“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo more than anyone else understood best the weight his family name carried and the struggles that came along with it.
Now, you are probably wondering where I’m going with this article, quoting Shakespeare and getting all philosophical. So let me ask the same question aloud once again.
What’s in a name?
For me, my name is everything. It is my Identity. And when I say my “name” I mean both my given name and my family name (surname). It is my name that first links me to my tribe – my parents and my sisters. For years the four of us were known as the Dias Sisters. I wore that name tag as a badge of honour. I was proud to be part of that clan. My name was one of the first few words that I learned to write; I boarded my first flight with that name; I graduated with that name; I earned my first pay cheque with that name, and most importantly my husband fell in love with ME, with that very name.
I still remember that first evening at our honeymoon resort, when the hotel receptionist addressed me as Mrs. Manuel, I was so puzzled. She had assumed I had taken on my husband’s surname. Perfect strangers were rechristening me when it had barely been a week since our wedding. One day I was a Dias and the next day I wasn’t! I can add a name to my existing name, but dropping my surname just to take on a new one is a big NO for me. Does marriage have to strip a woman of her basic identity? Does not changing your surname call for an eye roll?
Prevailing gendered social norms have made us believe that it is only natural for a woman to change her surname after she gets married. I agree with the thought that a family is a unit, and it is convenient to have a common family name. So why drop a name? Just add one; isn’t that much easier? A couple can then decide if the husband wants to add his wife’s surname or vice versa (No guesses, who’s going to win that debate…just kidding, it is good to be hopeful). For Christ sake, even Facebook understands the significance of a woman’s maiden name and provides the option to display both names so that people can connect with you on social media without losing their hair!
It is important to understand the history behind the marital name changing convention before we blindly believe it is the right thing to do. Back in the day, marriage laws and property laws were very different. A man and a woman were not treated as equal partners in a marriage. A woman was considered a man’s legal property. The situation is not the same today. Equality is a battle we’re still fighting; it has been long and arduous, but slowly and steadily we’re getting there!
Does wanting to keep your original surname make one a feminist? Maybe. Maybe not. To me, it’s about a simple fundamental liberty – the right to choose. Every human being has a right to choose his/her own name. Marriage is a partnership, not a one-way follow-the-leader street. Some women are happy using just their husband’s surname, and happiness is a good-enough reason to do so. This article is not about a woman justifying her choices; it is about getting the opportunity to make life’s choices.
As parents, it is our duty to teach both our daughters and sons the importance of the right to choose. It is these simple choices that will shape their lives. Our babies need to know that their mommy existed even before marriage and that bagging a Mrs. prefix to her name isn’t her only achievement. They need to know that even if mommy didn’t have the opportunity to make many of her own life decisions she will do anything in her power to empower her children to do so. Married women are not a liability, and we’re certainly no one else’s property to be named and renamed. We may willingly enter a partnership, but we belong only to ourselves.
Ladies, remember, the first step is always the hardest, nonetheless, it’s the first step towards change.
This post first featured on First Moms Club