And since I’m in feminist rant-mode, let me do the “What’s in a name” thingie, taking a cue from the Mad Momma.
So, strangely, when I first decided to get married – going against everything I had been saying since I was five – I thought I’d adopt V’s last name. Since I was buying into a patriarchal tradition for love, why not go the whole hog, was my reasoning, or something along those lines.
Also, I’m not overly fond of my own last name, I don’t have a long and proud lineage or a castle somewhere to consider and I quite liked the sound of my name with V’s last name. His first last name that is. Yes, he has two. More on that later.
Six months down the line I had rethought that position. Reality had bitch-slapped me in the face and I snuck my neck out from the clouds pretty quick.
I could not cop out of a belief I had held since I was a little girl – that I am my own person – especially since the symbolism of the cop-out tied in with a host of other behaviours I did not believe in. I have an unfortunate fair streak, to the extent that I will go with what I deem fair even if it isn’t to my benefit (though that wasn’t the case here), and I just couldn’t swallow the injustice of having to bear the physical and emotional hassle of the name change while V sat pretty, unmoving as a stone.
I broke the news to V and he took it relatively calmly, as should a man whose two married sisters have kept their names. Occasionally, he would do a “but why don’t you take my name” but I was never sure whether he was winding me up as he often does or serious and I chose to go with the former.
I think he realised that all the bureaucratic work that goes with a name change – writing to banks, insurance companies etc in addition to whatever it took to adopt the new name officially – would have to be handled by him because I am a) inept b) unlikely to be proactive in boring bureaucratic business for something I wasn’t pro in the first place. So he just dropped the idea.
Funnily enough, I got opposition from my side of the family. Not my parents, who are eerily silent on the subject. They’re probably not actively for it, in theory, but then they kind of like the idea in practice, I’m assuming and so rather than sort out their own conflicted feelings with regard to feminism and how far it should go, they’ve stayed mum.
But other members of my family were not so coy. While I would have expected the older generation to be unsettled, it was a younger cousin who argued with me most vociferously on the subject. The main thrusts of her arguments were: a) your children will be confused. b) people will be confused about how to address you when writing wedding invitations.
My response to a) is: i) in many cultures, even within India (such as in the North East, whom we unfortunately know too little about), the parents have different names and the children turn out just fine even when placed in cultures that do not follow this tradition. ii) my children will be even more confused when I try to explain to them that men and women are equal but for some reason, I’ve taken daddy’s last name because I’m now part of his family (“but mummy, why doesn’t daddy have your name?” I envisage the young ones piping up while I look gobsmacked).
My response to b) is: see a)ii) and also, I am not going to ditch my life-long beliefs and self-respect for the convenience of letter-writers who may or may invite us to their weddings.
So I kept my name and there have been no problems. Admittedly, I have not broken the news to my in-laws yet (though I suspect they suspect) and a week after I got hitched and returned to my own home, I received a package from the Mil addressed to “Bride (insert husband’s last name)” to whoops of laughter from all in my family, which I chose not to take up with Mil because frankly, I’ve got what I want, which is my name whichever deluded planet she prefers to live on. Yes, yes I’m being a bit of a coward but I promise if ever questioned directly and berated, my plan is to say point to said Sils and go “but go shout at your own daughters first” which I think is a pretty convincing feminist argument.
We also had a wedding we went to (V’s friend) where the place card read Mrs (insert V’s last name). I chose to smirk and leave it while V chose to childishly swap the place card and display it in our home for two weeks before I threw it away. And that’s the extent of my pain for my daring act of bravery.
Strangely, a number of close friends who got married around the same time as me and who had opted to change their names, still don’t seem to have done so. They don’t bridle at being addressed as Mrs (insert husband’s name) but on paper (probably due to sheer laziness and unwillingness to engage with said bureaucratic regime) they remain their old selves.
One friend told me her Mil was overly concerned because a nephew’s wife had not changed her name and then they got divorced. So it apparently follows that any woman who does not change her name must have devious plans of divorce in mind. Really wonder if these Mils really fancy their sons to be the likes of Donald Trump, who we would marry and divorce for material gain. Au contraire…
On the other hand, women who have hyphenated their names often face hassles. Take the case of my sister. Last year, when she renewed her passport, they forgot the hyphen, almost throwing her travel plans out of whack. This year, she decided to get the hyphen removed because she is “sick of spelling out the hyphenated names three times for any booking over the phone”. However, one document came back with it removed, the other not and the story goes on. Hyphenating is fine if you both have really short names but if you both have long names like V and I do, it’s cruel to inflict that kind of spelling nightmare on your children, let alone anybody else. And I really don’t get only the woman taking the hyphenated name, it serves no purpose expect saddling you with more names while keeping as much gender bias.
Now women keeping their names after marriage is an easy one for me. Naming children – not so much. I don’t get why children, having reposed in your belly for nine months of backache and bloatation, should bear your husband’s name. It’s the whole patriarchal nonsense all over again. One commenter on the feminist website proposed the interesting theory that this naming business was created to give men a tie to something they otherwise tend to ditch and go. So when the kids are named after the father, the man feels some kind of protective instinct and will (hopefully) do his bit. But on second thought, the history of men leaving their wives and children has not really changed or been improved by them having his name (in fact only making it more awkward for said wife and children) so this doesn’t hold up very much.
But what to do then? In a logical world, it would not be an insurmountable problem. You could hyphenate if your names allowed it. You could name your children a completely new and improved name, maybe even a combination of both your names. You could name one child after one parent and one after the next, picking lots on who goes first.
Believe me, nobody is going to get confused. Kids and parents have different names all the time. A case in point is some Malyalee communities where the kids take the first name of the father as their last name, thereby ensuring that they actually have a different last name from their fathers. There have been other cases of kids having different last names and noone is scarred by the experience.
But this is not a logical world and while women not changing their names is one thing, husbands still seem to want to put their indelible mark on their children. This has been the cause of a number of screaming fights between V and me. Well, I screamed while V said “let’s go to sleep now”.
Worse, V is from one of those communities that takes their father’s name as a last name. That is, a de facto last name because they already have a real last name or “family” name. Which in India is ignored in all except the most formal documentation but which in other communities is not. And worse, by some twist of fate, on some document’s V’s last name appears as his first and vice versa. So I conclude it would really make no sense for anyone to take his name because he can’t be sure what it is.
However, he has recently started arguing for both last names to be including in the nomenclature of our unborn child/ren. Again, he could be doing this a) to wind me up b) as a bargaining tool so ultimately he gets at least one name c) because he’s an asshole. Any of the above could be possible. Attempts to figure out which have not been pleasant.
He has also pointed out that I have my father’s name as my middle name. Let me state that this is an aberration resulting from Indian bureaucracy and their father-friendly obsession. I have discovered belatedly that if you do not put down a middle name on some forms, the trigger happy bureaucrat will take it upon himself to decide that it is your father’s name that should be instituted in said place and you land up with: a) one female first name b) one inexplicably male middle name c) one last name of (thank god) your choosing. This has completely pissed me off because this is not the name on my birth certificate but just because I have been a victim of Indian bureaucracy doesn’t mean my children need be opened up to that risk too by way of multitudinous names.
So far though, it’s been a stalemate. Sigh.