How much of our identity lives in our surnames? As a woman, would you choose your maiden or married surname?
To me that’s a tricky question; is my name my identity or my surname? Do people identify me by my place of work or is it my blog I am known for. Am I known as a daughter or a wife? I really don’t have an answer. Not having a surname was an idea I was brought up with. My parents believed that my brother and I should be known by our names, and not our surnames; so, I was Parul in school. Yes, I don’t have a last name even on my PAN card. I still find the rationale correct; in a country where having a surname can get you killed or judged by what kind of family background you come from, what religion or region you belong to, it’s much better not having a last name. I took my husband’s last name out of love, but the question that’s on my mind is whether a woman should retain her maiden name or take over husband’s last name.
This is a question that is being debated not just in India, but all over the world. In some countries, if the husband and the wife carry different surnames, they are not considered to be lawfully married. In some, a guy will ask his girl friend about her intentions of changing her surname before he proposes. It is sometimes treated as a matter of trust. In England, close to 50% of women take up their husband’s last name after marriage, and this number has come down over the last two decades. Women also prefer to combine their maiden name and husband’s name; so Ms. A B marries Mr Y Z and is then known as Ms. A B Z. In some communities of India, women even change their first name, and of course, the last name. In some countries, the man takes up his wife’s last name. My point here is that different regions around the world have different beliefs, and it is mostly based on either the prevalent law or culture.
A woman who takes up her husband’s last name due to societal norms may feel a loss of identity, but is it really an identity crisis? Again, there is no right or wrong answer. She could be completely comfortable with a brand new last name or in some cases she may feel that it could have been avoided. What hurts most is when the choice is not left to the individual, and is forced upon.
What’s the best of all is what happens in Greece. I would say what happens in Greece should not stay in Greece. In 1983, Greece wanted to ensure gender equality among spouses, and hence a marriage law was coined as per which every woman in Greece is required to keep her birth name for her whole life. What the rest of us are discussing today was already formalized in an unbiased way in Greece some 3 decades ago.
The cultural norms and social bindings, however liberal they may be, without a law – expect women fit into the cultural and societal norms. The debate will be on because the rate of change for beliefs is slower, but as individuals we should be able to decide for ourselves. A man should not expect a name change from his wife and a woman should not assume that marriage means a change in her last name.
Marriage is a change in itself, and it is more important that couples learn to understand each other’s differences better than setting things common between them.
For me, my last name is not my identity. Who I am makes me, and nothing else can replace that.
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