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

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By Natalia Naish on

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


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Those of us who bristle at the thought of subsuming our identity to the person we marry are often told that we are out-of-date, bra-burning harpies and that we should to shut up about our First World Problems and save our energy for campaigning against FGM in east Africa.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.