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“Father Doesn’t Own The Child To Dictate That She Should Use His Surname” Delhi HC

Which surname to use, and even whether a woman or a child must use a surname at all, should be made a choice. Because surnames are patriarchal - either father's or husband's.

Which surname to use, and even whether a woman or a child must use a surname at all, should be made a choice. Because surnames are patriarchal – either father’s or husband’s.

“What’s in a surname?” they say. Yet it is such a big deal for everyone. Most women adopt their husband’s family name after marriage, and before that they carry their father’s surname. This is not just a practice in India but world over. I am not saying it is wrong and that it shouldn’t be done, but by all means women need to have a ‘Right to Choose’.

Traditionally if a man and woman marry, the woman changes her surname and the child born out of the union also bears the husband’s surname. It is a given in maximum marriages and it gives the family a feeling of being one unit but is it really fair? The child bears the husbands surname and also follows the husband’s religion- that is what is filled on all the official documents.

Let us not even start on marriages that involve changing the woman’s first name when they start their newly married life. Suddenly one fine day after thirty years, you are called by another name. I can’t even imagine how that feels.

A father had moved court to get his daughter to use his last name, not mother’s

In a recent judgement by the Delhi High Court it was stated that “A child has a right to use his/her mothers surname, and the father can’t dictate that only his surname should be used.”

The decision came from Justice Rekha Palli who was hearing a father’s plea seeking for directions to authorities to reflect his name as his minor daughter’s surname in place of the child’s mother’s name.

The court ruled that, “The father doesn’t own the daughter to dictate that she should use his surname. If the minor daughter chooses to have her mother’s surname and is happy to keep it then it should be no one’s problem.”

What the law says

According to the law, both parents have the right to change the name of their child. However, if either of the parents wishes to change the child’s name, the other parent must agree to it. In case the other parent refuses to give consent, then Court’s approval in the case is required.

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During this hearing the man’s counsel argued that the child is a minor who could not decide on her own, and her surname was changed by the estranged wife. He claimed the change in name will make it difficult for insurance claims as the policy was taken in the name of the girl when she was bearing her father’s surname.

The court dismissed these arguments as baseless apprehensions, and termed the plea ‘misconceived’. Every child has the right to use his or her mother’s surname.

Shouldn’t women be given a choice?

Nowadays, many women use their maiden last name as a middle name. It works for some women and for others it doesn’t. Many say the surname becomes too long for no reason at all.

“It is quite surprising… [so many women adopt the man’s name] since it comes from patriarchal history, from the idea that a woman, on marriage, became one of the man’s possessions,” says Simon Duncan, a professor in family life at the University of Bradford, UK, who has been researching the practice of male name-taking. He describes the tradition as “entrenched” in most English-speaking countries, even though the concept of “owning” wives was scrapped more than a century ago in Britain, and there is currently no legal requirement to take a man’s name.

The name of a person is their identity. It is something they are identified with, something that they have grown up with and something that gives them a sense of being. Many women look forward to changing their surname after marriage, some even happily change their first name but what about the ones who don’t want to?

Shouldn’t we be given a choice? Why does the child have to bear just the husband’s surname and follow his religion; can’t he follow both? Why is there no provision in any government form that mentions the mother’s religion too? Why can’t the woman choose to keep her surname after marriage? Why don’t men even think of changing their surname or adding their wife’s surname to their name?

Insistence on a surname is a patriarchal notion

If all is well in your happily ever, after then a surname may not really matter to you, but what if you are getting divorced or separated? Suddenly one fine day you stop using your husband’s surname and go back to using your father’s surname. Again the identity that you made for yourself gets taken away from you. Some would say,” You could always continue to use your husband’s surname” but it reality who would actually like doing that?

At times I feel, why even use a surname in the first place? I don’t like being under the pressure of choosing a surname. I want to be able to use my maiden name and my marital name as and when I want. I wouldn’t lie but all my legal documents bear my husband’s surname and it is a choice that I made. It just makes things easier instead of continuously answering multiple questions at government offices when you go for some work.

I still retain my maiden name in few of my bank accounts and documents, it just gives me a feeling of identity; it is a name I have had for half of my life and it means more than words can say. I don’t want to add my husband’s surname to it, and I prefer to let it remain untouched, for that is something that is only mine. I also used my maiden name at work and in many of my social media accounts, again that is a CHOICE that I made and I do not regret it.

I might change it tomorrow, I don’t know but I would like to decide for myself instead of anyone forcing their views on me.

In a patriarchal society it is a given that a child will take a father’s last name as surname and a wife will take her husband’s surname, but thanks to judges like Justice Rekha Palli things are changing, and the society is getting progressive. Let us all take a moment to celebrate this ruling .

This is a landmark judgement, and will set a precedent for many more. The child does not belong to the man alone, then why does she have to carry just his surname? Similarly a marriage is a union of two people then why do we expect only one gender to change their identity for another? Can we try to co-exist?

What’s in a surname after all?!

Image source: a still from the film Badla

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