The weeks after Christmas are hands-down the most depressing of the year. Like clockwork, at midnight on Boxing Day the tinsel that looked festive an hour before takes on a tawdry aspect, and the ornament-laden tree begins to droop sadly like the drunk who doesn’t know the party’s over and might need a hand getting home. Christmas lights that once blinked merrily suddenly suggest a nervous tick, a dripping tap.

There is an upside though: I get my name back. After weeks of arriving home to handfuls of Christmas cards addressed to Mr and Mrs Kit Malthouse, I am – once again – Juliana Farha.

I was 40 when I got married, so by that time I was quite habituated not only to my first name, but to the thing in its entirety. It was the link between my Middle Eastern ancestry, my family and the person I had become over four decades. My mother’s pretty name is my middle one, and the three together – Juliana Marina Farha – with their six As trickling past softish consonants like a gentle creek have a lovely rhythm, I think. (Pardon the vanity, but of course I didn’t choose any of these.)

‘Juliana’ was the Dutch princess who was exiled in my hometown of Ottawa during the Nazi occupation of her homeland, and whose daughter was born there. When she returned to Holland, Juliana – who became Queen of the Netherlands in 1948 – sent the city of Ottawa 100,000 tulip bulbs to express her gratitude, and Ottawa still holds a Tulip Festival each spring to honour her gesture.

Farha is the name of my father’s family from the south of Lebanon, whose land was confiscated in order to create a Jewish state. This defining act prompted my father’s emigration to Canada where he met my mother, and is perpetuated in both the food we eat and the thirst for social and political justice which my sisters and I share.

As for my own history, by the time I got married I had lived in a number of cities and been involved with a number of men. I had three university degrees, a long CV and a range of documents and bills attesting to my existence.

The first time I received a letter addressed to ‘Mrs Kit Malthouse’, the shock was almost physical. Who was this woman? Surely it didn’t refer to me? But who else could it be? It didn’t take long for anger to kick in, though. Who seriously thought that I had spent forty years killing time as someone provisionally known as ‘Juliana Farha’ while I waited to subsume myself as someone else’s Mrs So and So? Who continues to embrace the bizarre and ironic notion that ‘etiquette’ requires obliterating one of the people supposedly being greeted?

After all, this tradition comes from a time when most women passed directly from their father’s home to that of their husband. In this sense, the surname wasn’t seen so much as theirs as that of the ‘tribe’ they belonged to. But that was then; this is now. In 2006, the median marriage age for women in Britain was nearing 34. Presumably, by the time they got married these women had the trappings of an independent existence, just as I had.

Few of my married friends in Canada have changed their names, and none of my sisters has. Still, I don’t judge other women for taking their husbands’ names when they get married. Whatever its history, some see it as a sign of love or commitment to their partner. One woman I know happily changed hers because the new name was more attractive than the one she was born with. A few say it allays confusion about who their kids are. These are personal decisions which women take for myriad reasons.

What mystifies me is why the prevailing default is to presume I’ve changed mine and – as often happens when people learn otherwise – demand to know why not.  Some suggest that I can’t truly love my husband, and wonder why I risk offending him. The alarming implication is that women who marry must choose between loving their partner and loving themselves, and that the two are mutually exclusive.

I realise now that one of the luxuries of marrying late was avoiding this intrusive scrutiny, these judgments that have long outlived their sell-by date but still ferociously seek to shame women into behaving ourselves.

Ironically in this context the act of keeping one’s name does become a gesture, an assertion of complete selfhood. So here I am. And welcome to the revolution.

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