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My marriage to my former husband, Lord Ivar Mountbatten, ended over a decade ago. Since that time, only two people have ever remarked that it is odd I still go by my married name. One is my anonymous stalker, who has a serious bee in her bonnet about it and writes regularly to tell me I’m trading on the Mountbatten moniker.
The other is the daughter of a Duke, who once informed me I’d elevated my status in not only keeping ‘Mountbatten’ but in choosing to go by Lady Penny after my divorce (I’d been Lady Ivar while I was married). The change of styling, she pointed out, denotes that I am the daughter of a Duke or Earl, which of course I’m not. Given that I had checked it with both Buckingham Palace and Debrett’s, I wasn’t too perturbed by her raised eyebrows.
Much like Melinda Gates – who, it was revealed this week, will not be changing her name after her divorce – it never occurred to me to stop using my married name just because Ivar and I were no longer together. I was 28 when we were married, I’m 55 now, so I’ve been a Mountbatten for a little over half my life. It’s the name I had when I was beginning to build my business and reputation; it’s the name my contacts, clients and friends all over the world know me by. But beyond that, it is part of my identity.
By 27, I was just beginning to forge my way in a career and become a responsible adult. To revert back to my maiden name, Penny Thompson, nearly three decades later and as a mother of three Mountbattens, it would be like stepping back in time. I’d feel I’d lost myself somehow, as if a whole period of my life, which was so formative and relevant, had suddenly ceased to exist.
Even if my work wasn’t a consideration, I would want to share the same name as my daughters, Ella, Alix and Luli, and the man who helped me to create them. It is by very definition our family name, and though Ivar and I are no longer together, we remain a family and always will. Our separation wasn’t necessarily easy, but there is huge love and respect there. We have always stood firm on being close and spend a lot of time together, and with our children.
Our close family unit is also hard won. It takes acceptance, forgiveness and effort to stay united. Our situation is, I appreciate, unique. Ivar is now happily married to James, but he still calls me his wife because he’ll never have another. Of course, it hugely depends on the circumstances of your separation – and I can imagine that when things are more acrimonious, it might be more tempting to shed all the bonds that tied you in marriage, including the name you once shared. I'm grateful that my name doesn't serve as a reminder of painful memories. Quite the opposite is true.
I’m honoured to be part of the Mountbatten clan. They are an extraordinary family, full of inspirational individuals including HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. Being associated with them gives me a huge sense of pride and I hope to do the name justice.
Mrs Gates’s legacy is, of course, hugely significant, but in my own small way, I can relate to her. My former husband’s name has helped me raise much needed funds for the five charities of which I am an active patron. I relish being able to support them and I’m quite sure they wouldn’t want me if I was Penny Thompson. But if I can raise their profile and increase their coffers (as, indeed, so many Mountbattens have done before me in the name of charitable causes) then I feel I’ve used my name constructively. And if that is “trading on my name”, then so be it. It’s a name I am proud to have.
As told to Eleanor Steafel