Why my husband and I chose to take my mum's Polish surname

With seating plans to draw up, budgets to be worked with and difficult decisions to be made, organising a wedding can be ridiculously stressful.

I half enjoyed it – being a fan of a spreadsheet – but one thing I found much harder than I expected was deciding on a surname.

For a long time, I never wanted to change my name. My maiden name is Smith – and as mundane as it is, it’s my identity and the name I use for my work as a journalist.

In the run-up to our wedding, though, my now-husband and I decided we wanted to share a last name. We agreed that the fairest way to do that was to double-barrel, but something was holding me back from sticking with Smith.

I was born in the UK but half of my family is Polish and I grew up surrounded by the culture. Birthdays, Christmases and Easter were loud and busy and until she passed away in 2016, my Polish grandmother lived with us – and was a huge influence on my life.

There’s no denying I’m British – I was born in Bradford, I have a UK passport, I love tea and I hate hugs. But I also identify strongly with the Polish side of my family and over the past few years – particularly since the EU referendum – I’ve grown protective of it.

There’s a growing sense that you’re being told to hide your background for fear of offending someone, which only encourages me to make my heritage more visible with my name.

So I decided to use my mother’s Polish maiden name in my half of the barrel, to keep my family’s Polish surname going.

Xenophobia is on the rise. In August, a study by the University of Strathclyde found that 77 per cent of Eastern European pupils in England and Scotland said they had suffered racism, xenophobia or bullying.

Of the pupils surveyed, 49 per cent said the attacks had become more frequent since the EU referendum in 2016.

Although there are many reasons behind the decision, it also feels a little cathartic to visibly display this part of my heritage despite the rising intolerance Eastern Europeans and many others are experiencing. It feels right to recognise this side of my family and keep their history alive, albeit in a small way.

I’m proud of my heritage – all of it. I grew up in Yorkshire, partly in an industrial town, but mostly in a village surrounded by beautiful countryside and rolling hills.

But I was also brought up surrounded by my Polish family and I’m proud of that, too. And so for my husband and I, reflecting this in our surname is the right decision for us, even if it’s a little unusual.

Your name or what language you speak shouldn’t be political but they are. My mum and I often speak English with a smattering of Polish – useful if you want to have a moan about someone on the sly – but in recent months, I’ve noticed people glancing over with a look and I can sense judgement.

There’s a growing sense that you’re being told to hide your background for fear of offending someone, which only encourages me to make my heritage more visible with my name.

Of course, this pales in comparison with the abuse, harassment and violence many people are subjected to, but it’s a small indicator of a very big problem.

Ultimately, what you choose to do with your name is a hugely personal decision. For some women, changing their surname at all is a complete no-no – after all, it once symbolised the traditional transfer of ‘ownership’ from father to husband.

For others, sharing a last name is about family, legacy and uniting identities.

Whatever women decide to do, they should be able to without fear of judgement from others. After all, it’s your name – any decision is the right decision.

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