What’s in a surname?

The norm is that women change their surname after marriage. If it’s Katherine Geller who is getting married to Robin Freeman, after marriage it’s Katherine Freeman. If Anushka Selvam is getting married to Sunil Kumar, after marriage it’s usually Anushka Kumar. Hence in most cases the format is,

If AX – female, and BY – male, then

AX + BY = AY + BY.

If you’ve already seen what’s wrong with the picture, you’ve got the point.

Nowadays the scene’s changed a bit. Now it’s Katherine Geller-Freeman or Anushka Selvam Kumar. So in this scenario,

AX + BY = AXY + BY.

Something is wrong with this picture too. Neither does maths work like this, nor should people.

Now, sometimes when I talk about surnames people complain that I am nit-picking. They say, “Women are being raped and killed and there is female feticide and infanticide, and all you are bothered with is a surname. Why? Look at the big picture.” I cannot stress enough that when I talk about surnames, I am looking at the big picture.

Why do women have to change their name after marriage? In what religious scripture is it written that only if you take your husband and his family’s last name, the ritual of marriage is complete? And even if it is written, why does this have to be a one way street? Why doesn’t a man take a woman’s last name?

I’ve heard this one too- What’s in a name, as the great Shakespeare said. If there is nothing in it, why change it in the first place?

mr. and mrs.

A person’s full name comprises of a first name and a last name. Taken together, it is like the scientific name of a species, it pinpoints to you. It is what you were born with, the name your parents gave you, which ties you to your family. It is the name you write hundreds of times, thousands of times, on notebooks, on bills, on answer sheets, in fancy handwriting, what you are known by in your school, in college, at the university, at your workplace.

Then all of a sudden a girl is married, and your last name is just gone. Just like that. No explanation whatsoever. And your husband gets to keep his, plus slap his own last name in place of yours. Just like that. Labelling you as ‘his’. Staking his claim on you. Because is it not claiming? When you wrote your name on a pair of socks or the first page of a book, wasn’t it to signify that it is yours? And when women don’t get to do the same to the spouse, what does it mean? It means, simply, that we can’t lay claim on a single thing. There is nothing we can call ours. We do not possess. We do not possess the right to possess.

With the change of name inevitably comes a change of identity. You now belong to another family. Their rules are your rules, their habits are yours. Your rules, your habits are all out of the window. You’ve made your husband’s family your own, taken his name, but when he doesn’t accord the same respect to your family, it just means that your family and their problems, their lives are simply not his concern. Is it fair? You tell me.

I don’t know how many are aware but one of the main reasons families do not want daughters, especially in India, is because having a girl child means that there is no one to carry forth the family name. Because, you guessed it, they change their names after marriage and the family name vanishes.

Example: Suppose there are a family of four, a mother, a father and two daughters. The family name is Khanna. As the girls grow up, one of the girls gets married to a boy with the last name Kumar, and the other to a boy with the name Sharma. Both girls change the surname.

What if they are the last family in the world with the name ‘Khanna’? The girls change their surname, and the name is lost. Once the parents die, the name ceases to exist on a person on this planet. Now, explain to me, if a family risks losing their name permanently if they keep having daughters, and in a country where the family name holds unnecessary, magnanimous importance, why would such families want daughters at all?

This is a prevalent problem in the world, in underdeveloped countries, in conservative societies. There are also certain people who believe in changing both, the girl’s first and last name after marriage. Total ownership.

Women should keep their names after marriage, and should be known in personal, professional and social circles as such. When they succeed, they should bring laurels to themselves and their parents who have taken pains and made sacrifices to raise them. Their husbands and their families have every right to be proud, but they do not have the right to label the girl as theirs. If a woman doesn’t want to have a surname at all, there are legal ways to do it. It should depend on her, not on her husband.

The next argument people pose against women keeping their last name is- What will be the surname of the children? In my opinion, people create problems when they are afraid of the solution and the change it will bring, that the resistance to the solution is directly proportional to the degree of inconvenience it will create for them. Hyphenation seems like a good idea but truth is, if everyone starts giving hyphenated surnames to their kids, we are bound to wind up with a population of citizens with names as long as trains in a few generations.

Thus, I think that when a couple has one child only, toss for it. I mean it. If you have more than one kid, one child can take the mother’s last name and one can take the father’s. Or you could plan it by gender. Girl children take mother’s name while boys take the father’s. Or vice versa, whatever you want, however you like to play it. There is great joy in taking decisions, you realise once you begin to take decisions for yourself. Your family will not look divided to an outsider, believe me. It will be a family where the parents respect each other and the right to revel in their own identity.

Relish the process of making choices, and live your life on your terms. Your name is your own; don’t let no one take it from you. There is a lot in a name.


5 thoughts on “What’s in a surname?

  1. I used my husband’s surname for the first ten years of our marriage, but I was not comfortable with it, so I resumed use of my birth name. We have now been married 33 years and I like having my own name. Our daughters were born while I used his surname, so I don’t share a surname with them.


    1. I apologise for not having read this earlier. I admire you deeply for having taken stock of what you felt, and even after ten years, taken a decision that you thought was right. Your husband too, is amazing for not having interfered with your decision. I find that it is a wonderful feeling when you feel comfortable with your personality and don’t feel as though somebody else has made the decisions for you. More power to you.
      All the best in your life, thank you so much for commenting and I hope that you will continue to read my posts.

      Liked by 1 person

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