The other day I was in the District Court with my husband to complete the formalities of adopting his surname. To be precise, I was there to add another surname to my maiden name. I am now known as Monika Bakshi Singh; the last surname being my husband’s!
Just a few days prior to my visit to the court, I was having a discussion with my husband over this entire “surname change issue”. Luckily he was not adamant on changing my surname completely; instead he was in favour of just the adoption of it.
During the open hearted discussion, I told him that I was contemplating to continue with my maiden name. At this, he supported me, yet I could sense that he nursed the desire to give me his surname, to be added after mine.
That night I reflected on this matter. I wondered what’s in a name that makes a man wish to change his wife’s surname?
Is marriage meant for integration or segregation? Does it only bring separation for a girl? Separation from her family, her home an even her identity?
Now the question that bugs me is that why do women afterall need to change their maiden name?
Whatever may be the social or psychological reason, I presume that it is basically the society’s way to show that a woman is weaker than man in all respects and thus needs a guardian by any means. Hence, a change in the maiden name is a means to show that she now belongs to a man, her guardian.
In today’s world of course, many professional ladies prefer to carry forward there maiden name, instead of appending her husband’s surname to her name.
Some do it to evade legal hassles, while some do it to adhere to their staunch feminist beliefs, which propel them to think that a change in their maiden name would indicate “submission” in this gender biased society.
And how do men react to this absolute rejection? Obviously I am quite sure that very few men would like it, and the rest would protest. Men’s ego plays a major role at this.
However, one interesting fact is that it’s not only in India that woman change their surname. The English speaking countries like Britain, Australia and English speaking provinces of Canada and the US, to name the few, also follow this social norm.
But it’s the same western world, where wife’s name is also, in some rare cases, taken by husband upon marriage. As for example, Jack white of the US rock band, The White Stripes, adopted wife Meg White’s surname! Sounds very interesting! Exceptions to the rule they say.
However in Russia, the newly adopted couple are given a choice to adopt a common surname, be it the husband’s or the wife’s.
Interestingly in France, the law of the land says, “no one may use another name than that given on their birth certificate”, and it’s constitution guarantees “women and men have equal rights”. But if however, either of the spouse wants to change or add a surname, he/she has to go through an administrative procedure. French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s wife Carla Bruni is known as Madame Carla Bruni Sarkozy.
The name changing system in Spain and Spanish speaking Latin America, is rather very fascinating. There is a tradition to adopt paternal and maternal surname on birth. In case of marriage, the girl drops her mother’s surname and adds her husband’s surname to her father’s.
What I notice is that in most of the cases, in almost all the cultures, in a developed world or a developing world, it’s the woman, who’s identity is taken away.
In India however, this cultural/social obligation, whatever you call it, is varied.
In northern India, some cultures give woman unique surnames like “devi”, “kaur” etc. While some compel her to adopt her husband’s surname. In South India, women from states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, take their husband’s surname; while in Kerala a woman appends her father’s name/surname as her surname, with her mother’s name as a middle name.
Being a matriarch state, in Meghalaya, a woman adopts mother’s surname. That I guess gives ample importance to a woman’s identity.
Reaching at a conclusive mode, my mind just questions me one thing: What is it that makes surname change after marriage so important. Be it the developed western world or the developing India, this tradition is prominent everywhere!
Is it a way to show that man is more powerful and worthy? Or is it a thoughtless practice?
I believe personally, that it’s a decent way to make a man feel his authoritarian position in the society and to show a woman that she is under a man’s subjugation.
But then the other mind tells me that a name is just a way to know someone as “somebody”. Dropping or conjunction of surnames is one’s personal choice. Keep it or drop it, what’s in a name afterall?