Thursday, July 02, 2009

To Women Who Think about Changing their Names after Marriage

You know how I think on the issue of a woman changing her last name after she gets married.

To those who have changed last names: I understand. I do. I know it's difficult, and this may seem like a small battle, one that's not worth fighting. Yet, each time one of you makes the change, I feel slightly let down.

There are those who change both names. I knew this happens in certain communities, but thought it was an anachronistic, outdated ritual, perhaps followed by a few backward families. It seems I was wrong. For those of you who do this, who walk through this fire of ritual sacrifice to emerge with a new name, I feel pity. But I also feel outrage.*

I know I had it easy. The Guy didn't want me to change my name: my in-laws didn't either. My mom was pleased that I chose to keep mine. I know it's difficult to fight a battle with the ones closest to you.

A group of friends discussed this a few days ago. All of us, except one, were of the same view. This friend feels we shouldn't judge what is someone's personal decision, that it doesn't matter what name you choose to be called by. It shouldn't, in an ideal world. But in an ideal world you wouldn't only ever hear of women changing their names after marriage. In an ideal world, you shouldn't need to change your name, because your name would only be an identifier, not an indicator of your marital status or which household you belonged to, or of your caste or your religion or your race.

The Guy's brother-in-law spoke up to tell us a story that left me feeling proud that I was related to him. He talked about their struggle to give their son his wife's name, about the obstinacy of forms and procedures and a doctor who said he couldn't help as they had never come across such a case before. (I wonder what he'll say to the next person who has the same request.)

He said we have to be the change. That we have to break the cycle of tradition.

Unless enough of us are known as Ms Anylastname rather than Mrs Husbandslastname, until it's common for people in one family to have different names, until there is one less example in favour of "Oh, but your (sister/sister-in-law/cousin/friend) changed hers" and one more for "Oh, but she didn't change hers"; society isn't going to change, and nor are forms and procedures.

If your name isn't important, why change it? And if it is, why change it?

*I wondered why these people who want the wife/daughter-in-law's name to begin with a particular letter, don't search for a girl with such a name to begin with. I realised it's probably more difficult to find a girl with a name they consider acceptable than to get the girl they choose to change her name.


Aneela Z said...

oh yes Im with you...I had Arhaan's doc (ex-doc now!) telling his assistant "another one of those double barrel names" (it was the WAY he said it that ticked me off in particular)...even now people refer to my husband as Mr Babar as they just dont get it that we have our own names. Logo ka bus chaley they will ask us to change our blood group to our IL's after marriage.

Unmana said...

What's with docs being so insensitive? You'd have thought they'd know better, given that they're well-educated and all...

Dr. Ally Critter said...

You know in the double barrel last name for the kids in cases like ours where we do not change our names, I have always wondered why the kid gets saddled with mum's-lastname-dad's-lastname always, never the other way round? Is the fathers last name the childs, ultimately?

Personally, when I have a kid, I am determined to give it either mine or Ks name as a last name- should a last name be a necessity. Else the child can be its own name - no last names at all.

Dr. Ally Critter said...

Oh, btw someone had asked me "Did K allow you to keep your name" and I replied with "Yes and I allowed him to keep his".

Anonymous said...

What is this with the husband 'allowing' his wife to keep her last name? What is there to allow - is the wife a possession? I've kept my last name and my daughter has my last name as her middle name...Yes Alankrita, why can't the husband's name come before the wife's?

Rohini said...

My name was changed but only for the marriage certificate.. to keep the ILs happy. My passport carries MY name and I intend to keep it that way coz its a little difficult to get used to another name at this age. The husband insisted I keep my surname and add his as a suffix on the certificate too. But somehow that did not work out. Anyway, no plans of changing my name from our end.. and now I don't even care that the ILs might bother.

Nitu Saksena said...

I am with you on this.. I hate when someone calls me as Mrs husbandsLastName. But since my marriage was 'lil complicated some how I felt obliged to change my name. But as I didn't really want to I did it half heartedly and didn't change it everywhere. I never intend to do it either.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow, I didn't know people change names too-in which community?
but this concept of husband's last name +wife's last name..can be very distressing ,after 2 generations- the combination will be mind boggling.:-)

Unmana said...

@lankr1ta: I have the same thoughts too. Personally, I feel you can give the kid both names and then (s)he can choose when (s)he grows up.

Bones: Exactly!

Rohini, Nits: Isn't it sad that you have to do that to 'keep your ILs happy'? I wonder how they'd feel if your husband said he was changing his name to make your parents happy!

Lostonthestreet: Sindhis do it, apparently, and I guess there are others too. I had a maid once whose in-laws had her change her first name after she got married - though she used her earlier one when I knew her: might have something to do with the fact that her husband had died.

And the kids can decide which name to keep, no?

Aneela Z said...

oh it definitely works out for me that its baby name-my name-dad's name as baby is refered to as baby name my name in most records hee hee

Rohini said...

I know! It really is sad but fortunately, this is the only thing I did to keep them happy! The husband and I refused to change anything else in my life after marriage. It was one moment at that time, we had to succumb but seeing how obviously I was upset about it.
I know the ILs would've freaked out if the husband even thought about changing anything forget the name.
But then, now things are better. I don't care what else my ILs want me to change, I will change it only if I want it to. :)