Name Quandary


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“What’s your name,’ Coraline asked the cat. ‘Look, I’m Coraline. Okay?’
‘Cats don’t have names,’ it said.
‘No?’ said Coraline.
‘No,’ said the cat. ‘Now you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.” Neil Gaiman, Coraline.


This wonderful Guardian article called “Why are my feminist friends still taking their husband’s surnames ?” makes a funny and inspiring read. The writer Zoe Holman tells us –  “A 2013 survey found that around 82% of married Australian women still assume their husband’s surname, while around 90% of children are registered in their father’s names. Taken alongside other stock wedding practices, from white frocks to paternal giveaways, these figures reflect the resilience of patriarchal customs in marriage between Australian men and women; a consent to inequality which is baffling.”


Does this make you think about the situation in India? It does me. The number of Indian women who don’t take their husband’s name must be minuscule, restricted to a few women in metros. Most women wouldn’t even have heard of the concept let alone understand the idea behind what seems an unnecessary battle over and an inconvenient one.


The ‘white frocks’ of the writer’s experience – signifying virginity – are translated into red sarees, salwar kameez or lehenga – signifying fertility. Virginity or fertility – are those the sum total of a bride – her ability to bear children or the purity of her womb? As for paternal giveaways – where the father of the bride gives her to her husband, we have this wonderfully feminist practice in India too – it’s called Kanyadan – because a woman is a possession to be passed on from the father who guarded her purity to the husband who will guard her fertility.


“It’s depressing not to recognise half your Facebook friends list because their names have changed overnight. They have been cast off for the happy tags of “Mrs X”, as if to proclaim “forget who I was before – I am now loved, wanted and owned by a MAN!” says the article about the writer’s Australian feminist friends. She should come to India. I can’t find half of my school friends on Facebook because I don’t know their husband’s surnames. Sad isn’t it? Such is the way of the world.


“The choice to marry is deeply personal. But when publicly performed, it becomes a statement of implied social values and virtues. And when we are asked to participate in this ritual, to bear witness and to endorse it even in the face of our disagreement, the least we can ask for is an explanation.” Go ahead Zoe – ask for all the explanations you want. Good luck getting any. The best that feminist Indian women have come up with is to include their husband’s names in theirs – the hyphenated, double barreled name. An intertwining of names so to say. Except that the husband never takes the wife’s name.


As issues go this may seem like a minor one although no topic is too small to be tackled. We don’t have to wait before everyone understands and appreciates feminism to discuss matters such as wedding customs and name changes.


Not changing your name has it’s problems too, although they’re mostly comical as you can read at The problem that has two names where Pamela Paul had me giggling over this –


“Given my family history, I should have this sorted by now. When my mother divorced my father nearly four decades ago, she had established a career in advertising under her married name and kept it. So when my father remarried, to a woman with the same first name, his new wife couldn’t take his name — if she wanted to — unless she wanted the same name as his ex. Moreover, I was briefly married while in my 20s to someone else. Then, too, I changed my name, only to change it right back a year later. Processing the paperwork lasted longer than the actual marriage.”


Some feminists believe that changing your name to your partner’s last name is a feminist choice. This blogger writes –


“I know many women choose to keep their given names because they feel that those names are tightly woven into their identities. But my given name almost feels like a cocoon I need to shed to feel truly independent and self-sufficient in this world. I’m going to be doing a whole lot of transcending in the months leading up to and after the wedding, while assuming a bunch of new identities—college graduate, wife, badass independent adult—and I want a new symbolic identity to match. Marriage just gives me a good legal excuse to do so.”


Interesting – right?


I got married at the age of 20 and although I am and always have been a feminist I too decided against keeping my given name – because it would be so confusing for the children I hoped to have. And did.  I dutifully processed all the paperwork and assumed my new identity. Twenty seven years later when we divorced, despite the fact that my byline as a writer was my married name I chose to change my name back to my given name. I wanted a new identity, one that did not say wife or even mother – and I got that by getting my old new name. The paperwork this time around was monumental, I now had life insurance policies, bank accounts, a driving license, property papers, a pan card, a passport, a separate visa (which still bears my married name because changing a name is just outside the purview of the authorities) but I threw myself into the gargantuan task of changing the name on this entire set of  documents. (Well, not all). The frenetic activity seemed to be my way of make my independence real. Not that it matters much. When I go through immigration not a single officer has batted an eyelid at the two different names on the passport and the visa.


What did you do when you got married? What do you plan to do when you get married?  Change your name? Or not? Why? Do comment.


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About Kalpana

Trying to change the world one blog post at a time. I write. It's the best thing I can do. I am the Hanged Man, the Fool, the sometime Magician. Whether I travel in my imagination or in real life I write about it and show you pictures either through my photography or through the pictures I paint with my words. I read books and write fiction. During working hours I teach English as an Additional Language. I edit.

Posted on January 14, 2014, in bride, Culture, Divorce, Feminist, for the sake of the children, husband's name, tradition and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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