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Rama, The Son Of Kausalya

Posted: March 5, 2012

I have just begun reading Arshia Sattar’s abridged translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana, and after introducing Rama as born in the Ikshvaku clan, Valmiki says, “This virtuous man is the son of Kausalya.” Dasaratha is introduced a few lines later.

The Venkatesa Suprabatham, a familiar early-morning sound in many South Indian households begins with “Kausalya supraja Rama” – Rama, the beloved son of Kausalya. 

Quite often, we hear in the online as well as offline world, thoughts on whether or not women should adopt their husbands’ surname post marriage. Some of us choose to keep our original names, some opt for hyphenated/combined surnames, yet others drop their original surnames and adopt the husband’s. Regardless of what choice we make on our own surnames though, few women will pass them on to their children. A very few may pass it on in the form of a middle name, or perhaps give the child a hyphenated surname, combining one’s own and the partner’s.

Plus, not all communities use surnames. In the Tamilian community I hail from, we don’t have surnames at all; we simply adopt the father’s name as the last name – in which case, passing it on to one’s child would feel weird. When I first heard of the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, it struck me as amazing and wonderful that he had chosen to honour his mother by adopting her name, Leela, as his middle name – in many communities, this is traditionally where the father’s name appears. Yet, very few of us will do this.

It’s not that dads are not important, but surely, if a child must carry any parent’s name, it should be that of the mother who brought her into the world. ‘Rama, the son of Kausalya’ seems like it would be the natural way to go, but centuries of conditioning have made us accept a child following his or her father’s name/surname as the obvious choice. So much so that even women who keep their original names post marriage would be hesitant to pass it on to the child.

An interesting post I read a long time ago proposes an alternative solution, of mothers passing on their matrilineal names to daughters and fathers the patrilineal to sons – forming a hyphenated new surname. Of course, as time goes on, the grandchildren in the family would eventually have different names. It’s still not a solution for communities that don’t use surnames.

What do you think? If you are a woman, do you consider it adequately fair if you kept your own name after marriage? Is this enough? Or does it bother you that this name will not go on to your children?

Pic credit: Ketrin1407 (Used under a Creative Commons license)

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  1. A thought provoking one.! But more and more women are turning to alternatives.! Yes, women are changing.!

  2. Two things. First, in my community we have a surname. I’ve retained it after marriage, didn’t make sense to change it after 25 years of living with it. But, the name comes through my father’s side, so what happens to my mother’s surname? Who will carry that on? I don’t think you can resolve that one.
    Second, what makes my blood boil is the custom in some communities of changing not just the girl’s surname but also her given name after marriage. That completely annihilates whatever identity she had (or is intended to). I gnash my teeth whenever I come across it.

  3. @Rinzu – thanks.
    @Swapna – while you may have retained your surname, (if you have kids), would it go on to them? If not, it would stop with you in any case, isn’t it, whether it is your father’s or mother’s? As for changing women’s names, grrr. The practice is astonishing and reeks of, “Now you belong to us and we decide who you are.”

  4. I know of a woman who gave her name and her husband’s to both son and daughter. It was PGS for the daughter and SSGS for the son. GS is the combination of her name and that of her husband.

    The daughter is married and is now called PGSM where M stands for her husband’s name (All these are first names). Now I wonder if the grand daughter will be called VPGSM so that all names are included. And I also wonder if the grand daughter would include her paternal grand parent’s name along with hers.

    My take on the matter is different. We have a community in Bihar/Jharkhand who change surnames with each generation. The father could be Sinha and the son Srivastav, Kumar or Aanand. I find the arrangement good since a person is judged on his own merit and not by a family name. I think more people ought to think on this line. Just my opinion.

  5. @HG – the last arrangement actually sounds very sensible. In the Indian context, probably “dual first names” are easy enough to do.

  6. Also the concept of giving fathers or fathers family name to a child might have originated from the time when societies were still building, where marriages and the rules of monogamy were still being written. A biological mother was never needed to be identified for a child but only the mother could tell who was the father of her child. So perhaps this ritual started.
    I am sure with the societal changes oncoming generations will find other or better ways of naming children!

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