When the health visitor called to arrange to visit after our Son was born she called me ‘mummy’ on the phone. I guess technically it was true. I am someones’ mummy now, but a stranger using those words on his behalf before he gets to voice them himself, and using them exclusively without mentioning my name, was a touch odd and felt rather patronising.
It was even weirder when her colleague called back and did the same thing a few days later. Still stranger when yet another health visitor turned up at the door and did it face to face. It was only when, later in our conversation, I asked how many families the health visitor looked after and she replied 700, that I began to have a little sympathy! To her I guess I really was just another mummy to be visited.
While we are on the subject of names it’s somewhat enlightening as a woman to realise that your Son is already ‘Mr’ from the minute he is born, a label he’ll be entitled to use for a lifetime. For a woman on the other hand there is a lifetime of uncertainty in the label department. Miss turning to Mrs only on marriage (why do we even entertain that!) and Ms only yours if you claim it or someone isn’t sure of your marital status! Then what to do when you get divorced? Well that’s another question that to be frank I still wrestle with!
A decade ago when I was married to my ex-husband things in the name alteration departments went even further when I was given a family name and the label ‘Mama’ to replace my own name. This signalled I guess that I was part of the family and also that I would (ideally) bear children. It also seemed to me at the time, that the naming ceremony inferred that I, as I had been before, didn’t exist anymore and that made it both a welcoming occasion and one that was a little unnerved about.
My East African friends assure me that calling me Mama Edward now is in fact sign of respect and whilst I’m willing to accept it from them, I can’t help wanting to remind them that I’m still called Mary Ann. Yes labour was painful, a right of passage certainly, but I don’t feel like I died in the process – I’ve changed as a result of it and a part of me perhaps did ebb away, but I’m clear too that I’m bringing all the years of life experience behind me, with me, as I embark on this, my particular journey in to mothering.
And so part of me wants to stand up for my name, the one I inherited from women who had gone before me and insist that the health visitors and everyone else call me Mary Ann. But I also realise that a part of me values the sense of respect for the Mother that the title Mama Edward bestows! So what to do, I want to have my cake and eat I suppose! And not just literally…I want to keep my name AND be respected as someone’s mother.
The only solution to this quandary I’ve so far felt vaguely happy with is to propose we start a movement to add names rather than subtracting or replacing them. That way my identity doesn’t get whipped away with life events – which in any case I think is a poor way of viewing both marriage and motherhood – and instead that we simply add names as we go through our lives deepening our identities, reflecting our life experince, marking our journey.
That way I could choose to be be known as something like Mary Ann, mother of Edward, (I might even chose a sub title if they’d let me – something like – still dancing through life fiercely mothering and expressing myself – both literally and figuratively!). I guess it would be a bit long for envelopes but that would reflect who I truly feel I am a whole let better than being adressed as ‘Mummy’. Perhaps men could get in on the act too and make their names a little more flexible, though I imagine patriarchy would probably have something terribly sensible to say about that like that it encouraged identity theft or something…?