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To Change Or Not To Change Surname: That Is The Question!

Changing your surname is purely a matter of choice these days, just remember that losing your identity is not the only way to prove your love and commitment to your marriage!

When someone asks, ‘What’s in a name?’,

The answer that comes to my mind is, ‘Identity.’

A person’s name is one of the prime aspects of his or her identity, an indelible part of who they are. Since surname is a part of the name, does it not add to the identity too? This begs whether it is therefore acceptable to ask a woman to change her surname after marriage.

Why was it practised?

It was believed that when a woman changed her surname, the marriage was completely sealed, unifying the husband and wife as a single entity.

How patriarchal is that, tying only the woman’s surname and not the man’s to the marriage institution? It is supposed to be love and understanding which seal a marriage. Also, the practice makes her a part of her new family by erasing her previous identity, which tied her to her origins.

This custom apparently had its origin from a now obsolete term in British law referred to as ‘Coverture‘. This simply refers to the legal status of a married woman and means that a female had no legal identity of her own, and would be identified as the property of her husband.

Why do women still do it?

Though laws have now changed, surname change remains a societal rather than a legal norm. Women have been so much conditioned throughout the ages to believe that it is a sign of love and dedication to their husbands who they take their surname. Some are even given no choice in the matter by their prospective in-laws.

Then some women choose to change it so that they don’t have a surname different from that of their husband and kids. There is also the aspect of paperwork becoming easier- to apply for joint bank accounts/ ration cards/ property-related issues.

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Are women legally bound to change surnames?

The answer is a big ‘No!’

There is no Indian law which requires a woman to change her surname after marriage. The choice is completely left to the woman. Also, the surname does not automatically change after marriage without following certain legal procedures for the same.

So, shame on those who demand proof of marriage or commitment or fidelity from a woman who retains her maiden name! They certainly seem to think themselves above the Indian legal system!

Why do many women choose not to change?

First off, this practice was rooted in patriarchy, with the sole purpose of erasing a woman’s identity and binding her as her husband’s property. With rising feminism and awareness of rights and gender equality, women do not want to lose their identity any more. If this was all about unifying the couple, how come the husband does not take the wife’s surname?

She does not need to give up a huge part of who she is, just to prove her commitment.

Then comes the legal hassle. It is not an easy process and entails a lot of paperwork. First, you need to file an affidavit in court with relevant particulars, then publish a notification of the change of name in two newspapers.

Finally, you print the court’s decree in your favour and submit it to the Gazette. It is totally up to you, ladies, whether you want to go through this laborious process just to feel truly unified. On a side note, those who got divorced, had to go through this entire process again to get their maiden names back.

Changing trends

Now there are even laws which allow the child to take the mother’s name as a surname if he or she wishes to. This started way back in 2003 when the Government of Tamil Nadu decreed that a mother’s initials can be permitted before a child’s name.

The same year, the Madurai High Court bench declared that a single or unwed mother need not reveal the father’s name on the birth certificate. The Delhi High Court in 2021 ruled that a child has the right to use the mother’s name as a surname, and the father can neither impose his will nor dictate terms in this matter.

So ladies, while I agree that changing your surname is purely a matter of choice these days, just remember that losing your identity is not the only way to prove your love and commitment to your marriage!

Image source: Imagenes, free and edited on CanvaPro

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About the Author

Lavnya Krishnamurthy

Doctor (Ophthalmologist) by profession and a writer by passion read more...

5 Posts | 803 Views

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