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Why Amal Clooney is making a mistake by assuming her actor husband’s surname

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Just think of how absurd it would be if Clooney called himself George Alamuddin

George-Amal

The barrister formerly known as Amal Alamuddin has renounced her feminist credentials by assuming her actor husband’s surname, both personally and professionally.

The change in nomenclature first hinted at in the ‘Mrs Clooney’ place setting at her wedding dinner (but that could have been read as tongue-in-cheek ala Beyonce calling herself Mrs Carter when she has in fact insisted that JZ share her last name) was subtly announced by her Doughty Street Chambers profile, which yesterday listed her as Amal Clooney.

Amal-clooney-picAside from the silliness of her new name and the fact that she will only be drawing more attention to her celebrity status by appearing in court as Mrs Clooney, she is doing the world a disservice by demonstrating that even very powerful and successful women are still less important than the men they marry — even when, as in the case of Amal, this is obviously not true. If you dispute this, just think of how absurd it would be if Clooney called himself George Alamuddin or if Barack Robinson and David Sheffield were our heads of state.

Those of us who bristle at the thought of subsuming our identity to the person we marry are often told that we are out-of-date, bra-burning harpies and that we should to shut up about our First World Problems and save our energy for campaigning against FGM in east Africa. “What’s in a name?” they say, especially one generally given to you by your father.

Just because there is more work to be done in the global fight for gender equality does not mean that a woman should voluntarily give up the name that has helped her forge her own sense of self for roughly a third of her lifetime. I am still surprised by the number of women on Facebook who are happy to make themselves unrecognisable to their old friends by changing their names. Given the high divorce rate (47% in the UK and 53% in the US) it is actually quite foolish to do so — unless like Cheryl Tweedy, I mean Cole, I mean Fernandez-Versini, you enjoy taking the piss.

Love is another great un-equaliser, apparently. “When I fell in love I longed, in almost a primal way, to share a name with my husband and our future children” is a refrain that is often repeated in articles on the subject. The implication of this is that taking your husband’s name is part of the natural order of things, and that women are almost biologically programmed to submit to the will of men.

It is important to remember that there is nothing natural about taking a man’s name. The practice originated in England in the sixteenth century and was directly linked to a law that ceded all of women’s possessions to their husbands on marriage. In Scotland and many countries in Europe, where this law did not exist and women had the right to property, they kept their names. But thanks to colonialism and English influence, it gained ground and become commonplace in the US and Europe by the beginning of the twentieth century.

Marriage is a contract that was originally based on ownership and property. Even though the laws around marriage and divorce (particularly the Divorce Reform Act of 1969 in the UK) have evolved to reflect the times, many of the symbols of marriage are still tainted by association and ought to be approached gingerly and reflectively.

When legions of educated women like Amal embrace the full trappings of a white wedding, including a “virginal” dress, being given away by their father and the ritual name shedding, I cannot help but think that we have entered a regressive phase of gender relations. Even though some think that the feminists of the 1970s were perhaps a bit extreme in their desire to dismantle the patriarchal institution of marriage entirely, we should not slip back into more conformist and stifling times without at least questioning our actions and thinking about the effect they have on young women entering a sexist and unequal society.

This article is written in a personal capacity and does not reflect the views of Your Barrister Boyfriend, of which Natalia is co-founder.


38 Comments

Amal Clooney

Your name sounds like a 2 dimensional Marvel side character.

(2)(1)

Nigel Henry

Still smarting at being passed over by Ms Alamuddin, especially when we haven’t even met. I too have a Nespresso machine, what possibly could George Clooney have that I don’t??

(1)(1)

Solicitor

A George Foreman grill?

(1)(0)

Nigel Henry

Damn. OK, I’m over it.

(1)(0)

Sammy

I’ve been frequently reminded by several feminists over the past few months that it is a woman’s right to choose what she wants in her life, whether it’s to go through with her pregnancy, take nude photos of themselves and upload them to a cloud server, or criticise a breakthrough date-rape drug detector for all the things it doesn’t do.

Surely if Amal Clooney wants to take on her husband’s name (whether it’s for the thrill of gaining a famous surname, the want for change in her life, or any other reason) it cannot be up to others to criticise her for that, saying that she has ‘renounced her feminist credentials’.

Why do people in this day and age feel the need to attack people for the choices they make?

(10)(2)

D_T_T

Sorry, but this “article” just isn’t fair and is frankly a personal attack on someone for a personal choice. Written for hits and comments I guess, but I’ll bite. Why is this new name (Ms Clooney’s first name and her husband’s surname) “silly”? I don’t follow.

Whether or not a woman takes her husband’s surname in the modern era in the UK and US is a personal decision that is that woman’s alone, and one which isn’t really open to other people to judge or criticise. Some people who plan to have children want everyone in the family to have the same name. Other people embrace some traditions of weddings and marriage (white dress, surname) whilst rejecting others (being a man’s property). Other people might just like the idea of a new name or prefer their husband’s to their own. Who knows. It’s up to them. It hardly means someone has personally renounced feminism.

(4)(2)

Solicitor

Sure, it’s her choice, no argument, but it has always puzzled me why women do this. Some people actually think you have to make a request to be allowed to keep your own name, whereas in fact there is nothing – including the register signed at the ceremony – that requires you to change it. If we’re talking about “this day and age” then surely why anyone would want to subsume their identity in this way is the bigger question?

(3)(1)

NC Trainee

“When I fell in love I longed, in almost a primal way, to share a name with my husband and our future children.” This does NOT suggest a “natural order” of taking the husband’s name: it simply suggests a desire to be symbolically united. Yes, the cultural norms behind it rely on a sexist past, but that doesn’t make the desire sexist. It is quite a legitimate one.

I agree with Sammy.

Moreover, consider the potential advantages of having “Clooney” as a surname. I’m sure it will be very useful.

Yes, if they wanted to share the same name they could have chosen to share Amal’s, or both gone double-barrel. Amal may be a top barrister, but George is clearly the bigger fish here, in terms of career and reputation. He relies on the “Clooney brand.” There is immense value in his name. Changing his name would be a foolish commercial decision.

Many questions can be raised about sexist naming practices, but this example is a poor one.

(2)(1)

NC Trainee

Also, this “Aside from the silliness of her new name” is not acceptable. I feel someone may have a chip on their shoulder.

(0)(1)

Nigel Nitrate

It should have been me.
Not what I call ‘Human Rights’.

(0)(0)

LOL

Is the smell of jealously is seeping through…….is this a cry from the woman who secretly weeps at night at the loss of George Clooney…I know my mother isn’t too happy. Oh George, the doctor from ER(his most defining role or indeed Batman).

(0)(2)

Almost a Lawyer

A man taking his wife’s family name? Ridiculous! Imagine if someone famous like Jack Gillis had taken Meg White’s name when they married! Men the world over would have wept into their pints of bitter at the thought of a superstar with a name as unthinkable as “Jack White”…

Alternatively, why not personal choice? Surely that’s the basis of feminism, given its focus on personal empowerment, and true feminists can decide what THEY want, regardless of constraints on the basis of what they’re told is invalid because it’s anti-feminist… You can’t have your cake and eat it.

(2)(1)

Sandman

Is this what feminism boils down to these days – criticising a successful woman for a informed decision that she has made of her own free will??

And how exactly is Amal Clooney a “silly” name? Does the mixing of a middle-eastern first name and a European surname offend you somehow??

(3)(1)

Nigel Henry

My mate down the pub says this is all part of the legal fiction of the birth certificate contract created under maritime law which is why it’s all in capitals, and the real title should be ‘Amal of the family Clooney’.
Or Alamuddin.
Whichever, it’s a choice open to her.

(0)(1)

D_T_T

Could the author perhaps clarify on what basis she feels “Amal Clooney” is a silly name? Is it just that the second name is the name of a film star that the relevant woman has married? If that’s the case, isn’t the author herself putting a bit too much weight on the husband’s name in all this?

I’m a woman, and a lawyer. Not internationally renowned, I’ll concede. But if I marry Johnny Depp and become Mrs (My First Name) Depp – or indeed Ellen Page and become Mrs (My First Name) Page (both of which would clearly happen IN MY DREAMS) – is my name going to be silly?! (Please assume my name isn’t actually “(My First Name)”.

If there is some other reason for “silliness” beyond now having the same name as the film star the person has married, perhaps we can be enlightened.

(2)(1)

Not Amused

I’d rather have Niteowl as a guest columnist than this ghastly individual.

(1)(2)

Not Again

I miss Night Owl.

I think Legal Cheek have found their very own Katie Hopkins.

(4)(1)

Not Again

I’m not sure whether the ‘Hottie Experts’ are professional trolls or simply self-serving attention seekers. One and the same, perhaps. I suppose it’s traffic and it’s comments but this piece in particular fails to be entirely relevant.

For the record, I agree with the broad sentiment of the piece. However, I object to the self-congratulatory and snobbish tone, which detracts from what could be a valuable conversation starter about the professional implications of a woman’s choice to change her name on marriage.

As it relates to Mrs Clooney, I think it’s quite clear by now that she’s very intent on raising her ‘celebrity’ profile. I note she’s now involved in the Elgin Marbles case, which seems a rather odd instruction, save for the fact it’s very high profile…

(3)(0)

Annie Onimouse

Before I clicked on this article from the Legal Cheek homepage, I though “I bet this article has been written by one of those barrister boyfriend bloggers”. & oh . . . guess what?

Flog that dead horse. Flog it.

(0)(1)

Pedantic

I was always taught that the convention at the Bar was that female counsel (who were unmarried at call) kept their maiden name, and were referred to as Miss X until they became a judge when they used their married name. HHJ Y or Mrs Justice Y.

The only possible issue in this name change has therefore been missed. Mrs Clooney is trespassing on a judicial ‘privilege’.

(0)(1)

Not Amused

Except for the fact that it is a universal truth that the phrases “i was always taught at the Bar” and “convention of the Bar” precede fiction.

Probably the better phrase would be “in my view the Bar would be a better place if” …

(0)(0)

Libertarian

Feminism must surely be about choice. She had a choice. She made a choice.

It is simply ignorant to cast a woman as having “renounced her feminist credentials” simply because she has exercised her power to chose differently to how you would have liked her to.

(3)(1)

Lawgrad

A ridiculous argument – the creator of ‘Your Barrister Boyfriend’ criticises a successful and dedicated human rights lawyer for betraying feminism?!

The line at the end that this article doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of ‘Your Barrister Boyfriend’ is hilarious. Such a weighty project.

(1)(1)

Matt

Ah – critisising a woman’s personal choice and making fun of her name – how very feminist of you.

(3)(1)

Matt

criticising*

(0)(0)

Not Again

I will concede I was disappointed to learn of Mrs Clooney’s choice. I think it would be great for a woman with her public platform to renounce the tradition of taking a man’s name. However, to criticise her personal choice with such vitriol seems extremely unfair and more worryingly, incredibly narrow minded.

I also object to a patronising Feminist 101 sermon from a self appointed ‘expert’, which completely misses any hook into the legal profession, and makes some quite really quite offensive comments. I think the author has misjudged her audience, or has simply given it no thought.

I’ll try to stop furiously commenting now, but in conclusion: this is a half baked article, riding off the back of a half baked ‘project’, both of which I view as inherently detrimental to the equality cause.

(2)(1)

Laura

finally someone with a bit of common sense!

agreed totally – I think this article is very aggressive and unfair… and quite frankly the topic is none of the author’s business to comment on. Amal could call herself Marge Simpson for all I care and it would not have any bearing on her as a person, a lawyer or as a woman.

(1)(1)

Comments are closed.