Tradition–a word so deeply seeded in our collective psyche, that sometimes we forget why we do certain things at all. While most subscribe to webster’s idea of it being something that remains to be passed over from one generation to another, many might prefer Urban dictionary’s version that calls it, “the reason to do things that have no apparent reason.” When “wedding season” ‘16-17 rolled around followed swiftly by a spew of facebook name-changing, we got thinking about one tradition in particular. Why is it that upon marriage, a woman is expected to bid adieu to a name and heritage she has lived with her whole life? A historical notion that clearly gives men’s lineage and societal standing precedence over a woman’s.
Even two decades ago, things were a lot simpler. Flash forward to the present and the fact that the topic is even up for discussion (for a small percentage of urban, educated young couples at least) is already huge progress. A combination of discussion and consent between partners who are beginning to see each other as equals has led to all kinds of inventive decisions. Think hyphens, exchanges, keeping one’s own names and even taking on a new joined identity altogether! While of course, many choose to adhere to the tradition for personal reasons such as rejecting a family name that is riddled with hostility and abuse or a marker of caste and creed, logistical ease, or simply not liking a name you’re born with. The truth of the matter is, there are really no right or wrong choices here–only the choice that’s right for you and your partner.
In an attempt to document this shift in mindsets and conversations–ones that portend a new legacy of sorts–we asked our Instagram Followers to tell us their thoughts on this topic, then went on to list out some of the best responses.
“Been married 12 years and I willingly and happily took on my husband’s name immediately. It’s all about personal experiences I will say. Being born and raised in a highly orthodox and hostile environment I personally wanted to break away from my second name as soon as I found my better...nay...best half. For me my name is not my identity, it’s my personality and values, likes and aversions. Also one gets attached to the name/second name because of the love/respect received which eventually becomes one’s identity. No point in making it an egotistical issue. It’s your choice, your experience, your wish!” - @vasu.lakshmi, 37, Mumbai.
“No. I find it extremely ridiculous that women have to give up their second name. Even if it’s by choice. My dad has three daughters, which means our name dies with us. Sounds so dramatic and scary right? I’d like at least one of my kids to take my last name. Which is Paul. The heritage behind that name is quite something too. My great grandfather was Lakhanpal. And he was friends with the British when they ruled India. They called him Paul and we’ve been Paul 2 generations later. But all our cousins went back to our roots and are all now Lakhanpal’s. Except my two siblings and I. So to give up that name now, would just be a shame. Since it links back to our great grandfather.” - @ridhiipaul, 27, Bangalore
“I am married, and I didn’t take my partner’s last name. I have a really cool surname. It was never a problem between us. She loved me and my surname. I know women who keep their surname in addition to their husband’s, and it’s cool.” - @sid.marchant, Mumbai
“Only if they had a cool last name. But I wouldn’t ask this person to take my last name either. I read somewhere that the tradition of passing on the husband’s last name is a fairly recent tradition that came from America, as a way to retain property. It’s not even something that Indians should be following, though I don’t know how exactly it works here community to community. I have both my parents’ last names.” - Maitreya Nair, 26, Bangalore
“Naco chance. Why women change their identities after marrying is mind boggling to me. Married 6 years and still a Talwar. No he doesn’t care (anymore) and we’ve decided that if we have a girl she gets my family name and if its a boy he can have his family name. I intend to carry forward my family’s name. And so does my sister who wed not so long ago.” - @cultofkali, 30, Leicester
“Whether or not I adopt my husband’s name, I am still bowing to patriarchy. That’s because my second name is my father’s and not my mother’s. Hence, feminist empowerment/choice is not a valid ground for not adopting husband’s name. The solution that a lot of women use - of keeping two surnames is logistically crazy. Imagine having to choose from three surnames for their child. The best solution thus to my mind is to delink second name from the community/caste/lineage/family that one belongs to. Instead, everyone can choose who they want to name themselves after - father/mother/uncle, a dear friend, an idol, anyone who left an impact on them. Let names be free from social norms!” - @dikshit_g, 33, Mumbai
“Recently married but no intentions to take my husband’s surname. No need for it either. Time to stop easily observing patriarchal rules. We are both in this equally, no reason for a name change for either of us, unless we choose to entirely eliminate our current surnames & create a mashup surname for our new family unit. Which we explored & learned will create lots of legal problems.” - @sunflower_seeds_, 29, Mumbai
“I’m 29 years old, recently married (first anniversary in a week!) and finally done grappling with the question of whether to change my last name. I won’t. There is no reason that seems good enough to me to take my husband’s last name. We’ve managed all the paperwork (registering the marriage, passport, travel documents etc.) without any hassles. On the contrary, it will be more work to change my name. For me, my name is as much a part of who I am as any body part. I cannot imagine going by any other. Not taking my husband’s name doesn’t mean I am any less committed to the marriage. Then, why would I want to?! My name, though quite commonplace, is a matter of pride for me and giving it up would feel like a betrayal of who I am.
So that brought my husband and me to the matter of naming our children. We’ve simply decided to give our children two first names - not my husband’s last name, nor mine; a name entirely their own. We also believe if such a way of naming became common in our society, it would be a step towards less caste-based discrimination (because people won’t be able to make out which caste one belongs to).” - @prerna588, 29, Kanpur
“Very early into our relationship, Abhiroop and I found ourselves faced with this question in a purely academic context. Both of us are strong supporters of individual identities, so the obvious outcome would’ve been to retain our birth last names. However, for us the conversation meandered down an unexplored path when Abhiroop said that he’d love to take on his partner’s name. So, in an ode to building our lives together, while retaining our personal identities, we chose to hyphenate both surnames, and that’s our new last name. We’re the Trehan-Lahiri dampatti!” - @KritiTrehan, 28, New Delhi
“I’m just writing in to say that I got married two years ago, and knew since forever that I would not be changing my last name. It’s very much a part of my identity and even the thought of parting with it pains me. It could perhaps be that I’m a writer and a blogger and I’m known (if at all) by my full name. Though, realistically, even if I were in a completely different profession - I’d still not want to change it. My husband who was also my long term boyfriend knew this about me from the very beginning and so this topic didn’t even need a discussion. The only people who care about this anymore are older people. I find that more and more girls are opting to retain their maiden name and this actually makes the feminist in me very happy. After all, this, is one amongst the many things we do unquestioningly thanks to our deep rooted patriarchal values. It’s got to stop sometime, no?” - @realgirlco, 29, Mumbai
“It is a choice, always. But having grown up with my name as my identify, I could not change it just because now I will be living with someone else. Marriage is an event in life and not beginning of a new one - it should be treated like that!” - Rehabublani, 32, Gurgaon
“I didn’t let my wife take mine. Why should she? She already has one. She’s my wife. Not something I own.” - @thebagaga
“While there is something to be said for tradition and carrying forward lineage, I’d defer to my spouse’s opinion on the matter. Beyond a gesture of love/commitment/tradition , the practicality of the practice trumps sentimentality. Not least if prior to getting hitched she’s built a brand around her last name and her identity is tied to her profession.On a shallower note, I refuse to run pillar to post to change all her identity documents. Long story short ,while the old schooler in me would be moved for a minute if she did change, I wouldn’t be put out if she didn’t. Her decision entirely.” - Aakash Shivdasani, Mumbai
Feature Image Illustration by Raul Miranda