What’s there in a surname?

Patriarchy. Quite clearly!

Ever wondered why a girl has to change her maiden name after marriage and a boy doesn’t? “Because that’s what everyone does!” Aren’t you just tired of hearing- “Boys carry forward the family name.” But the question remains why can’t girls do the same? Why aren’t they encouraged to keep their last names? Just because everyone does it, is it right?

The system of adopting husbands’ surname after marriage and discarding their own maiden names is the norm most of the women follow(or ‘have to’ follow), be it in India or around the world. It can’t be denied that this system is one of the most basic ingredients towards a patriarchal society. Systems like these propagate the idea of an unmarried daughter being her family’s “Paraya Dhan” (translated literally to wealth that belongs to someone else, as if girls are ‘things’ that someone can possess) which has to be given away to someone else after marriage.

Since being born, a girl has the psychological thought process that even her name is not permanent and she will have to change it some day, if she ever wants to get married to a guy who might not allow her to keep her maiden name. When women’s identities are not permanent, can they ever imagine to completely face a society dominated by men? Can they ever really walk shoulder to shoulder with men? I don’t think so.

You might ask, “What’s there in a surname? It’s just a name. We never even use surnames to talk to each other. It’s just on the papers that a surname will change”
Well then imagine this:

You were born with a surname and grew up with everyone identifying you with that name. All your certificates have that name, all your bank accounts, all your email ids and Facebook and Twitter accounts have that name. Your signature has included that name for more than two decades. And suddenly one day, you have to change it. You have to give up all of that, even though you always knew it had to happen SOME DAY. Add to that the fact that you’re not only changing your surname, but you’re even changing houses, leaving your parents, siblings and everything that ever belonged to you. Of course you can take some things with you, but you can’t have it all.

Sound like a cake walk to you? No? Aww! but that’s what most of the women have gone through after marriage, for centuries.

Now, I am not saying that every woman should get stressed whether her husband would let her keep her maiden name or not. After all, yes it’s just a name and there are many more important things that a woman has to weigh in before deciding to marry a guy. There are also plenty guys who love their women enough to let them hyphenate last names or even let the names stay unchanged. But even these guys might face the brunt of his parents if his parents don’t agree that a girl should be allowed to keep her maiden name, esp in countries like India where parents ALWAYS have a say in how children should live their life, no matter how old the children are. Also, no matter what a couple agrees to about the new bride’s last name, their kids in the future will definitely have the groom’s last name. Isn’t it?

There are also plenty of women, who have no problem with changing their surname and actually might want to change it as an act of love for their husbands and be happy about it. But this post is not about whether a girl’s surname should change or not. This post is about promoting the idea that every person has a choice to select their surname. The reason I am not saying ‘every girl’, but ‘every person’ is that, there are a lot of boys who don’t like their father’s names or their fathers either. They should be given a choice to adopt their mothers’ maiden names too if they wish.

The reason why I decided to write this post is not because I love my name too much. But a name is an identity. My name is what I am, and changing it because I married a guy gives undue strength to the idea that girls’ surnames aren’t as important as boys’ surnames and so it is ‘okay’ to change it. Nope, sorry! My surname is as important as any other bloke’s name. Then what about the kids? They will again be given the father’s name? Isn’t that strengthening that same idea? Now that’s where things get tricky.
My opinion is any person who wants to destroy this idea can follow the below given concept, which I would like to call The New Name Concept:

A. Any person who marries another must keep their premarital surname.
B. If a kid is born, hyphenate his surname, with mother’s and father’s surnames.
C. After the kid turns 18 years of age, encourage him to choose. He/she can either keep the hyphenated name or choose the mother’s surname or the father’s surname.

The C rule above can be a disputable one, since if a kid chooses to go with the mother’s surname, the father’s feelings can be hurt or vice versa. But it will also encourage the idea that caring for the child is the responsibility of both parents, not just one’s. If one parent doesn’t take good care of the kid, that parent’s surname will get discarded. Natural selection of surnames? Kind of.

Now this logic might seem a little weird to you. You might be thinking I am basically asking the whole world to change? Well, yes, I AM asking the world to change. Because as long as patriarchy stays, women will always have to bear the consequences. As long as patriarchy stays, women will always be considered expendable. It’s high time we try to weaken the roots of patriarchy. My decision that I will not be abandoning my maiden name after marriage and that I will give a choice a to my kids to select which surname they want is a step towards weakening patriarchy. At a time when women are fighting for equality, it’s needless to say, equality should be everywhere, be it in salaries, jobs or names.

If you feel that the New Name Concept given by me has loopholes and you have a better solution to the patriarchal name system, or just if you want to share ideas, please feel free to comment.


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