Saturday, February 22, 2014

In Which I Talk About Marriage and Name Change

I have been married for four years and I have chosen not to change my last name, nor have I hyphenated it with my husband’s last name. I am happy and fortunate to be married to a man who respects my choice and keeping my name was not something I needed to seek his permission for.

My reason for not changing my name is simple, I don’t agree with it. I don’t see why a woman must change her name after getting married, when there is no similar expectation from a man. I was raised to believe that men and women are equal and if that it truly the case then I get to keep my name after getting married, right? I understand that many women who do change their names do it out of choice and I am in no way critical of women who make this choice.

Women have been changing their last names for years. It is a done thing, you get married and you take on your husband’s last name, simple. In all this taking on of the husband’s name I see years of patriarchy. Something that’s been happening for centuries and something not many seemed to have questioned. I on the other hand had my share of questions. Why is it always a man who gets to pass on his name? Why this unfair privilege? Why is a woman expected to change a name she’s had since birth? Why doesn’t a woman get to pass on her name?

I understand that even keeping my maiden name means I’m keeping my father’s name, who is obviously a man and hence it’s still patriarchal etc, etc, but since it was my father who gave me life and who I unfortunately lost very early, I have decided that my Daddy is the only man whose last name I will carry. Also, since I’m an only child my last name is a legacy of sorts which is something I not only want to retain, but pass on to our future children as well.

My name is my identity, something which I’ve had since birth and something which has made a place for itself in my life and in the memories of people I have known. I experience that disconnect each time I log into Facebook and see a girlfriends name I don’t instantly recognise and then realisation dawns “Ahh, she's a missus now!” Changing my name would mean changing a very large and important part of who I am, it would mean changing years and years of filling up “Maryann Theresa Taylor on forms. It would feel as if someone’s taken my nose off my face and stuck it to my forehead. It would feel very uncomfortable.

Then there are people who say “But now you’re part of your husband’s family and so you should take on their last name”. I don’t understand this argument. Don’t you have cousins and other relatives with different last names, aren’t they still part of your family? Why must it all be so superficial? Will I not be considered part of my husband’s family just because I chose to keep a separate identity?

I’ll be frank; I’ve had my moments of doubt about not having changed my name. Was I being rebellious? Was I trying too hard to prove something? But then as a married friend (who has also decided to retain her maiden name) rightly pointed out that the reason why I’m even having these doubts is because I’m deviating from a long standing, patriarchal norm. I wasn’t doing anything improper, so why should there be room for doubt?

I once read that in the Middle East there is no expectation from a woman to change her last name after marriage. This is because it is believed that a woman, irrespective of her being married still remains a daughter to her family and gets her share of the inheritance. They also believe that by taking away a women’s last name you are taking away her identity, which eventually makes her a nobody.

Closer home in states like Meghalaya and Kerala where societies are primarily matrilineal, women are not expected to change their names after marriage. Daughters pass on their last names to their children and get their share of their parents’ inheritance. This was a pleasant discovery, as compared to how in some Indian communities back in the day even a woman’s first name was changed after they married.

I have married friends, many of whom have changed their names after getting married. Some have hyphenated their last names with their husbands’ last names and some of them have let go of their maiden names entirely. So then why do women change their names? I decided to chat with a few married friends and find out.

When I began asking I got a mixed bag of responses. For one married friend letting go of her maiden name wasn’t a big deal, it was just a name after all and dropping her maiden name and taking on her husbands’ last name didn’t affect her sense of identity. A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. Other friends I spoke to said taking on their husband’s last name wasn’t an obvious choice and a lot of thought went into it. The reason they added their husband’s last name to their maiden name was because they were planning children and wanted the children to have their father’s last name. A common family name made sense to them. Had they not been planning children they would have kept their maiden names.

Another friend who has hyphenated her maiden name with her husbands has done so because hers is an inter-community marriage and the combination of her maiden name and married name has turned out to be a great conversation starter! I spoke to another friend who has hyphenated her name and who is of the opinion that sharing a last name with their husbands led to a feeling of completeness, a deeper connect with her partner and made her feel part of the new family she’s married into. She also adds that her decision to share her last name with her husband has been considerably influenced by women in her family who changed their names after marriage. 

And then I have friends who have decided to keep their maiden names. These women are of the opinion that their name is an important part of their identity and changing their names after marriage wasn’t something that came naturally to them, or wasn’t something they agreed with. One of them has seen her mother retain her maiden name with her married name, which in turn influenced her decision. She also believes that by taking on one’s husband’s name doesn’t mean you’ll love him any more as compared to if you didn’t. Another friend I spoke to decided to keep her maiden name because she wants to identify with her fathers lineage and is of the opinion that her surname is an integral part of who she is.

Researching for and writing this post was important for me to tie up some loose ends and has helped me understand why I chose to keep my name and why some women choose to change theirs.

Apart from having gained wonderful perspective from all the women I spoke to what made me incredibly happy was that their decision to change, hyphenate, or retain their names was not forced upon them, or was not something they sought permission for. It was their decision alone.

The times they are a changin'. 


Thursday, February 13, 2014

I Like to Move it Move it

I have been doing yoga for three weeks now and I love it. Over the years I've tried many different forms of exercise, from walking, to gymming, to aerobics, to a combination of all three and as much as these induced a sense of well-being and helped me lose weight, none of them calmed me as much as yoga has.

Yoga, like most good things, came to me later in life and I wonder why I didn't turn to this wonderful form of exercise before. Better late than never I guess. I have been doing yoga three times a week for now and I love how calm and relaxed it makes me feel. After every yoga class I’m all composed and zen like and it makes me wonder is this is how it feels like to be Buddha (long shot I know, but still!)

It may have something to do with getting older, but after years of being unhappy with my body I have finally come to accept that I have a certain body type and no matter how hard I exercise I’m won’t be able to change that. I may lose weight, but I’ll always have broad shoulders. Doing yoga has put certain things in perspective for me, like the fact that I may never be slim hipped, but I can be fit and flexible, which I believe is more important.