In celebration of International Women’s Day, let me tell my story of why I changed my name when I got married. By the way, I’m going to use the ‘F’ word.

Actually, I’m not going to tell much of the story beyond the headlines (you can read a more detailed version on a friend’s blog), but I am going to reflect on what it’s like to tell the story.

What Happened?

Well, when I found someone that I thought it was a good idea to marry, we discussed what we would do about surnames. We both wanted any children that might come along to have the same surname as us.We didn’t want to have hyphens in our surname.

We both didn’t like the idea of perpetuating the historical tradition of male-domination of surnames, and I didn’t especially fancy taking on my wife’s surname (getting along with in-laws is hard enough!).

The only plausible solution seemed to be for both of us to take on a new surname altogether. So the search for a new name began. Merging our surnames (Hickman, Ford) didn’t work very well (Hird was OK but dull, Fockman was … not good). So we came up with something that was meaningful to both of us, which just happens to be Baraka.

It also happens to be a great little movie that uses imagery and music (ostensibly without any dialogue) to tell a human / world story – Baraka – that we both really like.


What Happens when I tell the story?

Usually when I start telling the story, men act shocked or just go quiet. Which is fair enough – it’s not a common occurrence for most people. Usually some head-snapping involved. Occasionally, “Why would you do that?”. Rarely, “Good on you!”.

Women also tend to be a bit shocked, but for many its something they have already thought about and so their processing time is much faster. Most often the women tell me what a good thing they think it is. Including those who point out they wouldn’t do that themselves. It is generally a much warmer response.

Certainly much warmer than the bank teller, who upon being presented with the relevant forms and hearing that I was changing my name, asked, “What, did you commit fraud or are you a criminal?”.

Some men never get past their shock to tell me what they think – presumably it is just a bit too much to comprehend or a bit too far outside their frame of reference.  surprised-face


Which leads to a tricky question – What is it about men (especially heterosexual ones) that we are so insecure that we feel threatened our partner not taking our last name?

Or why was it so hard for the bank teller to comprehend that I was doing what so many women had done in the course of his narrow-minded, behind bullet-proof glass, bank-telling experience?

insecure-guySince then I’ve found out that it is culturally normal in several countries for women to not take the male surname.

In most Spanish-speaking countries, the custom is for people to have two surnames. It is widely understood that the first surname denotes the father’s family, and the second surname denotes the mother’s family. So, for example, “Rodríguez Zapatero” is not in fact one surname, it is two distinct surnames.

In China, Hungary, Japan, Korea, Madagascar, Vietnam, parts of India and in many other East Asian countries, the family name is placed before a person’s given name and women don’t usually change their name when they get married.

In Scandinavian countries (which have been quite aggressive about equality of women) it is something of a free for all, and men frequently take all or part of their wives surnames, and vice-versa.


Which brings me to the ‘F’ word, Feminism.

I don’t think it means what many of us think it means (especially us men).

Inigo-Montoya-WORD-MEANSIt doesn’t mean women are better than men. It doesn’t mean that men are all horrible creatures that should be burnt at the stake or incarcerated or castrated (Actually it might mean some of those things in some radical versions of Feminism, which is quite a broad church; and I don’t mean a group of ‘broads‘).

But it does mean that the role of women in many aspects of life is under-valued or discounted. And that is something that should be addressed, not just by women, but by men.

Women in Leadership

OK Dear reader. I hear you asking, “So what does  this have to do with sustainability?”

Quite a bit.

Study after study highlights how much better off organisations are when they have women in leadership. And that seems to be true in every sector, every type of workforce and every type of organisation.

Organisations that have women on Boards significantly out-perform those that don’t. And at least in countries like the UK, adding a women to the Board increases profit, share price and lots of other things.

It seems the traditional male values of distrust, personal ambitions and jockeying for power don’t tend to create functional organisational dynamics. Hardly grand revelations, but we do seem to be slow to learn such things.

I hope that many companies will support #HerDay2015, not just on International Women’s Day, but in their regular practice.

CSR and Sustainability practitioners, whether male or female, have to support such initiatives.


I hope that this story is a Baraka to some of you.


This blog first appeared on Dwayne Baraka’s Blog


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