Some time ago, the interwebs were full of debate after Jill Filopovic’s piece on HuffPost about women taking their husband’s name after marriage. A Facebook post by a friend brought Filopovic’s piece to my attention and of course, there were ensuing discussions. I agree with the basic reasoning, but I also agree with these commentaries on Shakesville. There was also an interesting series run by Flyover Feminism on naming.
I have always been keen on names and naming. It used to be my favourite part about babies. Now my favourite part about babies is their feet. How they’re scrawny, then they become chubby with little toesies and then they learn to walk and then. Okay quiet. Nevertheless, whenever a baby is born my first question is “what are you going to name him/her?” which I have learnt to be quiet about because people don’t always know or want to tell, but if it’s someone I’m close to that’s what I’m going to be asking.
I was never particularly fond of both my first and last name. I thought both were odd. My first name was a bother because nobody could pronounce it. My last name was also not one of the common ones in Goan Christian circles. I wanted to fit in.
Good Catholics tend to have a middle name, that’s usually the name of a saint. But my mom had such a hard time figuring out a first name for me, that when she got to discussing middle names with my dad (he was on a ship at the time), he said “just put an A and we’ll decide later” and that’s what they did. Thankfully, I later discovered that the A is missing from my birth certificate and only present on my baptism one. But for a good part of my childhood, I played around with the A imagining what I’d like it to be since my parents said I could decide. I never decided. Later, I dropped the A.
So I never had a middle name. When we were in Std X and filling up some forms before our boards, our class teacher told us to put a dash in the middle name section if we didn’t want our father’s name to appear there. Unfortunately, my mother didn’t do this when filling out my passport form and my passport now carries my father’s first name as my middle name thanks to some overzealous passport officer. I hated it, until I realised that many people in Hong Kong were using it in lieu of both my first and last name because it’s easier to pronounce.
When I was preparing for my wedding, I had a brief period when I decided to take my husband’s last name. Frankly, I cannot even remember what my logic was. Then, fortunately, he pissed me off in a big way and I came to my senses. V half-heartedly said, “Why don’t you take my name?” and then dropped it, not in small measure due to the fact that he realised he would have to do all the running around involved in a name change because I am historically incompetent about these things and would be unlikely to cooperate in the matter.
So I kept my last name and my husband kept his. Kinda. Actually his name is messed up, also by a passport officer, so it would have been even more ridiculous for me to adopt his naming confusion. But I didn’t know that then. For me, it was a feminist choice.
Then came my babies. While women have made progress in retaining their own names, children continue to be automatically given the father’s name. I have come to accept that this evolved out of insecurities surrounding paternity and that these primitive fears might be around and kicking even today. Even DNA tests cannot establish paternity with certainty. So okay. Maybe.
But I think a more ideal and fun and creative solution would be for new families to adopt new last names, if there is a need for last names at all, that sync with their collective values. Not going to happen in my generation I guess.
Another intersection with naming happened with I had to take a pseudonym for freelance writing assignments. It was fun to think up a name but I got tired when it came to a last name and adopted my husband’s pseudo-last name. Basically because I kind of like it as a last name, though really it is my father-in-law’s first name and I don’t quite like that. So in retrospect I should’ve thought harder.
In my adulthood, I’m coming to like my first name. (Peeps, who know my first name, what do you think? Does it suit me as a person? It is a little la-di-da, which I am not, but it is unusual, which I am). I’m not that hot on my last name. I actually prefer my mother’s maiden name. It’s easy to pronounce also. That might be something to consider. Or an entirely new last name, based on something I admire.
I’m thinking that when and if I have some free time I might consider changing my name. For half my life, I’ve lived with my father’s last name. For the other half, I might do something different. By then, I should know who I am and where I’m going and what will suit me.
I understand that the bureaucracy is a bitch. One of the tyrannies of naming is that states make it so damn hard to do. It’s a control thing. So I would need to wait for a time when I have the time and energy to do this. But it’s an idea.
Do you love the name your parents gave you? Ever considered changing it?