Here’s a funny story. When my husband Adam and I got married, it was in a beautiful hotel in York. It was in the Wedgwood room of what is now called the Principal hotel (it was the Royal which, frankly, suited it ﬁne). When the time came, the registers were signed with our names Harriet Arkle and Adam Shearsmith. Fast forward two weeks and we are renewing our passports rather urgently in Durham because they have expired and being the responsible twenty somethings we were, we hadn’t noticed when we booked our honeymoon only a few days later.
As a newlywed I was so excited to change my name into Shearsmith, sharing our honeymoon as a married couple and enjoying some hot Cuban sun. It was something that I chose to do. Imagine my surprise when the passport oﬃcial told me that, despite having the marriage certiﬁcate and the passport in front of him, he couldn’t update my name. You see, when my parents divorced in the early 90’s, my mum changed my passport to include her name. This was a pretty straight forward thing way back then before we started to get all uppity about, ya know, identity and shit. Your parents could randomly add a name, you could change your stuﬀ without much bothered and you paid for your supermarket shop with a cheque (a fancy I owe you) or a piece of plastic and a scribble on a receipt that basically said “yeah, I done it.”
I get it, my parent’s divorce was messy and bitter and my mum wanted to have her name on my documents when she reverted back to Halfacree but this has left me in quite the predicament – you see I would need to change my name by deed poll in order to be able to change it on my passport because my marriage certificate does not match my passport name and despite all other documents, it turns out that the passport office will not accept the name difference – they just won’t. It is a bit OTT if you ask me – I had all other supporting documents and everything else allowed me to change my name, but as it transpired, not the highest office in the land… just every other government and DVLA one. At the time, we had booked a holiday and we simply didn’t have the time to wait to get a new name and a new passport, so I left it in my maiden name. Fast forward 3 kids, a career change that takes me travelling with the kids and 9 years later and we have a bit of a frustrating problem today with a passport that I need to renew next year and a deed poll to complete.
When I want to take my children out of the country without my husband, I’m forced to jump through hoops to prove they are my children – yet he isn’t expected to do a damn thing because he has the same name? Purely because my passport is a different name to child’s? I call bullshit.
In theory this is supposed to stop someone taking your child out of the country but it’s just a wee bit arbitrary and piss poor at stopping child traﬃcking anyway so, someone remind me again what this arbitrary issue is? What if I, as a woman, decided not to take my husband’s name? FYI I really like the name Shearsmith so I won’t be losing it, even if Adam was eaten by a Pteradon. It’s my name now and I love it, everything I own, from my car to my business is registered under that name – but what if that were true for my pre-marriage name? What if, forgetting that I’m a woman and not chattel for my husband because, ya know, we’re over that blessed be shit, but what if I was in a same sex relationship or simply not married at all and the children had both surnames or just one?
When I took the children out of the country to Efteling last year I had to take with us passports, birth certiﬁcates for all three children AND my marriage certiﬁcate just in case. Before I showed them that, a quick check of our passports led to questions for the kids: is this your mummy? Do you live with mummy?
How about a big fat fuck oﬀ? I have the passports. They match the oﬀspring. I have my passport. It matches me. We should be good to go.
Not only does the “name thing” do absolutely bugger all to protect children (how many kids are taken out of the country during messy divorces? Plenty.) but it also discriminates heavily against same sex couples and women who maybe didn’t want to follow with the hetero-norm. Not least of all the blended families, the ones who have ﬂed abusive relationships and want to take their children away for the week. Can you IMAGINE that text? “Hiya, yeah I know you’ve battered shit out of me for over 5 years and I’ve had to have a restraining order put on you after ﬂeeing our house with just the kids and the clothes we could carry but I forgot little Timmy’s birth certiﬁcate in the rush and now I need your PERMISSION to take our child out of the country.” Yeah, that’s going to be met with a smiley face emoji and a “sure, pop me on to passport control”. It’s a disgrace – and that statement is in no way intended to trivialise abusive relationships – it’s to highlight the utter shambles that is the reality for some women. Not only have I SEEN this happen where a friend who ﬂed an abusive relationship tried to take her daughter on holiday and was stopped at passport control, despite having passports for her child, but her ex had to WRITE a letter stating that she could take her child – the hasn’t seen my friend for 5 years because he has a restraining order placed against him and his visits with his child are through a third party. He tortured my friend (and subsequently her daughter) for weeks, making demands to see the child at the drop of a hat, refusing to give his permission and then on the day of the holiday? He waited until she was leaving for the airport to say he was going to ring the airport and claim the letter was forged and he wouldn’t allow his daughter to leave. The whole experience blighted her holiday, which she worked all year to afford. Could she have found another way around it? I’m not sure to be honest – maybe there is a procedure in place to avoid this, but the fact remains, it’s not acceptable that ANYONE should be in this situation because they don’t carry the same surname as their child.
We need to modernise the system. Basic checks that are done in seconds, in fact I believe they are done now as you pass your passport over, show the names of a child’s parents. It shows up on the system where the child lives. Why isn’t this enough? Why are we still demeaning women and isolating anyone who isn’t ﬁtting the “I marry man and take his name” hoo ha of yester year?
Whether there is a reason for having a diﬀerent surname to your child or not, you shouldn’t have to feel penalised for it.