Shortly after Cameron Smith and Charlotte Peverett tied the knot 10 years ago, Cameron proposed that he take his wife’s surname.
Cameron Smith became Cameron Peverett and he also became stepfather to Charlotte’s two children, who quickly began calling him ‘Dad’.
The couple said that for them, the decision to reverse the marital tradition of a wife taking her husband’s name was not a big deal, or a complex conversation.
It was more about who had the more unique name and about forming a new united family.
Being a ‘Smith’, Cameron was not too hung up on keeping his family name, and the decision to become ‘the Peveretts’ rather than ‘the Smiths’ was mostly about reinforcing the permanence of their new family.
“I didn’t like the idea of having three surnames in the one family,” Mr Peverett said.
“It was a show of commitment — that this is for life for me,” he said.
“Charlotte Smith! There are lots of Charlotte Smiths in the world,” Ms Peverett said.
“It would have been boring.”
Ms Peverett felt attached to her Anglo-Indian name, being one of only two families that carry it in Australia.
While Ms Peverett was emphatic that their surname is not a big deal, she understood that their decision went against a centuries-old tradition and suspected that this challenged some people.
“When people tell me what a ‘good man’ I have, that is the assumption — that he’s under the thumb,” she said.
“It’s not the case — we don’t operate that way.”
So it’s a notion that’s out there that if you do take the woman’s name you are not a man anymore,” Mrs Peverett said.
Does it matter? New gender-role research
While reversing marital name traditions may not change how couples relate, societal perceptions of those couples can change — and recent studies have echoed Charlotte’s suspicions.
A 2017 study from the University of Nevada examined how a woman’s choice to retain her surname influences perceptions about her husband.
The researcher, PhD Candidate Rachael Robnett, found that such men are “seen to hold less power in a marriage”.
“The marital surname tradition is more than just a tradition,” Ms Robnett said in the Springer Journal.
“It reflects subtle gender-role norms and ideologies that often remain unquestioned despite privileging men,” she said.
Changing a culture starts at home
Ms Peverett grew up as her father’s helper and though it went against his own Anglo-Indian traditions, he encouraged her to fend for herself and not rely on a man.
“I kind of buck the norms of what a woman is,” she said.
“I’m very clear that there’s no gender roles.”
Mr Peverett describes himself in similar non-conforming terms.
“I don’t hold onto the normal Australian male ideals that it has to be a particular way,” he said.
For Mr Peverett, the decision to take his wife’s name was enabled through constantly questioning his own male privilege and imagining if the roles were reversed.
“I suppose I put myself in my wife’s shoes,” he said.
“If you’ve got an unusual surname, to go over to a more common name, how would that make me feel, if I was forced to do that for no real reason other than the way it’s traditionally done?”
This mindset of gender-equality permeates the Peverett household.
Ms and Mr Peverett describe each other as best friends and equals and make a point of sharing the domestic chores and parenting responsibilities equally.
“We’re a team, we muck in,” said Mr Peverett.
“We both work, when we get home we’re both knackered, so we have to share the roles and responsibilities.”
Cameron said he doesn’t worry about what other people think of him. (ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)
They say this helps their household operate better and it provides strong role models for their children.
“I don’t want my boy to expect his partner will do all those things for him,” Mr Peverett said.
“Ethically, morally that doesn’t sit well with me.”
Both parents make sure that their daughter and son do equal amounts of housework, whether it is yard work or washing.
“I want my son to be the best man he can be,” Mr Peverett said.
“I think the best way to do that is to be a contributor — and an active participant in your family.”
Both Jarryn and his sister are expected to do their own washing in the Peverett household. (ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)
It is Mr Peverett’s stepdaughter Riannah who is most vocal about the influence he has had.
Riannah is now 16 and about to finish high school.
She said she finds herself looking for boyfriends that have the same kind of respect for women as her stepfather.
“[Cameron] definitely respects my mum and he clearly loves her,” she said.
“He would never expect my mum to do something she’s uncomfortable with.”
Riannah said she has taken on a lot of her mum’s viewpoints about gender equality, but that it is not easy in a country town.
“It’s hard because, I sort of see Warrnambool as very old school, so people who do speak up, they’re kind of outcasts,” Riannah said.
Riannah Peverett helps out with yard chores as much as her brother. (ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)
“It’s not easy being a teenager and trying to fit in but also having these very strong feminist ideas,” she said.
And because I’m a person of colour in a very white town, it adds that extra layer, something more you need to fight.”
Surely marital name trends are changing?
Not that we know of — but we also do not know much, because no official statistics are tracked in Australia.
If you are taking your spouse’s name after marriage, or hyphenating the two family names, you actually do not have to register your change of name with your state’s office of Births Deaths and Marriages.
However, a 2012 study by conducted by sociologist at Swinburne University of Technology Deborah Dempsey and Associate Professor Jo Lindsay of Monash University found that about 97 per cent of men (of a sample size of 908 parents polled in an anonymous online survey) kept their last name after marriage.
Jarryn is expected to do any household chore his sister would. (ABC South West Victoria: Emily Bissland)
Why does the practice persist?
Senior lecturer in the school of social and political sciences at the University of Melbourne, Lauren Rosewarne, specialises in the subject of gender and the media
She had a single word explanation for why the practice persists.
“Tradition,” Dr Rosewarne said.
“The institution is old — it comes with a whole series of customs and most couples tend to keep a lot of them.
“There is an acceptance that women go into marriage, they’re not their father’s daughter any more — they’re their husband’s wife.
“The same reason that most people will have the white multi-tiered cake and wear a white dress — there are a series of rituals attached, the idea that ‘I’m going to take his surname’, that’s part and parcel of it.”
Dr Rosewarne said we should not expect a movement for men taking their wives’ names any time soon.
“I don’t think we’re going to see any kind of groundswell for this — men have always kept their name, and therefore want to continue doing it,” Dr Rosewarne said.
She said she is not certain that reversing the dynamic of name-identity loss for women is necessarily the way forward.
“I think having men take their wives’ names is not really correcting a problem on its own — it seems like it’s a symbolic gesture.
“I’d rather have data that tells me men are doing 50 per cent of the housework, 50 per cent of raising the children, rather than simply taking their partner’s name.”
Riannah, pictured at the wedding, said she still appreciates all that her stepfather took on. (Supplied: Charlotte and Cameron Peverett)
Mr Peverett thinks that it relates to a kind of cultural laziness.
“It’s probably easier,” he said.
“As a male, to continue to perpetuate the same roles as expected — and be the one where you put your foot down and that’s the way things are supposed to be — I think at a certain level, that’s easier.
“If your wife has got your name, because that’s what you’re expected to do, well then that can continue to be as it is.”
Mr Peverett says that changing that culture is not exactly hard work, but there are testing moments.
“Having come from a culture that has been very much ‘the wife takes the man’s name’ and with very distinct male and female roles — for me to try to challenge that, I still have to catch myself occasionally.”