What’s in a ‘last’ name?
“So if you are so much against all kinds of discrimination and claim to be a feminist, how come you have adopted your husband’s last name?” – It’s a question I have been asked numerous times! Those who asked me this didn’t know me before marriage. Hence, they didn’t know that I have always been Sejal ‘Parikh’! It was a co-incidence that my and Pulkit’s last names were the same. Around the time I got married, I was even told by some that I got lucky, as I wouldn’t have to change my last name! The fact is that well before I decided to tie the knot with Pulkit. I had made up my mind not to let marriage alter my name. In fact, I have spent many days wishing that Pulkit’s and my last names were different, because, then, people around me wouldn’t have been led to the misconception about me being a hypocritical feminist who doesn’t walk the talk!
During the time I was in Gurgaon, my eyes opened to the many ways through which men in our society oppress, exploit or discriminate against women. One of those ways is the name changing post marriage. One’s name is an important part of her identity. That’s what everyone around has all along recognized her through. Yet, when she’s married, she is supposed to change her middle name (or last name in some cultures) to her husband’s name, and his surname as her last name, as if she is an object, whose identity is immaterial to the society and her property rights are transferred from the father to the husband. (I had a friend from Rajasthan, who was asked to change even her first name!).
I think 21st century women have woken up to this issue to some extent, hence we see the flourishing a new trend – hyphenating two surnames (usually only for informal settings like social networks – nothing changes legally though). It is an attempt to save her original identity, but sadly, she is still unwilling/unable to get rid of the hubby-stamp completely. Why can’t she just be what she was before marriage?
It’s unfortunate that due to decades of patriarchal conditioning, many women also have internalized the notion that they are second-class members of their families and the society. So, many think that it’s their duty to assume their husband’s last names, and they would be doing something wrong if they didn’t adhere to the “societal norm”. This attitude needs to change. Women have to start demanding to retain their identity and rights to do anything we wish, not only with our names but also with our lives, just like men do! Of course, the struggle becomes easier if husbands too stand by their wives against the pressure of society. In my case, since changing last name wasn’t needed, I was asked to change my middle name. Needless to say, that never happened. And, strong support from Pulkit made things go smooth.
Hypothetically, if the situation was to reverse, as in if our society was to turn matriarchal, would men be okay with changing their last names (or even first in some cases)?