Voices: There’s a taboo about changing your name and it needs to stop

Voices: There’s a taboo about changing your name and it needs to stop

What is Jonah Hill’s real name? Sounds like a pub quiz question, doesn’t it? And probably not one you know the answer to. I didn’t.

(Spoiler: apparently, it’s Jonah Hill Feldstein. Who knew?).

Still, if it feels weird to us, it must feel even weirder to the Superbad actor himself. So it’s perhaps little wonder that he’s (apparently) applied to have his name legally changed.

According to reports, Hill wishes to be officially known by his stage name (yes, the one we all already know him as). And it really does make perfect sense. I know: I’ve done it.

Not that I had a “stage name”, in the official sense – but it felt like I did. I changed my name when I got married, you see – not because I wanted to, but because I felt I should. I got caught up in the Disney myth: the idea that women who marry should surrender their identities to become “one” with their husband. That being “one” is romantic. That you can’t feel like a “family” unless you allow yourself to be entirely subsumed.

I was so blinded by “tradition” (and heteronormative expectation) that I forgot about the insidious connotations of such an act: the misogynistic undertones that have become so embedded in centuries of Western marriage in the first place; the idea of a woman as “chattel”; the fact that the original meaning of marriage was possession. Marriage was designed to give women economic security – to pass on the responsibility for the woman from the father to the husband.

In this country, on getting married, women gained a home and (in some cases) relative wealth, but lost the right to an identity. Their husbands became their legal guardians, “until death us do part”. That’s the legacy that led to women shedding their names – so why are we still insisting on perpetuating it in today’s supposedly progressive and enlightened society? Why does it even still exist in 2022?

Jonah Hill’s not changing (or changing back) his name because of marriage, but I can’t help but compare his situation to that of women the world over (though of course in many countries, the same outdated expectations don’t apply: just look at the Netherlands, where you are asked which name you want to use; or Sweden, where women traditionally keep their given family name).

Yet in the UK and elsewhere, little girls are still conditioned to internalise that giving your name over to a man – to a husband – means “romance”; when it’s actually nothing of the sort. It’s reductive, dressed up as choice.

I didn’t use my married name. It never felt right – it never felt like “me”. On the rare occasions that someone used it – in the GP surgery, say, or the dentist – I’d sit there until they’d called it out two or three times before realising I was that person; that I was, supposedly, that person.

Except I wasn’t. It felt so wrong to me to have given up my personal identity to blend with my (then) spouse (some relatives seemed to forget I existed at all, and started addressing me as “Mrs Husband’s Name”) – that I changed it back again, this time by deed poll.

I’ve used my name ever since. My birth name. The name that feels like me.

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And Jonah Hill may have done it the other way around, in that he is eschewing his birth name in favour of his stage name. But we should respect whatever makes him feel whole.

It’s not an insult to move on from a family name – just as it shouldn’t feel like rejection if a woman doesn’t change her name on getting married. We could all do with being a little more open-minded – and more conscious of what makes an individual... well, an individual.

We don’t know exactly why Hill feels so strongly that he should change his name; just as we don’t know why Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul filed to change his name from Aaron Paul Sturtevant (dropping his real surname and adopting Paul) earlier in November.

But we can take a good guess. We can assume that neither Hill nor Paul felt like a Feldstein or a Sturtevant. And that is more than enough. What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually.