. His brazen demands got me wondering if maybe I was actually supposed to do these things? But it felt so wrong…What was so shameful, and taboo about who I was before marriage bikonu?
At that point though, whenever people called me by my married name, my husband would remind them and me that I hadn’t actually changed it officially; prompting the persons to spew all sorts of interrogations and unwelcome marital advice to not sabotage my marriage by being ‘proud’. I was feeling a lot of pressure! That plus the programming of a so-called, all-round ‘virtuous woman’ that I had grown up with, I felt like I was doing something wrong since I wasn’t submitting to my husband in this way. So in response to all this pressure and apparent ‘failings’ on my part, I decided to make it up to him. I sped up my name change timeline even though I hadn’t finished mapping out the list of things I needed to make sure were updated to avoid issues. It wasn’t like I didn’t have eventual plans to change the name right? (See how pressure and programming make us compromise our own judgement?) After doing the name change, I then focused on updating the priority documents I could immediately discern, and that were within reach: passport, license, local bank accounts, BVN, employment ID etc. However, they were inadequate at protecting me from the all too familiar catch-22 like the lady in the first paragraph (and billions of women all over the world). There is simply always one unforeseen hiccup that complicates access to your rights because of this forced identity reassignment.
The constancy of having to go the extra mile to prove who you are, just to get your basic privileges (and for the rest of your life) is so unfair. However, that was somehow expected. What was most unexpected, was that when I told my husband about the change, and showed him my updated passport, there was a real lack of excitement or gratitude. I was stunned and felt: ‘I did this hellish thing for you because you strong-armed me into it, and you respond like it was your birthright? Thunder fire you!!’. He of course retorted with gaslighting, claiming he ‘never pressured me’ and ‘I did it on my own volition’. (Wawu!). Also that he ‘gave me his name and I should be happy’. If this name was such a gift, the man did not even have the decency to pay me back the costs I had incurred. Gift kọọ! BTW, this was also a constant pattern from him: unrealistic back-bending expectations of me, no acknowledgment when done, no reciprocity whatsoever, and revisionist history denying any responsibility. However, the tiniest deed by him was supposed to be matched with an overabundance of gratitude and praise from me, otherwise I was an ungrateful wench. But I had slowly shifted from pure confusion about his abusive double standards, and fallen into the ‘sunken place’, where I started doubting my own mind and logic. Abuse survivors know what I am talking about.
It all came to a head when my husband asked permission to conduct some arbitrage but ended up committing fraud with my Bank of America account. I had been saving in the account (without support from him) to fund a medical procedure in the US. However, when he completed this fraudulent transaction, the bank closed the account, highlighted the transaction, and withheld a significant amount of my savings as the crooked amount. They then put the balance in a check written to me in my maiden name (as that was the name on the account just before it was closed). This meant that I could only cash the check with a valid ID in my maiden name, which I no longer had! I was furious. Against my better judgement, I had cost myself any IDs in my maiden name because of pressure from him. He had also caused the closure of a bank account I had owned without issue for over 10 years, because he was trying to make a measly NGN30,000 (literally!) in arbitrage. Meanwhile, miles away, he was sleeping soundly, unbothered (stating he didn’t even ask me to change my name), while leaving me financially stranded and out of thousands of dollars at the peak of a medical emergency! Furthermore, I could not open another account because my proof of address was in my maiden name, but my identifying documents were in my married name. However, to update my proof of address with my married name, I would need at least a bank account in my married name. But! I needed the proof of address to open the bank account in the first place. See the clusterf*** he created?! So that was the end of my US banking. To say I was livid would be an understatement. He never apologized or paid me back. But of course he got upset that I was demanding even a modicum of apology. (The madness!!) Meanwhile, I was running from pillar to post for the problems he created when I should have been on bed rest.
If you’re going to make the mistake of getting married, and to a man, do not change your name. I repeat, do not change your name. You may ask: what happens to my children’s surnames? Well, they can be hyphenated. After all, the children belong to both of you. And if it has to be just one name, the choice of your name versus his name should be equal as well. Future questions from your children about the different surnames should be welcomed with open arms. It will be a chance for you to teach them about self autonomy, and give them a necessary headstart on thinking critically about the atrocious ‘norms’ we accept for the sake of conformity with a standard that isn’t even ours to begin with. Remember that the custom of naming children after the father is an extremely anglo-saxon, christian import. Some Nigerian (Ibo), Ghanaian (Ashanti), Indian, Kenyan, Ugandan and Portuguese naming conventions were/are not always patrilineal. To those that say “a woman’s maiden name is given by her father so it is already a man’s name anyway. Why not just continue?” Remind them that new (old) traditions start somewhere. Meanwhile the pseudo-mandatory name changing after marriage we have now embraced is a scam. If the person that saw and liked you as you, turned around and insisted you change your identity, it should give you real cause for pause.
You are a whole person before you get married, with a whole identity and history that is linked to that very name. You should not disappear just because you are married, so don’t! It will cost you in uncountable ways for the rest of your life if you do. I have attempted to conduct a rough estimate of these costs here. However, understand that this is an UNDERESTIMATE because the identity loss, grief, stress and opportunity costs cause unseen losses that absolutely cannot be quantified. And the men do NOT care about you or the inconvenience to you. They only care that it will hurt their ego and apparently tarnish their image if you don’t allow them to cattle-brand you with their name. Finally and most importantly, the gargantuan effort expended on this name change process (and all the ricochet issues downstream) is better spent dismantling patriarchy – the very structures that keep women in this constant state of meaningless and ‘other-serving’ motions, while ensuring her erasure to the point of validity only as an appendage to a man (and his name). Maybe now you can start to see the real reason why there is so much effort to keep girls and women busy with the trappings of marriage and all the dizzying mind-f***ery that comes with it.