By M Mohanty:
The best part about retaining your maiden name when you get married is not having to change it back when you are no longer married. At other times, this becomes inconvenient, annoying, and sometimes, downright comical.
My first name is quite an unusual one and almost a tongue-twister for those uninitiated in Sanskrit. Since my schooldays, people have mangled my name in more ways than I care to remember. Bank statements prefix my name with a ‘Mr’. Tele-callers address me as ‘sir’. Hapless maîtres d’s mumble my name incoherently, after having my dinner table ready.
Therefore, to make life easier, I often rely on my last name. It’s a simple, easily-pronounceable, fairly common surname from the eastern state of Odisha. I use it at the salon or at the car service station or for signing up on the Uber app or for random subscriptions. It’s a lifesaver, indeed!
For a single working mother, there are other things that require energy and attention than guiding people to say your name correctly. But that wasn’t the only reason I’d retained my maiden name after my marriage. I primarily did this to avoid paperwork-hassles. Besides, having been an independent, working woman, always, I had already procured a driving license, passport, bank accounts and other assets in my maiden name by the time I got married.
A week after our marriage, my husband returned home from office and said, “Pack your bags. We’re going to the US.” I’d just been uprooted from my own world to step into a man’s world. Uprooting myself all over again and moving to a new country was just about all I could handle! If anyone had insisted on making a legal name-change during that hectic time, I am sure I would have snapped at them!
When we moved to the US, the confusion with my surname showed no signs of abating. The systems there persistently demanded a person’s identity in the ‘first name-middle name-last name format’. And, it would perplex the average official to no end when my ‘first name-last name’ combination didn’t resemble my husband’s, in the least bit.
Moreover, there was also the issue that I was married to a South Indian person. In parts of South India, the practice of people adopting their father’s first name as their own surnames is prevalent. This meant that my husband’s last name, ‘Subramaniam’ (not his real name), was actually my father-in-law’s first name.
At the wedding reception of an American colleague, the name-cards on the table listed my husband as Vijay Subramaniam and me as Mrs Subramaniam. By inference, that made me my father-in-law’s wife, that is, my mother-in-law! I found it embarrassingly hilarious, but my husband was definitely not amused.
While retaining my name brought about these little annoyances, it proved to be less of a worry when the marriage went sour. The paperwork for a divorce and child custody is intimidating in India. I was only too glad to have avoided the extra burden (not to mention the emotional drubbing) of filling affidavits for a change of name.
However, a judge, who was hearing my case in the civil court, was highly condescending. “These modern couples, with their independent ideas,” he smirked. “What can one hope from them about the sanctity of marriage? They don’t even change their names,” he added. I stood there, fuming. With all due respect to the judiciary, how could someone judge my decision to stay married or not? Moreover, my name should have had nothing to do with all this!
Thankfully, my life has been fairly smooth since then. Better still, since my name stays the same, most people are blissfully unaware and hence, have not intruded upon my life and its changes. My daughter and I have moved on without having to face uncomfortable questions or excessive curiosity.
I’m comfortable with my maiden name and with the fact that I never changed it. I’m comfortable in my own skin and identity, including the several flaws in them. I’ve made what people term ‘mistakes’ – but I perceive them as ‘experiences’. They’ve shaped me and my personality. They’ve taken me far ahead from where I stood, in the beginning.
That said, I do not have an issue with women who change their names to adopt their husband’s surnames. According to me, it doesn’t change their ‘identity’ – it only gives them a new ‘address’. As a whole, they are more than the sum of their individual parts – and this is their greatest strength!
The article was first published here. It has been published on Youth Ki Awaaz with the author’s permission.