Friday, 20 November 2009

The Great Name Change and subsequent Embarrassing Incident

I'm currently in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare. For once though, it's entirely of my own making. In a stubborn English way, I decided to take my husband's surname. Before you start waving burning bras in my face, let me make a few things clear: (a) it wasn't his idea, (b) it doesn't mean that I'm bowing down to him in any way and (c) I believe it's what you do in your life that shows whether or not you're an independent woman, not how you chose to call yourself. So there. Why should I one day have a different surname to my children? Not fair.

The problem lies in the fact that in Italy, by law a woman CAN'T take her husband's surname, so there's no official procedure to follow. As it is, the ancient rusty cogs of bureaucracy here have their own unique concept of time - one Italian bureaucratic minute represents an hour of normal human time, an hour is a couple of weeks, a month is a year etc. In Italy, new name means new tax code, which leads to a series of startling and terrifying trips to the tax office. New name means informing banks and getting new bank cards. I've sent numerous faxes and letters by recorded post with photocopies of my passport, ID card, national insurance card, great-grandfather's inside leg measurement, list of my favourite types of cheese etc. I've been waiting for my new bank card for a month.

Now that I'm almost at the end of the Great Name Change, I'm thinking about writing a book on the experience. I could fill several volumes on the tax office alone and I'm still not entirely sure that I'm not registered twice. I'm waiting for a letter in the post informing me that I am actually two people and that the government is sending a priest to my house to perform some kind of identity exorcism.

New name also means re-registering with your doctor. I was at the hospital recently, about to have a rather intimate medical test, when the nurse who was filling out the forms told the nurse with the freezing cold metal instrument to stop because it appeared that I was not myself, but someone else. An imposter.
'Don't worrry,' I said, trying to sound as nonchalant as a half-naked person in the company of two fully dressed people can sound, 'I've changed my name and this test was booked in my old name. I have all the documents in my bag.'
'But where has your old name gone?' replied the nurse at the desk, eyes narrowed.
'It's just gone.' I shrugged (not easy to shrug with your legs in stirrups).
'But where has it gone?' She wasn't giving up.
'It's just gone.'
'But where?' I was starting to feel really silly at this point. She looked at me hard. I wanted to say: 'Yes, my old name decided to swim to Elba and never came back. That bastard. I did get an anonymous postcard from the Bahamas last week and I have my suspicions that it was from that crafty old name, but I can't be sure so I had to get this new name.' Instead, seeing no way out of the impasse, I reluctantly got down, put on my knickers and retrieved all my ID documents from my bag.
'But your old name has just gone,' she gasped.
'Yes.' I said, with what I hope was an air of finality. Knickers came off again and the test was completed in awed silence.

Bureaucracy can be really fun.


em said...

and I thought it was complicated here in US! Mine was difficult, but luckily no stir-ups were involved!

The Other Half said...

I told you it was a bad idea .... but I'm quite interested in this stirrup thing .. how does it work ?

Emma said...

you missed out another reason to change your name. When you have kids and they have a different surname to you, you cannot leave the country with them alone without written permission from your husband countersigned by the police. That surely is more humiliating for a feminist (considering what men actually DO to have children compared to our role) than taking her other half's name.

Louise at Abbastanza Buono said...

I too changed my name to my husband's when we married even though we do not plan to have children. To me (and, I think, many other Anglo-Saxon culture women) it just makes me feel really married. However, changing one's name in any country is a real pain. I sort of had to do it in Italy because when we bought our house they insisted I use my maiden name. A few years later they decided all documents should match a foreigner's passport. Thus, I had to change my codice fiscale.

Anonymous said...

I changed my name as well, I now operate full time as Daisy rather than David. And, before you ask, stirrups were involved in my time at hospital as well.

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting topic, the fact that in Italy a woman keeps her maiden name even in marriage.
I have to say it was one of the few things about Italian bureaucracy that I actually appreciated and would happily embrace if I believed in marriage...
If I have kids with my partner, I'd like them to have both our surnames. I think it's only fair. But I'm not sure how I'll cross that bridge in Italy (if I ever come to it).
Staunch feminist or not, I suppose it all boils down to your sense of identity. Most people feel a loss of identity when they live in a foreign country. Others are happy to let go of their 'old' identity and are eager to take on a new one.
What's important is that it's a personal choice and should be respected, whoever you wish to be called.

TED said...

It is always interesting to see the emphasis that cultures and societies place on names. Some change, some merge and others create new names. Fascinating really. Do whats best for you, thats my opinion.
Great site, you should add it to The Expat Directory.
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Helen G said...

Hi. Great decision and I heartily approve. I also changed my name to my husband's a few years ago. Officially, the reason was that I didn't want to have a different name from my children. One family, one name, I thought. (Although secretly it could have had something to do with my own name being met with disbelief and snorts of suppressed laughter.) And I shall always be grateful to the lady at the British Consulate to whom I went for advice following one rather terse discussion with an uncooperative clerk at the Quartiere, and who said snappily: Listen, you are a free woman and you can call yourself by any name you want. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!'. It's a good thing to remember when people question your choice in the future! Good luck!

Tammy said...

Hi! my italian husband and I married in america, and I took his last name. My father in law took care of filling out the documents for his son in Italy, and he put down my maiden name! (because, that's how they do it, right?) When we moved to italy in 1999, all my ID was in my husband's name. So, it turned out that I had two codice fiscale. I cancelled out the maiden name one, and even now 10 years later, I still get asked for my "real" I'm trying to be Furba, or something...lots of wierd looks in the shops.

carly said...

Hi Melissa. I solved the husband's name taking dilemma (plus lots of other ones) by simply not getting married in the first place. My son has a different surname to mine, yes, but no signatures or police involved when I travel with him alone. Maybe because he has an Irish passport...?