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It was a bright, sunny afternoon. I was at work in the study and my little one was tinkering with my phone. Suddenly, he asked, “Who is Deepali Kamath?” And I was like, “she’s my friend, why?” To which he countered with another question, “isn’t she on Facebook?” And I was like, “What? Why are you looking at my Facebook? And why are you looking for Deepali Kamath specifically?”
Now, my little one and I are, on most days, more friends than mom and son. So yes, he does have access to my phone and he does have permission to ask me any questions – and I mean any random questions! But here I was a bit intrigued by all this curiosity regarding a specific friend of mine, especially, considering I had just spoken to her yesterday; within the little one’s earshot, I might add.
So, “what’s with this sudden curiosity about Deepali?” I asked him.
"Nothing," he shrugged. "It’s just that, I find her name in your contacts list but not in Facebook; and I know you are best friends. So I was wondering why she isn’t your friend on Facebook? "
“Well,” I said, “that is because she is on Facebook under her maiden name; and I may have saved the contact under her married name, especially since I also have her husband’s number saved.”
“What is maiden name?” of course was the next question.
“The name of a woman before she is married,” I said.
“Ah, okay. But Mum, you are not on Facebook under your maiden name!”
I smiled. “That is because I changed my name after I got married to your Dad,” I told him.
“Why?” he was perplexed now.
“Because…I just did.” I said. “It is a sort of norm that after marriage the girl takes her husband’s name and so I did. I didn’t think too much about it; just took your Dad’s name on.” And that had us discussing this for the next half hour. We came up with the names of everyone in the family who have changed their names after marriage – which led my little to then ask me why there were some in the family who hadn’t. I told him that it wasn’t a compulsory tradition, but a matter of choice, instead.
I mean I have honestly never given a thought to this fact till now. Why had I changed my name after marriage? Like I told my little one, this is purely a matter of choice, and when I got married over a decade ago, I was a naïve twenty-three year old in love who would blush at calling herself Mrs. So and So. Was that the reason I was happy to change my name? Maybe, maybe not; but one sure thing is that it was the most natural thing I felt like doing at the time; and I have never given it a second thought.
Of course, there will be many who would say I was a fool. That I was not honouring my parents by dropping their name. Some would say I have dropped my identity because I dropped my maiden name. Some may also say I am a thankless child who, by dropping my parents name; have refused to acknowledge everything they have done for me. And most may agree with them. But I don’t.
For one, my parents’ love doesn’t depend on what I call myself. Plus, they have had no issues with me taking on my husband’s name, anyway. My mother did it before me and my grandmother did it before her; but more than anything else, their love for me and my love for them doesn’t and has never depended on what our names are! Secondly, an ‘identity’ is something we create for ourselves. As wives, mothers, aunts, friends – and even as managers, singers, bloggers, artists, sculptors – and when an identity is created, it just starts with whatever name you currently have.
Take the example of the nightingale of India, Ms. Lata Mangeshkar and her sister Ms. Asha Bhosle. One sister never married, stuck to the family name; while the other married and took on her married name. And is one any less than the other today? No! The sisters are known for their singing, not merely by names. If they were both called by any other names, they would still be famous singers and owners of the sweetest voices India has ever produced!
Another example, is Ms. Zia Modi; daughter of the erstwhile Attorney General of India, Padma Vibhushan Soli Sorabjee. Is she successful? Of course she is! She is one of the best and the finest lawyers in India today. (I have taken this example specifically as this was a lady I looked up to when I was studying law; and later when I quit the profession for good; I realised I still look up to her – as a woman, a mother, a professional and so much more.) And this wonderful lady too has taken her husband’s name and is famous with that name today.
There are several more examples. Of course, there are several examples to the contrary too. Especially, because many think that taking on a husband’s name is a sort of archaic tradition that shows that the woman is now a property of the husband, that she ‘belongs’ to him; and this, they think is bad. Well, I am not going to comment on that; least of all because it doesn’t make any sense to me. Because, whatever the traditions say, if you really love your partner, you belong to each other anyway!
Of course, in the practical world, maybe it makes sense to keep your maiden name and add your husband’s name too – like Ms. Madhuri Dixit-Nene, or Ms. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan; but I guess it makes more sense for people are already known (like these two ladies) by their maiden names for a substantial body of work. But of course, that’s just what I think.
If you ask me, you are what you believe in. If you think your name defines you, by all means, keep it; but I genuinely believe, that a person is so much more than a name or a tradition. We are what we make of ourselves. After all, according to Shakespeare, “A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet!” isn’t it?
What do you think? Is it foolishly romantic to take on your husband’s name? Or is it taking a stand, when you don’t?