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)?


Posted on March 3, 2014, in Bits of my life, Feminist? and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. That’s quite a coincidence! People are too concerned with other’s business. Like you said, a name is part of an identity, and not all women want to give that up with marriage. Society tries to shame women who keep their last names though, with maybe the exception of women who have a publishing history and keep their last name for that reason.

  2. Lot of families in South Tamil Nadu do not have last name. they use father’s name as last name and after marriage the last name continues to be the same.

  3. A feminist by heart and mind, I didn’t change my last name for many years after getting married. After my daughter was born and was growing up, her surname and my husband’s surname were the same, but mine different. It confused her. It still does. I remember, one day when she went to a doctor (aged 3), and Dr asked her name, she told her name with my surname. I corrected her and told the doc that she was using my surname, hers is not that. Anyhow at some point, I myself felt the need to add my husband’s name as a hyphen to mine so that the 3 of us have the same surnames. For all official things, my name is still my maiden name, but social media and home related stuff, I have a hyphenated surname.

  4. dear sejal, my name is taru. i and my husband dharav had recieved the email written by pulkit…expanding the boundaries of injustice….in feb last year….
    i never got to thank you both, but because of that email, dharav and i have been successfull vegan for more than one year now and we are very happy with that choice. thanks.
    and yes, even i have not changed my surname after marriage. i am taru jindal and my husband is dharav shah.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: