Halfway Thoughts | What’s in a name?

When my parents were deciding what to name me, they had to take a lot of things into consideration. First off, this was before people were told the sex of their child in advance, so my parents had to think of names for both a boy and a girl. When naming my two brothers, they took into account that they lived in a society where people were quickly judged by their religion. That’s why my brothers have names that are found among Muslims and Christians alike. Then I came along and not only did they have to think about religion, they also had to take into account that one day my surname would change. While my brothers have typical Arabic names that go perfectly well with our very Arabic family name, my parents always assumed that one day I would have to change mine. And seeing that there was no way of telling whether I’d end up marrying an Arab, Dane, American, Frenchman etc., they wanted a name that could be used in most languages. How’s that for globalisation!

With that in the back of my mind, I’ve always known not to become too attached to my last name, seeing that I was bound to change it (unless I ended up marrying someone with a -sen name. That’s where I drew the line). But ever so slowly, something changed. I still hate having to spell my last name three times, because no-one can believe that 50 percent of a six-letter name can consist of Js. And I still hate the way everyone tries to pronounce it, even though I tell them from the start that they won’t be able to. But as a journalist it’s important that people remember you. And for some reason (maybe all the same ones that annoy me) people remember Hajjaj. Be it a nurse at the blood bank who read an article of mine years earlier, or a source that I talked to briefly six months ago, they remember me.

So when my boyfriend proposed, I was suddenly forced to rethink the whole name thing. On the one hand, my first name was chosen so that I’d be able to give up my last name. It would almost seem like an insult to my parents if I kept it. But on the other hand, my last name has turned out to be a plus to my career.

My family don´t really have an opinion on the subject. My boyfriend doesn’t seem to care much either way. He’s fine with me taking his name and has even offered to add Hajjaj to his for equality’s sake (which I said no to). His family seems to care a bit more, although there hasn’t been any pressure. Just a lot of big smiles when I said I would probably take their name.

Surprisingly enough, it’s actually my friends that seem to feel the strongest about the subject. And even they can be divided into two groups: many of my gay friends are shocked that I’d even consider changing my last name. They see it as a remnant of a patriarchic society that they feel shouldn’t have any place in Denmark of 2013. (One of them even went so far as to say a wedding band was out of date, but absolutely nothing is going to get between me and a diamond ring.) My female friends are mostly on the romantic side and see the changing of my last name as a very visual sign of love and of us starting our own family.

Personally I like the thought of the name symbolising a new beginning as a joint family. The ring and the last names are a way of showing that I’m proud of being married to my soon-to-be husband. I haven’t quite decided if the children we might have should be called both or only his name. Once again, the choice has been left entirely up to me. I do however know that I will follow the lead of my parents and give them international names boys and girls alike. That way all options are open to them, when they one day meet the one person they wish to start a family with.

With that I will for the first time sign off as Helen Hajjaj Magnusson.


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