Sunday, February 1, 2009

In the name of the father...

I chanced upon this article in the Sunday Times supplement of The Times of India today that talked about the different schools of thought around a girl changing her name (or second name) after marriage.
This discussion has gained prominence in the world of journalistic deliberation primarily because of Munnabhai's (that's Sanjay Dutt...just in case...) highly provocative statement about his sister Priya Dutt who retains her dad's surname after marriage and I quote Mr. Dutt here, "Priya should have changed her name after marriage and taken responsibility of the new family". For those out of touch, this is all in the context of the siblings tiff in the Indian political arena post their father, Sunil Dutt's demise.

Sanjay Dutt has obviously not taken his Wren & Martin lessons in English grammar very seriously in school. Changing name after marriage and taking on family responsibility are two disjoint ideas and therefore cannot be combined to make a single sentence. There is no relation between the first and second clause. Unfortunately, in our predominantly patriarchal social mindset, many people end up making this mistake.

Marriage is one of the most complex institutions in modern day society. And with too many conflicting notions that surround, I cannot even list all of them in one breath. Therefore, I will stick to only one...a girl's changing her name after marriage.
First, contrary to popular belief, this is not a pan-Indian or global phenomenon. Families in many parts of southern India and the world, for that matter, and those hailing from matriarchal societies in Kerala and Goa, retain their maiden name.
Second, there is no evidence of religious enforcement of this name changing ritual in any of our ancient texts (and I mean ancient texts of all religions) and it is absolutely not a legal mandate.

I am not sure how this naming changing business really came into practice. On some introspection, I feel it could be a practical arrangement between the husband and wife that maybe makes the day-to-day life simpler. I mean if you have the same second name as your spouse, the receptionist at the hotel you are checking in will not cast a suspicious glance, joint loans, property agreements and insurance claims are easier to negotiate, hospital formalities become a wee bit simpler et al. As decades passed by, I think, like most other pragmatic compacts, this became a societal norm and then a regulation.

The minute you begin imposing, somebody is bound to rebel and a revolution happens. And this issue inflamed most feminist movements as they equated the name change (and rightly so in cases where this is coerced) with a brand acquisition, you overtake a name and brandish it with yours to make it your own. I believe many families compelled, and still compel women to change not only their last name but also their first name. This, I perceive, as the height of commodification of women.
Thus, heralded the Hillary-Rodham-Clintons and Aishwarya-Rai-Bachhans. A safe technique to keep your cultural identity and yet mould yourself into the societal expectations of a married lady. Not bad, I'd say, only not very practical. I mean so Ash's daughter should be Ash2 Rai Bachhan, she marries a kapoor and becomes Ash2 Rai Bachhan Kapoor and imagine the plight of the third generation!

The simplistic solution some women have come up with is not to change their name at all. This is a quite feasible option but does not have the undeniable advantages of the first and second alternatives, and also particularly problematic once the kids come along. I mean, how insecure can I get about my "identity" my identity only my name?

So what do? Well those confused, join the gang. I continue to use my maiden name for all formal, legal and practical purposes. No, I am not a die-hard feminist who finds this as the means to get back at the male dominance and I hate it when people cast me as one. I use Yuvika Chaube for three reasons - the emotional one being that I like the way Yuvika Chaube sounds. The more formidable one being the amount of paper work involved in changing the name; I cringe at the thought of filling out long forms, going to sad government offices, court rounds etc.

Some years down the line, I plan to give this name change business a serious thought. I might be transformed into Yuvika Chaube Vishwanath..naah that's too long...I myself get breathless by the end of it, maybe just Yuvika Vishwanath or maybe Yuvika C Vishwanath...Sometimes I wonder if Yuvika would serve the purpose :).
For others, I would say go by your gut feel. Do what you feel is the best and would suit you the most.

Fortunately, there is no right or wrong to choose from here. Your name has nothing to do with how good a wife, daughter-in-law or mom you are!


  1. Brutally straightforward is what I would term this blogpost of yours. I vehemently and proudly stand by your viewpoint on this issue and would gladly let my future wife use her maiden name if she so desires. Great going! But me being me, I can't help pointing something about this post. The English Grammer pioneers are Wren and Martin, two different individuals not Renin Martin ;-) Chill! Just pulling your leg! All of us are marginally ignorant! So it's passable! Hope you didn't mind my correcting this!

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  3. Today generation holds different point ofview altogether.We are no more raised with the thought of getting us married some day.Therefore these kinds of issues comes up every now and then.No more our grand mother tries to teach us cooking as we have to cook at some other place and its bound to be delicious....

    I am Anamika sureka Malik and being only daughter of my parents I want to represent there name through out my life...To each of its own....:)Completely agree with your article.

  4. 1. How about a new name being adopted by the couples, as in Abhiash, Brnagelina etc ? This would also mean one does not announce one's caste, and ancestry with one's name.

    And surnames will become more unique and will not be carried forward through male heirs - less worries about having male children.

    2. About couple's having same names. I also don't understand why only one life partner needs to change their name - either both should take each other's names or neither. I know of one family where the problem was solved by the man.

    Let's say he was called Abhishek Bachchan, but wife was Rai Bahcachan and the husband solved the problem by both becoming Rai-Bachchans. :)

    3. Hotel owners and the public has got used to women booking rooms for themselves and live in couples sharing rooms, they will get used to married couples having different names.
    Maybe they will encourage their daughters to do the same, instead of trying for a son to carry forward the family name.

  5. Very insightful...thank you for stopping by to comment...

  6. Also,
    "if you have the same second name as your spouse, the receptionist at the hotel you are checking in will not cast a suspicious glance, joint loans, property agreements and insurance claims are easier to negotiate, hospital formalities become a wee bit simpler et al"

    Applies only because it has become the norm for married couples to have the same surname. If it wasn't the norm - then names of married couples would be like names of business partners. No expectations of same surnames.

    Also consider, carrying on of fathers' names is also one of the reasons for preference of male children in India (and hence of female feticide).

  7. Wrote so much on this, so many times. Good post and good examples.! :-P

  8. Very bold and yet emotional...I am emationally attached to be last name because I love my father a lot..fropping his name and carrying forward somebody else' name is really very tough .. but again we have to still live in this soceity ..

    1. yep, we shud do what we will not regret later!


I appreciate you taking out the time to share your valuable opinions! They mean a lot!


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