Much Ado About Titles

I had one of those awww moments recently, on seeing an article about a bride in the United Kingdom who, facing pandemic restrictions, stood down her bridal party with its ten bridesmaids and had her two nans by her side on the big day. It’s really heartwarming to see these choices, and the way people are dealing with changes to how we celebrate.

Of course, being a bit of a pedant (it’s a curse no witch has yet been able to lift!), as well as loving the story I also had to hold back from shouting at the screen, “they’re not bridesmaids, they’re bridesmatrons”, because of course, assuming they have a biological connection to the bride, they’re almost certainly not virgins!

It is not at all uncommon for brides-to-be to find themselves being corrected on the proper title of the Maid of Honour—usually by a cranky old aunt—when the friend she has chosen happens to be married. The cranky old aunt is usually somewhat misled though. Sometime in the twentieth century, as the word maid fell into disuse, we started thinking that maid meant a woman who was unmarried, when in reality a maid is a virgin (remember how much drama Shakespeare created around Hero being a maid in Much Ado About Nothing?).

But do you really want to give your attendants a title that reflects that particular status?

The complexity of ceremonial terminology in weddings is something I’ve looked into before, in my post on the use of fiancé and fiancée. I have never heard of a bridesmaid being called a bridesmatron just because she happens to be married, which is, itself, an odd anomaly reflective of our changing values. It is also becoming more and more common for attendants to be mixed gender, and let’s not overcomplicate how to respectfully refer to a trans or nonbinary person in a wedding party! Instead, here are a few ideas I have encountered, which can give you some ideas for stalling cranky old aunts before they get started…

Bride and Groom

Possibly the least likely to warrant a change, these are the only two titles that have any legal weight. And yet, there is one further option under Australian law: partner. To honour and accurately document trans and nonbinary folk, the Attorney-General’s Department has amended forms to allow the word partner to be used instead of bride or groom.

There remains a restriction that if the male box has been ticked on the Notice of Intended Marriage, they can only be labelled either partner or groom on that and subsequent documents; and if the female box is ticked they can only be partner or bride.

Attendants

Fast becoming anachronistic in a lot of contexts, the terms Best Man and Maid of Honour could be entirely gone by the 22nd century. The principle source of consternation is that the Maid of Honour title changes depending on the bearer’s status, for entirely archaic reasons. You can, of course, use Matron of Honour if your bestie is not a virgin, but many are now simply using Maid of Honour regardless of their status, and this is a subtle progress.

It is becoming more common for there to be no special status, and for all the bride’s attendants to be called Bridesmaids, or Bridespersons if there’s a male amongst them. Bridesboys is also entirely appropriate in that situation.

Similarly, a groom’s attendants may all be called groomsmen, with no best anything amongst them; but they may be called Groomspersons or Groomsgirls. Gay grooms may go a little farther and call their attendants Groomsgurls, Groomsqueens, or if your attendants are your girlfriends, Groomshags. Just chat with your attendants if you’re thinking of using one of the more socially progressive titles, because some might not appreciate it!

My favourite solution to this dilemma, though, and the one my husband and I chose to use (we were both grooms with mixed gender attendants), is simply to replace the gendered word with the individual’s name. So, if your closest attendant taking on the traditional role of the Maid of Honour happens to be called Fred, they take the title The Fred of Honour. Or if the person taking on the traditional role of the Best Man happens to be called Georgina, they take the title The Best Georgina. These titles work just as well for trans and nonbinary folk as they do for cisgendered folk (as long as you’re not using a deadname), so they are completely universal, as well as being quirky and fun.

Children

There is no end to the coos of approval mothers and aunts provide at the sight of a child carrying rings. Page Boy, thankfully, has gone the way of the dodo, mostly replaced by Ringbearer, which has no negative implications. Flower Girls remain popular, although they’re facing stiff competition from more amusing adult male Flower Men frolicking ahead of the bride throwing rose petals and shade over the guests. The appropriateness of that may depend upon the makeup of the community gathering for your nuptuals.

My husband and I chose to follow an Autumn Princess down the aisle, who laid a carpet of autumn leaves for us.

Mother/Father of the Groom/Bride

Having opened up the wormcan for everyone else, it would be remiss of me to neglect the couple’s parents. Since Mother of the Bride as a title carries so much clout, there must be some allowance: even a hetero bride could have a biological mother and an adoptive mother or a step mother, or all three! A lesbian wedding where both have lesbian parents could end up yielding any number of mothers of the bride, and that’s before we even consider how many daddies a gay groom might have, or why!

One option for distinguishing different maternal figures is to borrow the pattern of the attendants: Matriarch of Honour or Patriarch of Honour could be used if the parent does not have a living parent themself; you probably don’t want to use Best Dad in such a situation though!

Mother of the Bride is so important a role in many communities, that it is likely they won’t be happy with anything else. But at the same time, there is no reason the title cannot be shared no matter how many brides there are, or how many mothers they have. The most important aspect of keeping these relationships healthy for what can be a stressful day is communicating expectations beforehand.

Similarly, if a bride has two gay dads, that coveted mother of the bride role most likely falls to both of them. They might prefer a playful title like the Queens of the Bride, or perhaps, as often happens with same sex parents, they have differing titles already, leading to an arrangement such as the Pa of the Bride and Dad of the Bride (or for maternal parents Mumma of the Bride and Mum of the Bride). Another solution, to avoid confusion, would be to apply the first name principle as can be done with the attendants: if your dads are known in the community as Harry and Geoff, there is no reason they cannot be titled the Harry of the Bride and the Geoff of the Bride.

Master of Ceremonies

Many people organise an MC for their reception without even knowing what the acronym stands for! Master of Ceremonies is where it came from, but it seems to have been reduced to Emcee in a lot of cases. If we had required one, they would almost certainly have been called the Master of the Revels or the Mistress of the Revels, which is a lot more fun!

Conclusion

One of the most important things to remember is that it is your day: it is not the day of your dead ancestors, it is not the day of Queen Victoria’s fairytale wedding, and it certainly isn’t the day of your cranky old aunt who doesn’t even know the difference between burning a bra and burning a book.

Playful twists on tradition do two things: they provide an opportunity to reference the important relational aspects of wedding ceremonies; and they acknowledge that your current reality is more important than the traditions of the past.

Feature image by Devon Divine on Unsplash

Handfasting

Of all the wedding traditions that have fallen by the wayside, I think handfasting is the one with the most potential. Then again, it wouldn’t have that potential if it had not fallen away in the first place.

Handfasting is a Scottish practice that was intended more as an act of betrothal than of binding. A couple could perform it without any witnesses in any situation in which they could not reasonably get to a minister to marry them. They still needed to be married by a minister or a ship’s captain or a mayor at a later date, but could be considered married for most legal purposes in the meantime once the handfasting had been performed.

It has been revived in modern Scottish weddings outside Scotland, but as part of the ceremony itself. And because it has no legal significance, it can be used in very creative ways.

I have written a handfasting ceremony for our wedding, which was to happen last May, but will go ahead this May, as long as we keep the ’rona at bay! In our ceremony, it is a way of having the attendants bless the marriage. My children will each ask for our commitment to each other, and if they are satisfied with our answer, they will pass the ribbon over our arms. Then my partner’s attendants will each affirm our vows by passing the ribbon over the other way.

This is, by no means a conventional handfasting, but it’s an example of how readily old traditions can be adapted for meaning in a modern ceremony. Adapting old customs is one of my favourite aspects of celebrancy, especially for LGBTIQA+ couples.

I am always open to hearing ideas like this from couples, and hope that I will be as supportive as our celebrant has been!

Walk Me Down The Aisle

For many, walking down the aisle is a rite of passage, but in a modern context, it is fraught with paradoxes.

Continue reading “Walk Me Down The Aisle”

The Processional

When it comes to wedding pomp, few traditions stack up to the grandeur of the processional. When I was a lad, I was taught pretty quickly that when those first few notes from Wagner’s Bridal Chorus rang out, my role was to stand up to honour the bride. I never even heard of the opera it was written for, Lohengrin, until I was heading to Munich to sing with my choir, and decided to learn some of Bavaria’s history.

Continue reading “The Processional”

Readings for Memorials

You don’t have to lead many funerals before you recognise just how powerful a reading can be. It can put words to an emotion that is otherwise hard to quantify, it can give mourners the space to laugh or to cry, and it can bring a community together.

Anything could become a reading: a poem, a line from a play, a sacred text, a political speech or—perhaps the most meaningful possible source—something written by the person you’re farewelling.

The world wide web boasts many many pages dedicated to readings for funerals, and my contribution is hardly mind-blowing, but here are four of my favourite readings.

Afterglow
anonymous
I’d like the memory of me to be a happy one;
I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done;
I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways
of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve to dry under the sun;
And leave a little salty stain on cheeks out having fun.

When Great Trees Fall
Maya Angelou
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses, and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes 
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and 
our reality, bound to 
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their 
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their 
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of 
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
FEAR NO MORE THE HEAT O’ THE SUN
William Shakespeare (Cymbeline IV,ii)
Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
   Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
   Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o’ the great;
   Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke:
Care no more to clothe and eat;
   To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,
   Nor they all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
   Thou hast finished joy and moan;
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renownéd be thy grave!
FUNERAL ORATION
John Kinsella
The grave is a gate you send flowers through,
and the pink blossom frosting the northern hemisphere
is, on closer observation, a confluence of species.
There is a scent that’s as much about lingering
as leaving, and it’s about time the ploughs
were moving down there. The geographical
centre fluctuates while the magnetic centre
remains rock solid. Prayer goes somewhere
and is not lost and expects nothing back.
an old tree—a York gum—oozes sap
like it’s something special in this genealogy.
Most of the family is there and words are said
and those who can’t attend wait for news of the dead
as now it is all about memory.

Click here for more posts on funeral planning

Feature image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

3 Years On: almost equal is still unequal

Feature photo by Valerie Elash on Unsplash.

Marriage equality was a great achievement in Australia, but is marriage really equally accessible to all Australians now? Polyamorous marriage is still not something available to those who do not subscribe to the prevailing hegemony of monogamy.

Continue reading “3 Years On: almost equal is still unequal”

Unique wedding venues in South Gippsland

One of the best things about these unique wedding venues may be their price, but that doesn’t make them cheap wedding venues!

Continue reading “Unique wedding venues in South Gippsland”

To fiancée or not to fiancée?

There’s a bit of confusion about around the words fiancé and fiancée, and with good reason.

Now the simple way to clear things up would be simply to say that fiancé is masculine, and fiancée is feminine. Simples. Case closed. Class dismissed. If you have genitals that go into your body instead of poking out of it, compensate by making the word longer, right? Well, no. Language is social, and as society has changed, these words have fallen into the no-man’s-land that borders misogynistic gendering! Cue the Jaws theme.

The situation is made ever more complex by the fact that although the two words have exactly the same pronunciation, each language they’re used in pronounces them differently! In French, the last syllable takes the emphasis; in English, the penultimate syllable usually gets it.

To understand what the big deal is, we have to look at what that extra e means. In case the little accent above the first e doesn’t make it obvious, fiancé and fiancée are French words. And, contrary to popular belief; in French, these two words don’t principally distinguish between masculine and feminine. They distinguish between the agent and the object (or the doer and the done-to). The masculine and feminine alignment has more to do with the traditional roles of the two parties, and as we will see, it may hold true: but it doesn’t sit comfortably with twenty-first century values.

Both French and English use the suffix -ee on nouns to mark the object of the sentence (the person or thing that something is done to). If you have addressed an envelope, the person you’ve addressed it to is the addressee: the addressee doesn’t have to do anything, the envelope just comes to them. If my car breaks down and you tow me, I don’t exert effort because I am the towee. And we all know, if your partner dumps you, you are the dumpee; there may be some crying involved, but you are the object, and not the agent. So, if your partner proposes marriage and you accept, you are the fiancée, regardless of your gender.

Both fiancé and fiancée are derived from the Latin root fidare: a promise or trust. The fiancé is the truster, and the fiancée the trustee. When applied to a betrothal, the fiancée is engaged to the fiancé, not the other way around. There’s no question of who is active in such a relationship, and in the twenty-first century, that starts to feel anachronistic.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, when these words entered the English language, this was de rigueur. A woman might be engaged to a man, but this was not generally of her doing: it was done to her, or for her, or possibly with some consultation about her preferences; but she did not do it herself. That might have been fine even as little as 50 years ago, but I think we’ve moved on a bit.

It’s confusing enough for gay couples, but for lesbian couples it makes even less sense to use the conventionally-feminine word: if you do, both fiancées are passive participants! The word fiancée in this scenario is semantically incorrect. At least one must be a fiancé, but I would argue that in most engaged Australian couples in this century, regardless of their genders, both are, in semantic fact, fiancés.

Actually, for an authorised celebrant, who has a legal and ethical responsibility to ensure both parties to every marriage are giving their consent to the marriage, the idea of marrying a fiancé to a fiancée sits rather uncomfortably (at least for those of us with a background in linguistics and a penchant for being a bit particular about English and French). If one is the ‘betrother’ and the other is the ‘betrothee’, we are making significant assumptions about the consent of the ‘betrothee’.

I want to suggest we drop this fiancée word altogether.

There is simply no need for a linguistic distinction between a male and a female person who is engaged to be married, and since the conventionally-feminine version carries the stigma of misogyny, I think it can simply be dispensed with to put us all on an equal footing.

Playlists to inspire

Looking for the right track for signing the register?

Need a track that will put all eyes on you as you walk down the aisle?

Want to surprise your guests with the most tear-jerking song for your recessional?

If my Spotify suggestions aren’t cutting it for you, HerCanberra has the list of lists!

juja-han-210775-unsplash

 image: Juja Han

Synchronicity

A few things running parallel in my life harmoniously synchronised in October this year to mean that I became a marriage celebrant and became engaged in the same fortnight.

When I first asked my man out, I was not looking for a husband and neither was he. A boyfriend, yes: maybe even a permanent one, but a husband wasn’t really in my sights. Quite apart from the fact that the Australian government was—like Richard III—not in the giving vein and wouldn’t allow us to get married anyway, I was happy enough with the status quo and didn’t feel any need to tether myself to anyone more strongly than I was tethered to my children.

Before long, however, I’d happily put my plans to leave Canberra on hold for my boyfriend, and I was becoming a master of deflecting his decreasingly-veiled allusions to marriage. My deflections were principally built on the sandy banks of John Howard’s amendment of the Marriage Act to exclude same sex couples from the privilege of matrimony.

Meanwhile, the Australian government increasingly looked to Richard III for inspiration. Courageous and thick-skinned members of the rainbow community were gathering us together behind a fight for legal equality, and their inspirational words made me think that, although marriage was not a personal aspiration for me, I would love to be able to help other members of the community celebrate their commitments to each other.

As I looked into what it would take to become a celebrant, my boyfriend dropped hints that he expected a proposal, which gradually turned into directions about the nature of the proposal expected.

On the celebrancy front, I thought I had time, but queer leaders were more astute at gauging the temper of the times, and with Richard on the throne Turbull in power, they effectively backed the government into a corner, then pedalled like mad as the government turned the full fury of Australia’s homophobes upon us.

This state-sanctioned, state-funded abuse was eventually drowned out by Australia’s voters. The week after the result of the government’s wasteful and abusive plebisurvey was announced, I finally booked my place in a celebrancy course.

In the meantime, voters’ support for our relationship had eroded the sandy bank on which I’d built my objections to tying the knot, and I gradually relented, entertaining the thought of married life again. My boyfriend—rather more Henry V than Richard III—decided the game was afoot, and began planning a proposal of his own.

By the time I had my proposal planned and had sought the blessings of my children, he not only had a plan but also a pair of engagement rings. Before the ring I ordered arrived, it became apparent that we were each—independently—planning special proposals for the same weekend, the fourth anniversary of our first date. We decided to proceed with both plans regardless, and it happened that less than two weeks after the Attorney-General’s Department officially made me an officiant, my boyfriend made me a fiancé, and I returned the favour the following day.

Photo of Adam and Trevar
Adam proposed to me at the National Arboretum on 27 October 2018

As with many wedding customs, our pursuit of equality has led to uncertainty. Even opposite sex couples don’t need to assume that it will be him who proposes to her anymore. We’re not sure what to do about the surname thing, or the giving away, or children… but if we’re celebrating love, it really doesn’t matter. As long as we’re telling our odd three-ring engagement story to people in fifty years, that’s what matters.

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