Is Using Two Surnames Really A Solution To The Nuisance Of Changing It ?

Posted: June 10, 2015

Is using two surnames really a solution to the nuisance of changing it? Or do we have a more equal option? Here is an analysis.

I fail to understand the logic behind keeping dual surnames after marriage. We can either reject the patriarchal burden by keeping our maiden name or we can surrender to the patriarchal expectations and change it. By every possible logical argument, the practice of keeping two last names is a psychological and sociological enigma.

What does a surname stand for after all? Possibly a depiction of your gotra, caste, religion or your family line. Generally, it is an identity and a keeper of family legacy. What compels a woman to shun all that and accept something that reduces her to merely the status of a wife and a mother to the children of an alien clan? What compels her to depend on a man’s name for her own identity?

History tells us that the practice of changing women’s gotra upon marriage started after the 5th century and it marked the final triumph of the patriarchal system in society. We all understand that surnames are not insignificant. Earlier, when only men used to earn and feed the family including wives, changing the surnames or making compromises with identity might have made some sense, but what is the justification now? Wives are earning at par with their husbands, they make equal monetary contribution in providing their kids with the best of food, clothing and education, then why should they not ask for their name to be transferred to the children?

Wives are earning at par with their husbands, they make equal monetary contribution in providing their kids with the best of food, clothing and education, then why should they not ask for their name to be transferred to the children?

How much strength a woman has to gather to let logic prevail for herself or how flexible men are with their patriarchal privileges, I don’t know, but I know for sure that our ad industry has grown beautifully unconventional. Here is a link for those who might have missed this ad by Havells fans.

What the guy does here is extraordinarily exceptional, and might even be quite offensive for some men, but it surely attacks the silos of thoughts we are confined to.

I asked some of my friends and acquaintances what made them change their surnames on Facebook the very next day after marriage – and not just change it altogether, but add another one to it! The answer was quite simple and more or less the same. They love their husbands and want to accept what is his as a loving mark of oneness. Even if they keep their own surname, they’ll be called Mrs. (Husband’s surname) by default, and dissent on this won’t help much. They are anyway leaving their father’s home, so an insistence on keeping what is his doesn’t make much sense. Along with all this, they cannot let go whatever space they have made for themselves in their professional circle, so they go for putting two surnames after their names. Some even called this solution innovative. Well, it might be innovative but does it really present a solution to all the issues that they are talking about? No, they are half truths in hindsight.

Marriage is another name for equality; the relation it creates won’t make much sense if it weren’t for equals. Love again is mutual here, then where does the question of giving up your identity for the sake of your husband’s love crop up? When it comes to the question of default, then we must understand that defaults will change if we start afresh. We’ll have to assert our identity and create social consciousness on not addressing a woman by her husband’s name. Like many other things, this will come into practice soon and with much ease. When it comes to the third reason, that is leaving your father’s home, then this is a problem of fundamentals. We have to understand that this notion is the root of everything that can possibly go wrong with the social structure and a woman’s role in it. There is a need to stop thinking this way.

Most women assume that the transfer of father’s surname to the children is inevitable and it is impossible for them to challenge the norm.

Most women assume that the transfer of father’s surname to the children is inevitable and it is impossible for them to challenge the norm. As a matter of fact, it is not that difficult. While it is true that we ourselves carry the surnames of our fathers’ and not our mothers’ and it doesn’t make sense to clash with the society in keeping it, we can surely keep the past behind us and start afresh. Commenting on one of my previous articles, a wonderful lady pleasantly surprised me. She had mentioned how she gave her name to her children. I was elated after reading her comment because this was what I thought of as a solution to the surname conundrum, but never found anyone practicing it.

It is a simple way to avoid giving multiple surnames to the children and also transfer a part of your identity to them. It goes like this – women say that if they insist on keeping their surname and transferring them to their children then every child will have two surnames (father’s and mother’s) and then the next generation will have four and in this manner, the surnames will keep multiplying after every generation. This is possibly the only logical problem I see in women keeping their surnames.

Well, the solution to this problem is not that difficult. If we start giving our daughters our name and the sons their father’s and repeat this in every generation then the problem of multiplication of surnames will be eliminated and the daughters will also get a say in carrying on the legacy of their family, their mothers! Now this might seem difficult as this may involve talking to your partner about this in advance, arranged marriages won’t provide much scope for it, etc. But we’ve got to try.

Taking singular decisions at variance from the prevailing norms is not always revolutionary. Many a times it is just evolutionary.

Taking singular decisions at variance from the prevailing norms is not always revolutionary. Many a times it is just evolutionary. With the efforts of unfettered women and men, society has become encompassing. It has grown, but the growth has been hit-and-miss. Ideally it should have grown diagonally in the square of status quo, cutting across rigidities and maintaining equal distance from the sides of expectations and realities.

While the realities for women changed in the form of better opportunities for almost everything, expectations did not. Changing your surname, be it the usual taking your husband’s name or making it double, is just a submissive manufacturing of a compromise for the sake of that expectation.

If we cannot part with our original identity, then let’s not change surnames at all after marriage. By justifying double surnames on grounds of creativity, easy compromise and love for the husband, let us not throw our society and future into a pit of confusion and make identity a predicament. If consensus is built up on subtle issues like this, the whole social setup can evolve. If we can somehow turn away from our personal preferences and think about the bigger picture, we’ll certainly be in a position to build a logical, healthier, coherent and reasonable future for the ‘softer’ sex.

Surname image via Shutterstock

I am Niyati Sharma and have completed my Master's in Physics at BITS Pilani.

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Comments

8 Comments


  1. Wow! Wonderful! Congratulations for penning this down. If I ever get blessed with a daughter, I’ll make sure she gets my name. We really miss out on such probably insignificant but important things in life. Sometimes I feel we are just alive..go on living our lives in the ready made frames we are offered..we do not evolve. This makes so much Sense. Thanks!

  2. This is simply wonderful. One of the best reads I have come across lately. I have always believed in not changing surnames and getting rid of the senseless old patriachal customs. Would love to implement this on my kids. Thanks for this article.

  3. I actually wrote something about this on my blog the other day. Have a look: https://sujalapant.wordpress.com/born-a-girl/

  4. The article is wonderful indeed. I just want to say that men revere women who are strong, free thinking and vocal for their rights. Passing on her name to her kids is every woman’s right. I would be happy and supportive if my wife would decide to do that.

  5. A very nice article.I felt the same when I got married. So, I did not change my surname. Your suggestion is nice, but what does the Indian law say about this. I once asked an online lawyers website if I could give my surname to my kids. I was told that Indian law does not allow this unless the mother is a divorcee or a single parent who has adopted the child. An alternative was suggested, that we can give a completely new surname. I was so disappointed because, I strongly feel that girl children are unwanted in our society because they cannot carry the family name forward.

  6. Great article a timely one at that. We just went through the pain..yes….I call it a pain and that of naming our daughter. We wanted her to have her own identity with no strings..oops.. names attached. We were given hell as we didn’t want surnames attached to our kid !! We simply gave her 2 names as her 1st and 2nd names and chose to steer clear of any family names/titles/etc. We wanted to end this “carry forward our name” legacy. She now has her own unique identity in her own name. Practically speaking too every document the child will possess will have her father’s and mother’s name on it and is legal and acceptable.

  7. Too good. The way you’ve put it is amazing. We really don’t think much about these things in everyday life but seriously, every word you have said makes so much sense. A really wonderful article and I wish everyone starts doing what you have suggested. Feminism makes so much sense this way. This is not aggressive, nowhere complaining, just logical. Women contribute equally to patriarchy. By ignoring such basics of life we are doing no good to ourself. There is a need to come up with ideas like these and if everyone starts following what you have said we can see the real change. Thanks for this article.

  8. great piece; thanks for penning it down

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