In the 'Name' of Gender Inequality


We are not born with a name. It is a social construct. But it forms a huge part of our identity. Ideally it is only in unavoidable circumstances that one would change it. 

What are the reasons why men would change their name? 

1) For want of a better name: Parents named you Chintu? Simple enough reason for a man of legal age to change his name! 

2) For easy pronunciation: Indian names with many syllables are very difficult to pronounce making it difficult for its bearer to want to survive abroad – so Kalpen Suresh Modi split his first name to become Kal Penn. I wonder if Chan Kong-Sang would have been as famous as the Jackie Chan if he had not changed his name! 

3) For a certain gravitas: Of course we know a lot of Hindi film actors who changed their names to add some persona to their names: Harihar Jethalal Jariwala became Sanjeev Kumar, Jaikishen Kaku Bhai became Jackie Shroff (Jackie seems to be a very lucky name but err...did not work for Jackky Bhagnani did it? Oh but he spells it slightly differently! More on that later…) All of this makes sense. Why Sunny and Bobby are better that Ajay and Vijay… I don’t know!! 

4) For preventing discrimination: A lot of men from Bihar from lower caste adopted the generic ‘Kumar’ meaning ‘son’ in order to not reveal their backgrounds. Dileep Kumar changed his name from Mohammed Yusuf Khan in order to ensure that the anti-Islamic elements did not affect his popularity.

5) For numerological reasons: Rajkummar Rao added an extra ‘m’ to his name for numerological reason. Notably, he earlier identified himself as Rajkumar Yadav. He says he dropped the ‘Yadav’ because did not want to be mistaken as Rajpal Yadav, another actor in the Hindi Film industry. But it could also be for the same reason as stated in the earlier point. 

6) When you change your religion: Music legend, A R Rahman was born Dileep Kumar (I know irony right?). When he adopted the religion of Islam, he changed his name to All-Rakha Rahman. 

7) For showing support to their mothers and wives: Did this reason shock you? Hindi Filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali dropped his father’s name from his and replaced it with his mother as a tribute to her. Journalist and columnist, Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, made his wife’s (Shahnaz Anklesaria Aiyar) maiden name a part of his name in a move that put him in some august company. The Beatles band member John Lennon became John Winston Ono Lennon when he added his wife, Yoko Ono’s maiden name. Oh and BTW, John wanted to drop ‘Winston’ but he wasn’t allowed to revoke a name given at birth! There are several other Hollywood celebrities who adopted their wives’ names. 

The above was not meant to be an exhaustive list. The point I was trying to make was that if a man had to change the name he was born with – he did it because he wished to. There was no rule book, there was no custom requiring him to do so. 

What are the reasons a woman has to change her name? 

A woman could technically choose to change her name for all the reasons a man would. But usually she ends up changing her name (mostly the surname or last name but sometimes the first name as well!) when she gets married- as a way to show her allegiance to the family she is marrying into. She has very little choice in the matter and it would be seen as breaking tradition if she didn’t do so. 

How much time goes into changing your name? 

The actual name change process may take around 1 month. But then you have to update a whole lot of documents – at your Workplace, Banks, Credit Cards, Driver’s License, Pan Card, Passport, Adhaar Card, Ration Card, voter ID card etc. It could easily take 6 months to a year or more, depending upon the efficiency of several government agencies. And in between all these name changes, you will have to roam around with your Marriage Certificate and name change documents to prove to people why you are not a terrorist trying to assume a new identity! 

Earlier, a name change would not require so much effort. Today it is a long drawn procedure. These practical aspects must be taken into consideration before following traditions blindly. 

Is it easy to get used to a new name? 

When women in India change their names post marriage i.e. a good two decades into their lives, it could take months or years to get used to it. I can’t imagine how long it took actress Hazel Keech (wife of Indian Cricketer Yuvraj Singh) to get used to the name Gurbasant Kaur

Aap Ms. ho ki Mrs.? 

Say you do not change your name. The nation still wants to know if you’re married or not. So they will ask you if you are ‘Ms.’ or ‘Mrs.’! Interestingly, both are abbreviations of the root word ‘Mistress’ (i.e. the female equivalent of ‘Mister’) and neither were supposed to carry any marital connotation! The Mr., short for Mister of course never needed any indicator of his marriage status. 

Aeji, Oji, Suniyeji 

So while the wife is getting used to her new name, she must restrain herself from taking her hubby’s! Ok, so you can get your head around this a bit. There is usually a large age-gap between the spouses and we respect our elders. 

Making 'Gender Equality' a household name

In my case – I feel like I have the best of both worlds. Belonging to a Nair community in Kerala, prior to marriage, I had my mother’s surname and my father’s name next to mine. When I got married, I replaced my father’s name with my husband’s but continue to use my mother’s surname. It makes me feel like I have connected my past with my future. While there was still some name change involved and frustrating documentation to be done, I still feel that I don’t have such a raw deal as a lot of women. And that’s heart-breaking. 

The way I look at it is that as long as patrilocality exists (i.e. when a wife moves into the husband’s family home), the wife will be expected to take the family name. My guess is that as more and more nuclear families come about with both spouses contributing equally to the household, there will be less and less familial pressures to follow customs blindly. Today hyphenated names are one way that women are holding on to their identity. But the end of the day, if a name change is the only way to prove one’s allegiance to the spouse then it’s only fair the husband change his name too. And true equality will only be achieved when the name of the mother also being a part of the child’s name.



Comments

  1. Thanks for raising this question. It's been there in my mind quite a while. Though I didn't go for any name change during my marriage but this option of choosing between Ms. or Mrs. (in all kind of documents) follows wherever we go.

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    1. Thanks Rashmi for the visit and your comment. This is just one of those things that women are supposed to take for granted.

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  2. I dont think in today's time women change their names that much. Most of the women I know from my workplace or apartment continue to carry their maiden name. Its hassle free to begin with and that explains a lot http://akswrites.com/2018/04/16/not-the-perfect-wedding-atozchallenge-blogchattera2z/

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    1. Great to know. But it's still an expectation. And if you in laws are old fashioned you don't want to enter a family coming acrsos as stubborn or modern. It's very difficult to take a stance.

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  3. Anonymous9:22 am

    That's true - there is a lot of pressure if you want to stick to ur maiden name. In some families, they even change the first name of the lady. I have seen a couple of ladies telling me they have 2 names. Even they seem confused as to which one to use.
    Priya from priyreflects

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    1. Hey Priya. Love reading your comments. :) Thank you for the support. Glad you brought this up. I remember so well...one of my colleagues had taken a break for marriage. When I heard she got back, I wanted to congratulate her via email (she was in another department). and I couldn't locate her email id. I couldn't find it even when I searched her email id in the database using her first name. She later told me her first name and last name had got changed. I don't know how she dealt with it...because she was quite popular and all of us took so long to get used to her new name!

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  4. Loved your post! How well you have raised this issue! It took me 4 years post wedding to change my maiden name. My in laws would ask me the reason I didn't want to change to my married name. I kept holding on to my maiden name, as I felt it was the only touch I had with my past and my family. Though I didn't want, I finally agreed to change my name, partly because everywhere I had to furnish a marriage certificate to prove I was married to my husband. I was a little tired of it.

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    1. Hey Anshu. Thanks for your visit and comment. I'm glad you shared your story and at the same time sad. I've heard of stories like yours where people carry their marriage certificate around. That's why I mentioned it in the post. I wish things were different but without old attitudes going away , change is far away.

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  5. You hit the nails Ashwini.. I still have my father's name in all my records. It was a big process to change right when we thought of changing it to hubby's name after marriage. But my hubby K was not interested in that process. His name as spouse can be seen in my passport only. Otherwise all my records gave my dad's name. I wish these things change for better ..

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    1. Hi Deepa. Glad to know you were able to keep your name.name. there are many more like you. Thanks for the visit and comment.

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  6. Hey, that's a nice article on why people change their names. But name changes can be a nightmare. I never changed to my married name coz it was too much hassle.

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    1. I can write a whole other blog post on the issues I had to go thru in order to convince people why I didn't take on my husband 's surname. People can't think beyond their own experiences. Thanks Lavanya for your visit and comment.

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  7. I know a couple where both husband and wife changed over to the hyphenated name. Don't know if it matters which surname comes first and which comes second in the hyphenation.

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    1. Hey that's so cool. Good to know. It would be so great if more people follow suit.

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  8. These days a lot of women are retaining their maiden names. This system of adopting the husband's last name is pretty outdated in the current context.

    In Spain and other Hispanic countries, interestingly, children are given both parents' last names😊

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  9. Aap Ms. ho ki Mrs.? and Aeji, Oji, Suniyeji, these two sections totally cracked me up. I didn't change my maiden name for reasons other than government paperwork. I love the fact that my last name is unique and cleverly rhymes with my name. People hardly every forget my name :)
    -Surbhi Mahobia

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    1. Thanks Surbhi for the comment and visit. Thank you for noticing my small attempts at humour. And glad to hear you could take a stand and not change your name. :)

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  10. Thanks for the new word- patrilocality! Yes, this marriage certificate business is a pain. Digitally I've maintained my maiden name.

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    1. :) Learnt a lot while researching on this topic. Glad you enjoyed it too.
      It's heartening to know you didn't have to go through the rigmarole of changing your name. One small change sometimes leads to many big ones. :)

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