Thursday, February 28, 2008

What's in a name?

A very long time ago, inside a parked car in a dark parking lot, listening to Jethro Tull’s Dot Com, I asked BigGeek if he would like me to change my last name after we were married. It was not a trick question. And no matter what the answer, I wasn’t planning on “reconsidering” my engagement to him. I just wanted to know. That’s all.

In my teens, I had an opinion about the issue. A rather strong opinion. I would absolutely not want to change my last name after I got married. I would say categorically. It was a question of my identity. A part of who I am and all that humbug. Someone pointed out helpfully, that I would be keeping my father’s name anyways. So it was just as patriarchal. I would have to switch to my mother’s maiden name and she to her mother’s maiden name and so on until we ran out of last names or ancestors or both. It was obviously not a workable idea. So, a few days later I had another brainwave. Forget the past, look to the future. How about if daughters inherit their mother’s last name and son’s their father’s? That would work out rather nicely. Surprisingly though, I did not find much support for the idea back then, but I still think is a terrific idea. Or how about husband’s taking on the wife’s last name? That trend seems to be catching on quite nicely in Europe. I am a big fan of a single family name. It’s just so cohesive and unmessy. No hyphens, no long lastnames. No spending an eternity trying to spell them to some dumb schmuck on the phone. Which last name to take would be one of the many things under discussion when talking marriage. Or just choose a third name. Altogether different. Well maybe not that one. Because it might just be so hard to trace the family roots back if one wanted to. But it’s a good idea nevertheless.

In the dark car, BigGeek pondered over the question. “It’s not a trick question.” I said. “OK. I’d like you to change your name.” “On a scale of 1-10, how important is this to you?” I wasn’t letting go. Not just yet. “Give to me straight. The truth.” “An eight”, he said. An eight??? An eight? That’s pretty high. “I had no idea it would be this important to you.” I was amused and surprised. “It’s very primitive. The instinct is very primitive. But you don’t have to if you don’t want to. I know it’s unreasonable.” I didn’t care. Last names didn’t mean much to me. “No, I’ll change it if it means so much to you. I don’t care. But when we have a child, I would like s/he to have my maiden name as a middle name. Deal?” He nodded. And the song ended and so did the conversation.

I did change my name. I was filled with trepidation because it seemed like a monstrous task. Changing my name on every piece of financial document would not be easy. But I was surprised. When I called my bank, my credit cards, my HR department, the mortgage company, social security, passport they all changed the name without asking for a shred of evidence. Ok, not all.. The social security and passport needed a copy of the marriage license. But it was quite painless, even though it took a year until most of my documents were reissued to me in my new name. I changed my name almost two years after we were married. When I was expecting Chip. Do I regret it? Not one bit. And I would be just as happy if many years from now, Chip were to come up to me and tell me he was going to take his wife’s last name. Because, what’s in a name?


Tharini said...

ahhh. a post after my own heart. I agree with you. What's in a name? At least not for me. I changed to my husband's name too...exactly on our first anniversary.

Deepa said...

Aaah! I did not change my name. The chauvinistic angle had nothing to do with it. It gives me my identity and connects me to my parents in a way that changing it wouldn't.

But V has both of our names, mine in the middle and, I wonder whether I have made it a tad complicated for him esp. if his wife would like hers added to that mix for their children. Heck, I think for all we know V will simply drop both mine and M's names and take up some moniker like V terminator IV. It would certainly describe him better:-)

mumbaigirl said...

A name is one way of identifying yourself and where you come from, your family history-so for me it was important I kept mine. For the husbands who want their wives to change their names-they clearly attach a lot of significance to names too, so the answer tot he question "what's in a name" is probably "a lot" for many people.

And by changing a name OR not changing it one is acknowledging that there is significance attached to names-whether by you or by the person you're changing it for-change of name is often thought of as a "gift."

It's true that it's often a father's name that a woman ends up keeping, but hopefully that will change with future generations and we'll be less patriarchal about our naming conventions.

Mira's mom said...

Hey completely agree there! In fact, it was so inconsequential at our end that we never really thought about it until I had to shift to Bangkok with Mira's Papa and it was kind of crucial to change.

upsilamba said...

My father's name is a real tongue twister. So he simplified it when granted the citizenship. I changed to my husband's name, whereas my sister did not. She still has her maiden name, but people get confused; since her last name is neither the husbands nor the father's (new name).

For a long time, I didnot like my own name. It was not cool enough. With age, I have accepted it. Was that ever a problem with you, Dotmom?

Quite a long comment. But hey, its been a while I commented :-)

mummyjaan said...

Diff'rent strokes for different folks, I guess.

I didn't change my name on getting married. My name doesn't have my father's at the end, so I could have added hubby's family surname, but it would have gotten too long. My own name, as with several Indian Muslim female names, is in the format of "First name-Middle name" without having my father's name at the end.

Many people mistake my middle name (which isn't very feminine-sounding) as my family name or surname.

I love my name and I think I am perhaps the only person in the world with this particular combination - er, at least I have never come across another one :)

And when you add the 'D' title in front of it, it's part of my identity.

Hubby has an *extremely common* surname and had I changed my name, I would have joined any number of women with that combination of names. Why trade a unique name for a common one?

When our daughters were born, we decided we would give them short names which would be easy to pronounce, by people of all cultures.

Although I would have loved to pass on to them a bit of my identity in the form of a middle name or my name, I didn't because:

a) in the interest of simplicity, we had both agreed to drop middle names

b) their names sounded much better (and cuter!) when paired with daddy's surname.

I think, for some people, names are closely linked to identity. I am one of those and I just love my own name. It would take a lot for me to change it.

Long comment, eh?

(Did I mention I love my name?)

DotMom said...

Tharini: it was of no consequece. I would have prolly continued using my old one had it not been the fact he felt so strongly about it and I really wanted us to have one last name.

mumbaigirl: It's not as much the name as much as the primitive instict of "owning" the wife I suppose. Which is not to say BigGeek owns me:) well i suppose he does in some ways asn I do own him in others. I think a lot of it is also conditioning.

Mira's mom: I raelly did not think I'd have much company here.

upsi: I have a friend who has a pretty convoluted name story. Aparently their family can pick a last name if they want. I liked my name. I guess once you have had a name for so long you are used to it. It flowed nicely. But that wasn't the point.

mummyjaan: absolutely:) the driving factor in me changing the name apart from the fact it seemed importanat to BigGeek was that I felt a familt should have a single last name. Just a question- what does the add D' to it mean?? Is it some sort of a title?

Preethi said...

I sometimes think this way too .. emphasis on sometimes!! I have my dad's first name as my last name.. oh yeah its so confusing for us we take the father's first name.. it doesn't make any sense... so Nantu, DH and I have 3 different last names .. hehe!! I love my name the way it is and dont want to change it!! I have argued till blue in the face with everyone but my in-laws.. my MIL or DH don't care!! :P

rayshma said...

i have still not changed my name. and will not till it's absolutely mandatory. it's just that i left behind my entire life when i decided to marry him. the only thing i still retain is my individuality and my name. and i'd like to keep it that way.
but then, u never know... somewhere down the line, i may just go ahead and change it!

I love Lucy said...


dipali said...

I can understand people not wishing to change their names, but for me it was a very simple transition.We were going abroad soon after our wedding, and it seemed simpler in terms of paperwork, passport etc. to switch to my husband's surname. I think I should ask him now, after decades of marriage, what his opinion on this is!It just wasn't important enough to me to be an issue. My daughter hasn't changed her last name, though, and it doesn't bother her husband or in-laws.

Girl Next Door (gnd) said...

Been out of it this past week - no time to breathe! Hence the delay...
Anyways, I never had a last name growing up...!? Used my dad's first initials...Pup had initials too! Figured its fair enough that we're both getting a new life and a new identity.
Getting married as early as I did sure helped with the paperwork (or lack of it)! Living in Zambia helped with the speed - took me half an hour at the Indian Embassy to get it done :)
I love my last name. We're probably the only ones in our whole family with the same last name :) I love that all four of us have the same last name.

Poppins said...

Ah well to each her own!

choxbox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Swati said...

Lovely post ...and very true :)

Indian Home Maker said...

First time on this blog. Couldn't stop myself from writing a comment, because this is a subject very close to my heart. When I grew up, I only noticed surnames like Sharma, Kapoor,Aiyyer, Tripathi,and even when women got married and changed their names they got a new family name, not their husband's first name. I did not even know that women used their husband's first names as their surnames. I had this friend who was called Nidhi Srikumar (name changed)I asked her if it shouldn't be SUKUMARI, didn't Kumar sound kind of unfeminine!
I think the original idea was that after the 'kanyadan', the girl belonged to the boy (or to her new family). And all that doli going in, arthi coming out stuff. I am sure all the expectations that a boy's family has with the daughter-in- law, like how she must put her in laws before her parents, kind of take their permission before going to meet her parents, and follow customs of her new family etc, are all rooted at the idea of her now belonging to the new family.
And this is the reason why nobody in this country wants daughters. Who will carry forward the family name? If children, all the children, take the family name/or a name that is a combination of both the parents/or daughters take mother's name, son's fathers it will definitely be more fair to all the parents and daughters. After all a daughter loves her name and family as much as the son does? Somebody has mentioned tracing of roots, how will any woman trace her family history if she wants to, when all the women have changed their names through generations?
I would prefer names like Hema Malini or Sripriya Kumari. No surname is needed. And no identity problems either.
We are all creatures of habit. Changing a custom or tradition is not easy. But I think there is a lot in a name, otherwise won't the guys change theirs?

Vadabond now in Dubai said...

Well, I did not ask my wife to change her name.. infact I have insisted her to keep her own name and why not? So when some one sees my daughter's passport its her my name and my wife's maiden name!

Changing names is a hassel in the middle east as compared to the US. But then it good to see the look on my wife's face when she signs keeping her own identity..

Its worth everything!

SS said...

O dear! So many people will identify with this post, I'm sure.
I retained my maiden name because...:
a) I wanted to and didn't see why I should change it.
b) Didn't see a good enough reason to go through so much of paperwork -- from the passport office to bank accounts, to phone bills, to bylines...phew!! Forget it.
c) Had already mentioned it to my hubby before our marriage that I didn't want to change (although, I feel sometimes he too has that "primitive urge" that wants me to change ;) But it isn't a whole big deal with him.
d) I think I got lucky with my in-laws because their daughter didn't change her name either. (Not sure how they'd feel if she had.)
e) My maiden (last) name is short and sweet and quickly understood. [My first name is complicated, so is my husband's last name, so there.]
f) All of the above are just excuses for (a). I didn't want to change it and found no good reason to.
Not sure about children yet.

O, btw, some of my friends in India (both men and women, mostly from the North) have either dropped or changed their last names, mainly because it identified them by caste.
Wow! That was the first time I realized how deep-rooted and problematic the caste system was in many parts of the country.
A friend of mine is one of three brothers. All brothers have two names (beautiful ones), no surname/family name :)

Nice post :)

the mad momma said...

oh Lord. I did a whole post on this and I know you read it so won't bore you to death with why i kept my name and why i wanted the kids to have my surname too!