Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What’s in A Name?

So you haven’t changed your last name yet?
Why have you kept both your surnames?

Everyone considers these questions as their birth right to ask a lady who has been recently married and mind you this does not apply to Indians alone!

I have all along wondered why it is such a talked about issue. It’s my name and it’s my personal choice. Today a lady can retain her maiden name, and there aren’t any legal hassles. All that she should have is the marriage certificate as a proof of her marriage to her husband. Her name is a matter of her personal choice. Yet we are to accept it as a norm. The norm that is easily accepted is to simply take up your husband’s name right away.

Why exactly? I don’t see the husbands changing their name to their wives’ name! (Have I turned on the feminists, one more point to debate about?) I don’t even want people to do that, that’s being foolishly extreme, but surely the girl must have a choice in retaining her maiden name, keeping both surnames or changing over completely to her husband’s name. That choice should be hers and hers alone. It’s her name and identity we are dealing with. We talk of educating the women, giving them liberty and yet when she chooses to retain her maiden name or keep both surnames, it is often met with raised eyebrows. And raised eyebrows are not only from the older generation but from your own friends and peers. Your own generation! (In fact I have found it easier to convince the elders than my peers)

I find it increasingly funny when I hear justifications that no one from any side in both families has done it before. Well that is not a reason for me to not do it :-)

I have simply thought about it on a few lines:

  • For most of us it’s our parents who are responsible for what we turn out. We do owe them a lot. Tell me how can one suddenly stop identifying as somebody’s daughter simply because she has become someone’s wife? They are the ones who give you your identity, so what is the need to drop their identity from one’s name.
  • To look at it practically and logically, the name change process can be quite a pain. These days most girls get married after they have been working for sometime. This means that their bank accounts, initial investments, correspondences, documents like passport, credit cards, etc all are in their maiden name. Imagine the pain one has to go through to communicate to all of them about the change in name. (Surprisingly the men don’t seem to go through this hassle when they get married!) So the ideal situation would be to not change the maiden name at all and continue as is.
  • But then when you are a mix of traditional values and rebellious streak, the two-surname choice is a more lucrative one. I love both of them, my parents and my husband. I have to have them both in my identity. They after all are important in defining me :-)
  • It is definitely easier to relate to the old and new identities if both names are retained. For e.g: I’d relate to 'Miss Maya Ray' as 'Mrs Maya Ray Sen' much better than only 'Mrs Maya Sen.'
  • By keeping both names the lady depicts the union of two families forever

What I hate is the safe universal assumption that the lady getting married will change her name to her husband’s. I can choose to call myself Princess Consuela (But I’m no Pheobe and I won’t go to those extremes) instead , it’s my choice after all. Earlier I tried giving everyone my point of view but I now see it as a fruitless exercise and I’ve come back to telling myself the same thing. It’s my name and I decide what I do with it. No more questions asked, no explanations given.

Surprisingly the one person who should have raised some concern is completely okay with whatever I choose :-) Ah the wonders of having an understanding friend in a hubby!

22 comments:

anand krsna said...

ok good ...but what if some body is xyz khan singh...something like this sounds wierd but hey i have zero problems...

Shruthi said...

I totally agree with you Minal, very well-articulated post too! Especially the first two points - how can you drop your parents' surname just like that? And the practical problems... too much! Actually I was very sure right from my childhood that I would never change my surname. Now it has so happened that I have married someone who has the same surname as mine! :) So there are no questions asked. But sometimes I wish the surnames had been different, so that I could "rebel" and stick to my maiden name :)

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Major pain it is! Trying to please everyone! So I decided just to please myself and kept my maiden name. Selfish I know! Also I make sure I keep doing other crazy things to give people a topic of conversation!

MumbaiGirl said...

I kept mine too-to much a part of me to give up!

Jagadish said...

I didn't even feel that my wife ought to change her name. I left it upto her. She has had an identity for 27-odd years and I didn't feel that it was fair to ask her to drop that identity! The next thing to wonder about though is how to handle Jaagruthi's initials, since not all forms accept two initials! :)

Anonymous said...

I didn't change mine because of the second reason - having to change it in a gazillion places. The latest I hear from my peers is "it will be a problem when you have kids and you are travelling with them without your husband" ?!

Aishwarya said...

You've missed out one possibility - that of dropping both your parents surname and your husbands and having no surname at all. I know at least one person who has done this, and I love her for it. Though it's a little weird addressing letters and cards to her.

Kamlesh said...

Interesting post. As long as one doesn't have children, I really don't see a problem with keeping last names. But what happens when you have kids? In the post from 'Anonymous' above it seems as if it is assumed that the kids get the father's name? Why? My children have my last name, this was important to me personally and my husband was ok with it. He was mostly more worried how others would take it. For me, it's whatever works for each person, couple and family. But I have noticed I am the only Indian woman I know whose children have her name.

Minal said...

@antarafans: We shall let the lady decide what sounds weird and what not:-)

@Shruti: The grass is always greener on the other side! You get all the luck in the world where your husband's surname is same as your maiden name and now you are hoping it wasn't, so that you could rebel!:-)I think you are very lucky to have been spared of all the issues!

@Shoefiend: Selfish? I don't think so!Why is it that we women have to do all the pleasing!

@Mumbaigirl: As I said in my post kept both, can't give up my maiden name, too much a part of my identity too.

@Jagadish: These forms do become a bit of a problem. As I said it is a norm that has not been fully accepted yet, but I'm sure in the days to come things will come around;-) So don't worry:-)

@Anonymous: Oh yes I haven't encountered that question yet! But I see no reason why it should be a problem!

@Aishwarya: That is also a good point. Just I, me and myself. Interesting. Anything different always seems weird but we do come around to accept it, don't we?

@Kamlesh:Rather proud of you!You should set an example for others. Nice! I liked that. And you are right as long as your husband and you have an understanding , others shouldn't really matter!
My husband never asked me to give up my surname so it was also easy for me. In fact I told him I'd rather keep both:-)

Sunil said...

my wife retains her maiden name.......we didn't even discuss it much.

But sometimes being south indian helps. Surnames aren't such a big thing. Most people live with initials (L. Balaji, or K. Ramakrishna, or P. Lakshmi...........). I think this often makes the surname issue much less of a deal. You're not hanging on to some grand name then. Your own name is all that matters. :-)

Minal said...

@Sunil: It's easier no doubt! The first name aspect.
Between the husband and wife it's never an issue, its when immediate and extended families step in and begin to bring it up that's when it gets sensitive and amounts to some discussion.
Easier way out, leave it to the two people concerned and don't bring up the tradition issue everytime for God's sake:-)

Truman said...

I agree with you, totally :)

Sandip said...

Marathi theatergoers will surely agree with me that Dipti Prabhavalkar-Patel-Lumumba should be credited as the pioneer of this movement :)

p.s: Minal - per your suggestion (to be read as order), I shall try and post to your blog :)

Minal said...

@Truman: :-)

@Sandip: Se this why I want you to comment! Completely new perspective. But I agree with that! Just saw it recently again on the VCD and Dipti Prabhavalkar-Patel-Lumumba was awesome;-)

P.s: Thanks for being such an obedient friend;-)

Arun said...

It is definitely easier to relate to the old and new identities if both names are retained. Agree with that. But like my wife's, if your name becomes Shalini Sharma Verma after marriage, you need to think twice. :-)

Minal said...

@Arun: Well did she think twice?:-) It's got such a nice rhyming to it! Shalini Sharma Verma I like that:-)You don't need any efforts to remember it, it just stays!

Tugga said...

Hmm.. plus a lot less hassle after the divorce, merit in your suggestion my friend, real merit:-)

Minal said...

@Tugga: You will make an excellent Black hat thinker! A very good point;-)
Btw where are you, and you seem to be forgetting a lot of things!

Mangesh said...

I think IF Lara Dutta marries Brian Lara, then she will most certainly accept your suggestions!!! :-)

Imagine, a new masala flick ka entry titles... Starring - Akshay Kumar, Lara Lara!!! :-)))

Minal said...

@Mangi: If she accepts my suggestions she wouldn't be Lara Lara. She would be Lara Dutta-Lara! God! What a confusion that would be;-)
But if either of them don't do the whole name change process , people would appreciate Brian's magnanimity of taking up his wife's name in his name;-)What say?

Mangesh said...

I think Kelly Dorjee will show his magnanimity then by renaming himself as Kelly Dutta or whatever the lady chooses!

Anonymous said...

I read your blog...
My response is:
There are many young men like me who have a broadly liberal outlook. For instance
- I wouldn't mind my wife working late.
- I wouldn't ever expect her to do domestic chores.
- I would share responsibility with regard to bringing up kids...
In a sense, marriage would be an equal partnership. However I would expect her to adopt my surname. A woman does not lose her identity, merely by adopting her husband’s name. Examples of women who adopted their husband’s names and were spectacular successes include:
- Margaret Thatcher who went on to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
- Shobha De who is one of the leading lights of the feminist movement in India.
- Brinda Karat who gives the government of the day sleepless nights in partnership with her husband.
Dropping ones maiden name and adopting her husband’s surname is - 'cute and romantic' rather than anything else.
When I do get married I would like my wife to be Mrs. Desai, rather than Ms. X or Ms. X-Desai!
Sati, dowry, purdha, infanticide, keeping women in the house, wife beating and stuff like that need to be done away with. Equality is a wonderful thing. We need to improve the lot of women.
But please don’t run a campaign of the kind I think you are…don’t destroy something which is CUTE, ROMANTIC, SWEET and most importantly HARMLESS. :-(
Sorry, if I offended you in any way...