Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Last Name

I had always known that I would not take my husband's name when I got married. I had decided that years ago, when I was beginning to fancy myself as a writer and a feminist, when the idea of changing the name I'd grown up with to become an impersonal "Mrs. Somebody" was repulsive.

I have remained a determined feminist, yet today, I wonder whether it makes sense to keep my father's name when I have been distancing myself from him. After all, how is using one's father's name less patriarchal than using one's husband's? It is perhaps more independent to take one's spouse's name: I chose my husband, but I did not choose a father. Would changing my name to Mrs theGuy'slastname help me let go of my past and embrace my wonderful present?

But before I think it through, I know I cannot do it. My marital status is nobody's business but my own. It does not change me: I am the same person I ever was. Why should I proclaim it to the world by changing my name?

I did not decide to keep this name because it was my father's, but because it was mine. I could take my husband's name, my mother's maiden name (that she herself forsook so many years ago), or any other name I fancy, and it would all seem fake.

Why is a name important except in that it identifies you? I do not need a name to bind me to my husband or my mother: why should I need it to divorce me from my past?

This name is mine. It has no importance except what I choose to attach to it. It has no baggage, no history, except what I choose to give it.

26 comments:

anumita said...

I thought the same too a long time ago... but last names and all cease to matter today when all you want is to share and be one.
This has proved to be a tough decision for many. Let it not worry you much... just go by what you feel.

Unmana said...

I'm curious - what did you do, ultimately?

GettingThereNow said...

I was thinking about the same thing a few days ago - maiden name Vs. married name. I believe I am a feminist in my own way. I don't get up in arms about many feminist issues. I agree with some, disagree with some and have my own take on others.

As for the name, I used to sign with only my first name when I was unmarried. Why? Because I felt why should even my father's name identify me? I took my husband's name after getting married because he said he would like it. Yes, doesn't seem very feminist, does it? But again, my take was - I treat my last name as only an identifier. Necessary for forms and such. Don't need it for anything else. Still sign with only my first name. I am still my own person. I don't care if my last name is my father's or my husband's because, frankly, I don't care about either. It is the RELATIONSHIP with my father and my husband that i care about. And a mere name can't describe/identify that relationship. Does this even make any sense? I have been meaning to write a post on this for a long time but this was precisely the reason I haven't - can't organize my thoughts coherently enough on this.

Vikram Waman Karve said...

Good decision. I have known girls who change both their names - their own and surname - during marriage and aquire a total new identity altogether.

Unmana said...

I can identify with wanting to be known by only your first name. My first name is who I am, and that is what feels like me.

Also, I can understand what you mean about the last name being only an identifier, and this should be true - in a perfect world. In the world as it is, unfortunately, women are expected to take their husband's last names. So doing that would seem like a cop-out, like I didn't bother to challenge that assumption. It would feel like a compromise to change my last name that I've used for all these years, just because society expects it. If men and women were equally likely to change their last names to match with their partners, I would have no problem with anyone making a choice to change their name.

There is also another aspect. I consider marriage a personal relationship, as intimate and with about as much significance as say, a live-in relationship. But it is only when you are married (not when you merely move in with a partner) that you are expected to change your name. I consider that a) my marital status is my business and I don't need to announce it to the world, b) a marriage isn't necessarily much different or more significant than a romantic relationship between two people who aren't married to each other. The latter is particularly relevant when some groups - same-sex couples - are deprived of the right to marry, and in India even of the right to love.

the mad momma said...

Amen !!

GettingThereNow said...

I understand the reasons you have cited for not changing your name. But then, not changing one's name just because society expects one to do the opposite - and doing what the society expects would seem like a cop out - this doesn't seem like a strong enough reason to me. Changing my last name (or not) was the least important for me among other things. Again - it is solely MY case, I don't expect everyone to feel the same about it.

I do get your point about marriage being a personal relationship. Specially in India it is very tough to take such stances even now and for that I feel women like you are "kudoworthy" :D

Unmana said...

Thanks, Cee Kay.

I don't think one should not change one's name just because society expects one to do the opposite: rather, I'd say the only reason to change your name seems to be that society (or some part of it) expects you to - and that doesn't seem reason enough to me.

Moz said...

In the interests of balance I'm very tempted to change my name. Being a boy and all. Especially since my partner's surname has many homonyms and I think it would be amusing at times to use one of those instead of her actual name.

One amusing thing is to address mail to "Mr {her name}". My friends are mostly used to it now, but it can make people think.

GettingThereNow said...

Need to put in my 2 cents on one thing -

Marriage IS significantly different from a romantic relationship. It gives one a legal right to make decisions on behalf of one's partner in case of medical emergencies, for one. not very romantic thought, but realy very practical I'd say. There are more such legal reasons (e.g. inheritance, custody of children in some cases etc.) why marriage is different from a romantic/live-in relationship. IMHO restrictions on same-sex couples are relevant to another discussion. Yes, the treatment they are meted out in this respect is horrible and should be changed.

Changing one's name just because one's expected to doesn't seem a very strong reason - I agree. But if one does, then compared to other issues (dowry, property rights, getting respect) it is very trivial. I understand it matters alot to some women, and they are increasing in numbers now. I say it is good that women today are so headstrong in these matters. I wish I were this headstrong in the beginning years of my marriage over certain issues that have caused me a lot of hurt. But again, in my opinion, some women take the "easy way out" by changing their names because this is not a battle they wish to fight. And for some others, it IS they way things are done and so they do it. It should change, and IS changing, but in my opinion, it should become MORE than just an issue of name-change. It is an issue of the whole "being expected to change your personality/identity (by identity I don't mean just the name here) after getting married". I think, the best way we can bring about a consistent change is by teaching these values of true equality to our kids. We may not live long enough to see the changes, but we can be sure that the change will propogate.

Moz: Why would being addressed as Mr. {wife's name} be "amusing" when being addressed as "Mrs. {husband's name}" isn't considered so? To me, if someone declares this, it seems that they are just trying to be openminded about the issue but aren't really so.

Unmana said...

Cee Kay:

I understand and agree with most of what you say. I agree this is a trivial issue compared to most others: there are bigger battles to fight. But I am trying to point out that, in an ideal world, it shouldn't be this way. And it is the ideal that we should always strive for.

I agree that the issue here is "being expected to change your personality/identity after getting married". And that the name change is but a small part of that. But it is a visible part. I do not say that it is the biggest battle worth fighting: as you can see, the post only talks about my thoughts and feelings in the matter. But I am glad that more women are fighting for it.

I totally agree with you on teaching values to children. I already admire you for being a caring, responsible, thoughtful mother. I am sure your girls will grow up to be strong, independent women. I can say that much of my independence comes from the way my parents treated me.

As for marriage being different from romantic relationships: in a legal sense, of course it is. But that seems to be the only difference. (And that only relates to how the law views us, not to how we view ourselves.) I am a bit wary of the attitude that says that marriage implies commitment: you can have one without the other. Which is why I argued that it shouldn't matter whether my partner and I have the same name or not.

I want to clarify that I am not blaming women who do take on their husband's names. Women have to fight enough battles in the home, I know, without adding to their burden. I am only criticising the society that expects so much of women: I am only stating why it doesn't make sense to me. I have immense respect for you and am sorry if I have inadvertantly caused any pain.

GettingThereNow said...

Hey! NO - you haven't hurt my feelings at all!! I am sorry if I inadvertently hurt yours. I was just enjoying the discussion and my intention was just to bring the other side of the argument up. I love doing that :D Used to drive my paretns nuts.

I completely understand your stand on the issue and admire you and women like you for that. It can't be easy taking this stand in a society that is so intolerant of a trivial thing as keeping one's name after marriage. Please don't take my comments personally - often I treat commentspace as a place where I can have a healthy discussion with someone (if they are up to it) and I enjoyed trading opinions with you on this.

And yes, I understood from the very beginning that you were just expressing your take on the issue and not judging anyone else for that. The language of the post is very civilized, clear and "I" oriented and there is no scope for misunderstanding.

Unmana said...

Cee Kay - thanks for taking part in the discussion (and for all the nice things you said about me). I am not hurt at all, I was just afraid I might have seen critical.

The comments space should be a forum for healthy discussion - I hope we can have more of that!

loving soul said...

nice blog...
i could relate to so many of your posts... and best to this... i got married recently to a guy i could match my intellectual wavelength but in a family which would never understand me... i didnt change my name and i dont know what implications it hold in future... i think my kids should keep both our names or should be told about both the leanages so that they could decide which name they wish to take forward...
i am a designer and can get away with the patent implications on the products i designed and are already in market if i change my name :)

Unmana said...

Loving soul: thank you. I am glad you understand, and can relate.

Rohini said...

I am getting married soon and I am wondering about the name too! I don't know if I should take my husband(to be)'s name or leave it the way it is.. life sounds so much simpler when its my present name! i don't have to worry about a new passport.. and don't have to change my signatures.. but I wonder what he thinks about it... :)

Unmana said...

Oh, but if you don't know yet, you should talk to him! But please make it your decision: it is all right if you take his name, but only if you are comfortable with it.

Rohini said...

yea i know... just waiting for the right time i guess! thanks anyway.. :) and congrats for showing up on the best indian blogs list!

Unmana said...

Thank you very much! So that's how you found me!

Rohini said...

yup!! :) would like to add u onto my blogroll if u agree!?

Unmana said...

I'm honoured! Thanks!

Rohini said...

thanks!!! i blog on carnivaloflife.wordpress.com if you'd like to have a look... though i'm not that good! just a lame attempt! :)

Unmana said...

I did look up your blog already! Very enthusiastic thoughts of a very young person! :-)

Rohini said...

Thaaaanks!!!! :)

mardi said...

I would like to change my last name just because i don't like it lol....but i'm marrying an Arab guy and Arab women keep their name because it's part of their identity....so they would think it was weird if i took his name.

Unmana said...

mardi: Thanks for that bit of information about Arab culture: I didn't know that!

And if you don't like your name, can't you change it to anything you want - the name you like most in the world, or maybe one you make up for yourself? You don't have to restrict yourself to just your husband's name, do you?