Thursday, December 20, 2007


I have often known and heard of women who would at their own will or under so-called cultural norms or family customs change their lastnames to the one of her husband's family. It is no doubt a personal choice: but one question always comes to my mind- why is this required?

On one hand, we have always tried to stick to the philosophy "Live and let live"; and on the other, we know that at the end of the day, all of us are, in some manner or the other, bound to societal ethics, established practices and notions. There is definitely a trade-off, and the reason the human civilization has been able to traverse a journey this far is because our ancestors had been able to strike a balance between the two poles. Then why is it so, that for women, the second proposition holds and not the first? I am not implying the loads of social injustice done to women: probably they are persistent amidst the folk of illiterate people in remote areas; but this is a more grave issue. I have known so many educated women from well-off and socially reputed families changing their lastnames.

The reason behind this is unknown to me: and that is the reason I find this to be illogical. I believe, when a man marries a woman, it is the beginning of a journey together- and not the women losing her previous identity. I believe, a marriage involves two different families, and therefore both the families would have equal representation and respect for each other. Then why should the daughter of one family lose her original identity?

It this beyond a typical feminist issue. It is about something our civilization had branded as 'morals'. I find it extremely objectionable that the women has to give up her lastname (and in certain situations her first name as well). As human beings, man or woman, we grow as a individuals and often the ultimate goal in our life is to build our own identity. How does it feel to lose it one fine morning you wake up?

I would not protest against the practice being following at a time forty or fifty years back from today. For, then, women were less educated, and therefore their sole identity was their husbands' identity. But the woman of twenty first century has broken free those shackles. Amidst all odds, she has earned her self-identity.

I strongly detest customs and practices that compel one party to sacrifice an abstract feeling close to their heart. Neither men nor women should be a victim to this. It is not about disobeying culture: culture is a set of norms that characterizes a society for the good on a road which can take it far towards prosperity, happiness and bliss.


Rahul said...

I agree with you on this thought. I wonder whats your view on the significance of last name itself. During the socialist movement in 1970's, most people in Bihar dropped their last name to reduce the influence of cast-ism in their society. So I am confused about the importance of the 'last name' in the identity of a person.

Munmun said...

No, it is not about the lastname; I agree lastnames are often associated with castes in India which is extremely bad. However, since birth or at least the time that our conscience can take us back, we grow up with an image of ourselves in our mind: and just psychologically the first and lastname are a part of that. The issue of identity is somewhat orthogonal and meant to be metaphorical here.

Kartik said...

I agree, there's no way last names should have to be changed. Apart from all that it stands for (identity, self-perception etc.) most people around the world associate it with their family, and every individual has as much of a right to carry forward their family's name (if that be the ruling sentiment).

On a side note, I've noticed that a lot of Indians living in the US that get married don't really change their last names: now of course whether this has to do with a sense of identity / assertion, or just with the inconvenience of going through a lot of paperwork for a change of name, is a question up for debate. Still, healthy trend.

There is no coercion of the willing :-) (apologies to George W. for misquoting)