Thursday, March 12, 2009

What's in a Name?

So, the other day, I went to see this new doctor. And the receptionist proceeded to take down all my particulars, starting with my name. The conversation went something like this...

Her: Mrs. or Miss?
Can I go with Ms. please?
Her: No, you have to choose between Mrs. or Miss.
Me: Well, ok then. Mrs.
Her: What’s your first name?
Me: Rohini

The name entry reads: Rohini

Her: Your husband’s name?
Me: But I don’t use his name.
Her: I need it for the records.
Me: Jai His surname

The name entry now reads: Rohini Jai His Surname

Me: But that is not my name. My name is Rohini My Surname
Her: But we have to write the records like this only.
Me: But if you make my bills in this name, my company will not reimburse me because that is not my name as per official records
Her: (gives me a most exasperated look) Ok, I’ll write it like this then (in a tone brooking no further argument)

The name entry now reads: Rohini Jai His Surname (My surname)

My surname is relegated to brackets! I notice the mulish expression on her face and decide to lay down arms. But before leaving, I ensure that my prescription and bill is in the right name. My name!

As you might have established from this fascinating (not!) anecdote, I have not taken on my husband’s name after marriage. And it’s not an error of omission – because of sheer laziness or the administrative hassle. It was by choice. Actually, it was not even a choice since I never really considered the alternative.

When I was born, I was given a certain name. That’s who I had been for 25 years before I got married. That’s who I am today. And that’s who I am always going to be. Rohini Jai’s Surname is some third person who I don’t know and have no wish to create out of thin air.

That being said, I don’t have anything against women who do change their names when they get married. Maybe they don’t think it’s such a big deal. Maybe they don’t want the lifelong administrative hassle that comes with keeping your maiden name (having to provide proof of your marriage for every passport, visa, property registration and school application for a start). Maybe they don’t have their identities tied down to ephemeral concepts like names. Maybe their in-laws feel strongly about it and they don’t want to start off on the wrong foot.

Whatever the reasons, to each their own. I respect their choice and I wish they would respect mine. I really would rather not have to get into an elaborate argument to get my name correctly reflected at a doctor’s office. Or live with a bank account statement where they must put either my father’s name or my husband’s name as my middle name. Or be judged as the woman who did not love her husband enough to take on his name.

Surprisingly enough, this possessiveness for my name does not extend to the name that my son carries. I don't want to complicate his life by saddling him with multiple last names. I am quite happy to let him carry just Jai's surname. I know he is mine - I carried him inside me for nine months after all - and I don't need to affix my name to his to reassure myself of that.

Again, it's fine that there are people for whom it is important to have the child's name reflect the heritage of both parents. My only doubt here is what would happen if a lot of people started doing this. Wouldn't it complicate things? For e.g. if Meena Khan Gupta were to marry Amit Kumar Fernandes - would their offsping then possibly be called Shalini Khan Gupta Kumar Fernandes? And what of the next generation and the generation after that? Just a thought...


  1. I feel exactly the way you do, Ro. I was who I was for 26 years before I got married and that's who I continue to be. Like you, I'm happy to let popol carry just R's surname for exactly the same reasons you mentioned.

  2. ...........When I was born, I was given a certain name. That’s who I had been and who I am........
    EXACTLY my sentiments

    Can't resist prying- any news by the way??

  3. Lots and lots of people just don't get it:(

  4. Lots of name posts, even at MM's place. I'm with you! It was not even a choice in my case it felt natural to go with my own name.

    The kids, they have their own surname, a reflection of my inlaws family gothram.

  5. Wow! same thoughts..I love my name and the sense of identity that it brings.

    It is not just in India, it is over here in so called developed world.

    But yes, people don't blatently confront the concept of keeping the maiden name as is. But some ignorant fools and some paperwork end up assuming that since you are married you share a common surname.

    Read Mad Momma's post on same topic just 2 days back. Wanted to comment on that too. Still haven't done that.

  6. Very well said!
    besides the practical aspect of the last few made me giggle! I am wondering the amount of pain these 'new age' kids will go through while explain their names. and whether our govt departments will get the spellings and the order of them right!

  7. you need to show your marriage cert for school apps? you mean for ayaan? how idiotic.

  8. You have a lovely blog! This name thing has annoyed me plenty of times as well,I cannot relate to any other last name,and this is no reflection of how much I love my husband or his family,just a personal identity choice.

  9. Omg! I have something similar on blog. We think alike...

  10. Vidya3:10 am

    oh, and my husband's cousin changed his wife's first name as well,to something that sounded nice with HIS last name, and their parents were all praises about how she blends in with the family so well, and yada-yada-yada!

  11. I completely understand your plight. My usually very sweet FIL presented me a book with my name and K's surname. Again. Sometimes it is pointless to explain!

    I think the best way is to give completely new surnames to kids. I know that especially in India, people read a lot into surnames. They immediately slot you into south indian, brahmin, or whatever other cubby hole they have.

    With a completely new surname, the kids do not have to deal with the baggage of being slotted.

  12. hah good that you have written this post. i needn't bother now.

  13. sigh. why cant people let us use the names we want instead of treating them within brackets?

    and yeah - as you said, it might get complicated - but its nothing we've not seen before. the OA has three names. Most people have middle names or a Kumar. SO its not really a stretch yet. As I said - its trial an error. Maybe one kid will drop my name and another will drop the OA's when the time comes. Until then - I'm good with the compromise we've reached :)

  14. PS: also - i dont use my name for any sort of reassurance - but I do believe names say alot about you. So when I hear Rohini - I immediately get that you're an indian, and might have some south indian angle. your surname says something more.

    similarly - my kids' names tell people something about them. to me its as important as the care with which i chose their first names. because it MEANS something to me.

  15. Anonymous1:07 am

    well, children can also choose their surnames after they get married

  16. [Mystic/ Art/ Poppins/ Big Zed] Soul sisters!

    [Dipali] I am fine with them not getting it. But must they be so violently judgmental about it?

    [Manchus] Yup. Nothing gets my goat like a letter addressed to me with my husband's name!

    [Preeti] :)

    [Dottie] Yeah. They asked for it for Ayaan's school admission... which makes me wonder if they would deny admission to a child whose parents are not married... but that's a subject for another post

    [Vidya] Don't even get me started on women who change their first names in accordance with the demands of the family they have married into.

    [Cluelessness] Hmmmm... interesting idea. But I am not sure I entirely agree. Names should say something about us, no? About where we come from? And people will slot and judge, irrespective of the name

    [Choxbox] At your service ;)

    [Mad Momma] Finally someone who disagrees! I had a feeling it would be you :) I was just stretching the idea to its ridiculous extreme. I guess as long as you are aware and ok with the fact that some of the names may drop off as life goes on, it's fine :)

  17. I was who I was for 26 years before I got married and that's who I continue to be. so true, but you will remain the same evn after changinmg the surname...Surname is not you, its what isinside u, thats ur identity..ur work , ur deeds, ur qualifications..they constitute the ID, not the surname. Changing the surname is just conforming to a system made for the convenience in life--it makes the life simpler, One has a homogenous family with the same surnames and thats the reason---sorry you dont want an arguement, i forgot:)

  18. Why have surnames anyway? Just complicates everything. Why cant I be Ritu Kumari and a male be Vijay Kumar or something - Singh and Kaur were such a nice concept. No confusion at all

  19. extract from a post i did this morning:
    Society meeting in which yours truly held forth in a clear voice instead of shrinking in the background. They took serious notice of all I had to say and promptly added my name to some committee.I finally felt like an adult. All was well until they said Mrs. Jose and I said Surabhi Sharma, in a somewhat high pitched tone.A suggestion of infantalisation slinked back into the scene. We could have compromised at 'A-604' but the damage had been done.

  20. Mrs A-604 is such an easy and safe bet, na?

    but jokes aside, i had the exact same fight at the doc when i was pregnant- some scan place the doc had sent.

    and the child. the father is a malyali, so she would take his first name. sanah sharma george would have led to george being dropped. and i am not too fond of the generic brahmin surname sharma- so she is sanah surabhi george. she can chuck either name or both as and when she wants.

    george fought at the office for her birth certificate. the guy said, yeh kaisa naam hai, mazzak samajh ke rakha hai kya? George answered, meri beti ka naam, aapke baap ka naam nahin badal raha hun.

    so her name was registered.

    and she says her name is sanah surabhi sharma george. and she says her father's name is george surabhi sharma. :)

    could more confusion prevail? god bless confusion!

    sorry for the lamba lamba comments- but we have too many hilarious name related stories in my family.

  21. I would have strangled the silly receptionist. My south Indian husband has so many names anyway, that if and when we have kids and we give them a really long combination of names, I guess they can use a row of initials!

  22. [Renu] Give me a good argument any time! But I guess I am one of those silly people who is really attached to my name. And convenience is not good enough reason for me to give it up... I think the world needs to make it more convenient for people who want to keep their names...

    [Ritu] Yeah that is a nice concept. I think surnames are over-rated. Unless they are mine ;)

    [Sur] LOL! Both at Mrs. A-604 and Mr. George Surabhi Sharma :D

    [Ra] Well I don't think she was feeling particularly kindly towards me either. I thing I was in danger of being strangled for messing up the neat little boxes on her form :)

  23. to each his own, indeed!
    i took my husband's first name as my last name...I was (am) in love!!

  24. IF his surname is shorter ill take it :) hehehe

  25. Agree with every sentence, right down to not seeing the necessity of saddling the son with your surname. My name is my name, his name is his name, and I don't need to see my name in his to feel comfortable.

    The same thing happened when I went to submit my voter registration papers. One man got on my case and wanted me to sign as Sunayana Niyogy. I just refused and said all my documentation shows Roy and Sunayana Niyogy does not exist.

    Eventually I ended up writing Niyogy in brackets next to my signature and only then another man piped up from the side to say that "Oh now the government has set a new rule that women don't have to use married name." Gah!

  26. dont complete non-issues become a big deal unnecessarily! i mean ki farak whether someone changes name ou non!

    crazy things!

  27. My family has a bigger complication. I use my maiden surname, my husband use 'no' surname and my kids use their father's parents' surname. So you can imagine the chaos we had to go through while getting my daughter's passport made. The policeman asked us if we are sure the child belongs to us!?
    But we are still determined to contd. like this :)

  28. [Orchid] Like you said, to each his/ her own. Just the same, I'd rather people wouldn't think I don't love my husband because I didn't take his name

    [Serendipity] :)

    [Sue] Gah! is right

    [Mamma-Mia] Exactly!

    [Explorekids] That sounds like fun ;)

  29. Anonymous11:27 am

    To add to the list of experiences, I recently opened a bank account with my husband, separate accounts, we just went together. The guy created both our accounts with his details, so when I try to use netbanking and I forget my password it asks me for his birthdate and his mother's surname! And I've kept my maiden name.

  30. Didn't change my name after marriage either for exactly the same reasons. And surely there must be some way to reach a compromise on kids' names? I couldn't think of one, so for now the kiddos have P's last name.

  31. Love it!! Sure enough, my daughter has both my last name as well as my husband's family name.
    Do check out my blog at

  32. I'm butt lazy. Or maybe I'd had enough explaining of my name since the time I was a kid to want to saddle my child with that....
    It was so much simpler to be a Manral.
    And anyway, I wasnt too attached to the Sheikh to keep it anyway.

  33. Anonymous11:45 pm

    Kept my name. Felt the same as you did. Our daughter has both our names which is a bit long to spell out (Ma'am could you spell her last name? Ok, here goes: S as in Sam, etc etc etc hyphen- father's name etc etc. Phew!). But I can't complain - the father has a four-letter last name, mine is the one which is long.

    But luckily we are in the US, where they wouldn't dare insinuate that I change my name or write another name when I give them my name. I feel your pain though.

    I agree with MM - our daughter (if if if she marries/cohabitates and has a child) will probably figure out what name to give her child, whether a combination name or just another name altogether. That's her business, just as giving her our names was ours. We're even ok if she changes her own last name when she grows up.


  34. it's funny that in some of our cultures, even the bride's first name would change (sindhis, for instance). recently i got married and had to take on my husband's surname for visa issues. i was okay with it, thankfully atleast I have my first name in place :p

    being a feminist, it really annoys me that all the name-changing, ritual-following, karwa-chauth dramas are only meant for women...

  35. [Anon] LOL! Maybe that's a conspiracy to ensure that your mother-in-law is always in your thoughts :D

    [A Muser] Yeah. I can't think of a compromise either but I'm easy with the brat having my husband's name.

    [Tandoori] That is an interesting blog name :)

    [Kiran] Makes sense. But I love my name, always have - hence the attachment maybe

    [n!] That sounds sensible - especially the part with you guys being ok with the choices she makes later in life... :)

    [Sonia] Changing first names REALLY gets my goat. Yeah, and why must only the women be subjected to all this after marriage

  36. my mommy too sticks by the name her parents gave her, and why not !

    nice post

  37. First time around ..nice blog...well I also have not changed my name after marriage ..still figureing out the reason behind it though..I have never felt that my surname is my identity ..I think my husband's surname is better than my surname anyway (just the sound of it)I feel that my name is enough to indentify me ..I was already working when I got married ,didn't relocate after marriage evrything remained the same why change surname ..and who really asks your surname in your husband's side after marriage anyway .
    But in the end if I ever think of changing my name ..something in me says no .

  38. First time around ..nice blog...well I also have not changed my name after marriage ..still figureing out the reason behind it though..I have never felt that my surname is my identity ..I think my husband's surname is better than my surname anyway (just the sound of it)I feel that my name is enough to indentify me ..I was already working when I got married ,didn't relocate after marriage evrything remained the same why change surname ..and who really asks your surname in your husband's side after marriage anyway .
    But in the end if I ever think of changing my name ..something in me says no .

  39. This comment has been removed by the author.

  40. High five, girl! I feel exactly the same!

    My maiden name was a part of me for 25 years...why should I give it up for another? Of course, I added my MIM's surname to mine...but I still have to face opposition over it and I can't tell you the amount of grief I've been given regarding this.

    And like you, I kept the EO's and YO's names simple. They just carry the MIM's surname. I've always wondered about a Shalini Khan Gupta Fernandes scenario myself! Where would it ever end?

  41. You have maintained your blog in a very nice way.
    By the way one should not change name after marriage i think that way.

    Lingerie Alley

  42. Like everyone else here, I feel the same way. I didn't add/change my name and it was not a big deal - not with my husband anyway.

    My daughter takes my husband's name, that's totally ok.

    The funny thing is that my dad sends me letters in which he puts my husband's name instead of the one of got from him! I tell him, but he's old school...

    It should be a woman's choice.

  43. Actually for me, I couldnt wait to change my last name; I was sorta adopted by my Mausi so I took her last name but all thru my childhood was reminded by well meaning adults from my Moms side saying - thats not really your last name, what should have been my last name wasnt mine due to the divorce contract so when I got married, I was thrilled to have a last name subject to no debate or doubt :) But yeah I dont know how people want to change their first names!

  44. okay i am back to disagree some more. just like you dont like it that people assume you dont love Jai by not taking his surname, i get mad when you and Sue say you have nothing to prove by 'saddling' the kid with your name. you're 'saddling' with his first name and a lot more...

    you dont want to be judged for keeping your own surname, but there's that little hint of judgment in the way you say it - which is so not the Ro i know :)

    n! has done the same thing with her daughter's name and there's a growing bunch of us doing it.

    every choice is not about proving a point ... is it?

    and yayyy!!! we're arguing again. the world feels right.

  45. PS; Also - you tell Renu that convenience is not a good enough argument - but its precisely the one you use in your last para. lives are complicated with you keeping your own surname. lives woud also be complicated if you gave your surname to ayaan. the degree might change but its all a question of what matters to you and how much it does.. right? so you might push the envelop an inch while i push it two - but then i kinda expect you to understand and support that little extra push that i have given, because you're not exactly conforming either.

    okay i'll stop. dont beat me up!

    PS: how come you only expected me to disagree? you notice surabhi and n! have done the same thing i have?!

  46. MM -- I said "saddling" because I would not cut out V's name to put mine in, and I don't think Bhablets need two surnames. I mean, I didn't like the sound of them for myself, so why would I add it for him?

    And I think, just the way I identify with and love being Roy, he will identify with and love being a Niyogy. He's not a Roy, not even the Roys think of him as a Roy. I think it would be silly of me to call him one just because I am a Roy when he's being brought up in a very un-Roy way.

    I don't think this logic is applicable to the Brat and Beanie because your family viewpoints are different, no? But for us, given our circumstances, this logic works fine.

  47. Well yes in our case the brat and bean are not being brought up an MM way or an OA way. They're being brought up in a third beautiful way that is just ours. Which is why their name is different. Frankly after getting married I dont really think of myself as part of my birth family either. we're a new family. and i hope that the kids identify with that and not just the OA's family even if that were the logic.

    so yes - it works fine. i just dont like the word 'saddle'. it makes it seem like a burden and a name given with a lot of love and thought, shouldnt be called a burden by anyone - be if a double barrelled surname or a tongue twister of a first name....

  48. I definitely meant it in the sense of a burden. Sharabh Roy Niyogy hasn't the poetry that your two have in their names.

    Which reminds me, don't you ever let me allow the grandfathers to name any more children of mine...