I know it's gonna be quite controversial and difficult to float. I might offend a lot of my friends ( well the ones who know me well wouldn't be surprised) but I have been mulling over this topic for quite some years and was waiting for a gush of hormones to propel me to craft this post ( that's how I basically write, emotionally, unedited, at a stretch). What better time could I ask for than pregnancy ( yes I am pregnant and I don't think its a big deal ) with all that progestrone being produced and mood swings cornering me- I guess this is that auspicious moment to get back here and voice my thoughts. I have been neglecting this space a lot- mostly because I hate writing because some great guy told me I can't write. It's amazing ! the effect certain people who mean nothing to us can have over us and how they can turn our worlds upside down with their frugal words. Well I won't discuss more on that. There are many benefits of being pregnant ( something I will discuss in another post)- to me it has revived my old self. I wake up with an I- don't - give- a - damn- to - you attitude and have suddenly become passionate about things I discarded years ago. So that's how I decided to pen these thoughts.
My oldest memory of listening to a couple fight over change of maiden name is when I was 13. My mom was being promoted from a blue label nurse to a red label nurse which meant she had to change her name tag. My dad insisted she change her name from K.Kuriakose to K. Augustine. After 16 years at work holding her maiden name my mom was forced to change her surname. I realised she gave the not-being- promoted excuse as a reason for not changing her surname all those 16 years. People knew her as Kuriakose. It amazed me that a woman of her generation did not take up her hubby's name immediately. I never understood why dad insisted the change of surname. Her passport read Kuriakose, so did all official documents and that would never change. Her signature was M.K Kochuthresia, that would never change either. Was dad eager to share her promotion? or did he just like the fact that her tag showed his name- some narcissistic pleasure. It made me even wonder why I couldn't inherit my liberal mom's surname? But my identity was defined as Teena Augustine and my signature bears the same name. Despite my disagreements with dad, I never had the urge to change it but at the age of 13, I made a covenant with myself- " I wont ever change my surname when I get married".
I got married to the best soul on earth- a selfless, progressive man I am willing to die for- but I was true to my covenant- I did not change my surname to the surprise of many. It irritates me to see people changing their surnames on facebook the very next day after their marriage. It's as if their sole mission in life was to get married to change surname. I look at those excited couples and wonder- why don't any of these newly wedded husbands add their wives names as surnames just for fun. It never happens. As women we are constantly reminded we don't belong to the homes we were born into and we happily agree and accept the new family and their surname.
At a wedding I was asked if I changed my surname? I was trying to fathom why such a question should arise- when the person addressing me listed all possible reasons for why women change surnames
1. You will have issues inheriting your husband's property when he dies if you don't change you surname ( Ok that sounds quite monetary and gruesome- what if I die before him??)
2. Schools will get confused if parents have two surnames ( that's what marriage certificates are for- and if they are educated they shouldn't find this confusing at all- its not a quadratic equation, its just a name)
3. Husband and Wife are one so they should have a common name ( ok then let my hubby choose my surname or we could have a number plate that way every couple can shed their old names and be known through a number like we have passport number, license number)
4. Kids will find it confusing- ( my god ! kids these days are better informed than us and process complex technology, two surnames mean nothing to them)
5. Not changing surname means you haven't submitted yourself completely ( cut the crap !!!!!)
My father-in-law called me up when I was in Chennai to courier me some papers he wanted to be delivered at some government office. I read my address and he made me repeat Teena Augustine thrice. I thought he was turning deaf but then after his long pause, he asked me why I hadn't changed my surname. Now my hubby and I lived in two cities for 3 years - I don't think the distance affected us though people speculated the end of our marriage- I don't think our relationship is so brittle to fall apart because of an unchanged surname.
And yet I fail to understand why we undermine our identity and accept these silly changes because somebody has been doing it for centuries? Why do rational, educated men insist their wives prove submission through change of surname? It's also getting fashionable to add both surnames, I have no opinion on that I see it as a effort to preserve harmony, it would make me happier if the guy took both surnames too- like an Aiswarya Rai Bachan and Abhishek Bachan Rai but sadly that doesn't happen. So it all boils down to my bad luck that I am a woman and so I comply to a lot of crap instituted by a couple of crappy old systems which definitely was decided by men and enforced through the support of few women.
My aunt tells me there is an unexplicable joy in surrendering to one's husband and losing one's existence in his shadow. She believes change of surname is just a beginning of this experience.And not wanting to shed one's surname reflects one's ego. It hurts me when women perpetuate norms and justify such actions. Now that I am pregnant I wonder why my child gets to bear my hubby's surname and not mine or why not both of ours. What makes the world presume a child belongs to the father. Bible says ' for this reason man and woman leave their families and unite to become one'- that to me makes a lot of sense. Can't we for a difference shed our names and the proud lineage we boast about and adopt a common name and start our own family? What tradition are we trying to uphold? what aristocracy? what norm?
Shakespeare said what's in a name? I wish he was here, I would have loved to discuss this idiosyncracy with him. So that's why I never changed my surname- because I am an arrogant feminist with an ego of the size of a dinosaur who finds unnecessary norms imposed on me as a burden. And I am grateful I live in times when I have the freedom to do so. If a marriage is so weak that it breaks because a wife did not change a surname- I think that marriage would never survive in the first place. So all those people out there who think my hubby could act a bit more chauvinist ( make me bend on my knees) should look themselves in the mirror and roll their right fist into a ball and then open their middle finger :) I mean it !!! for those who agree with me, I owe you a big hug.