Maiden Name or Married Name

To me that’s a tricky question – is my name my identity or my surname. Do people identify me by my place of work or is it my blog I am known for. Am I known as a daughter or a wife? I really don’t have an answer. Not having a surname was an idea I was brought up with. My parents believed that my brother and I should be known by our names and not our surnames so I was Parul in school. Yes, I don’t have a last name even on my PAN card. I still find the rationale correct – in a country where having a surname can get you killed or judged by what kind of family background you come from, what religion or region you belong to, it’s much better not having a last name. Why I took VT’s last name could be a blog post in itself but that’s not the point here. The question is should a woman change her maiden name after marriage?

This is a question that is being debated not just in India but all over the world. In some countries if the husband and the wife carry different surnames, they are not considered to be lawfully married. In some, a guy will ask his girl friend about her intentions of changing her surname before he proposes. It is sometimes treated as a matter of trust. In England, close to 50% of women take up their husband’s last name after marriage and this number has come down over the last two decades. Women also prefer to combine their maiden name and husband’s name so Ms. A B marries Mr Y Z and is then known as Ms. A B Z. In some communities of India, women even change their first name and of course the last name. In some countries, the man takes up his wife’s last name. My point here is that different regions around the world have different  beliefs and it is mostly based on either the prevalent law or the culture.

A woman who takes up her husband’s last name due to societal norms may feel a loss of identity but is it really an identity crisis? Again, there is no right or wrong answer. She could be completely comfortable with a brand new last name or in some cases she may feel that could have been avoided. What hurts most is when it is not left to the individual but made a compulsion.

What’s the best of all is what happens in Greece. I would say what happens in Greece should not stay in Greece. In 1983, Greece wanted to ensure gender equality among spouses and hence a marriage law was coined per which women in Greece are required to keep their birth names for their whole life. What the rest of us are discussing today was already formalized in an unbiased way in Greece some 3 decades back.

The cultural norms and social bindings, however liberal they may be, without a law need the woman to bend her back else get it broken. The debate will be on because the rate of change for beliefs is slower but as individuals, we should be able to decide for ourselves. A man should not expect a name change from his wife and a woman should not assume that marriage also means this last name change. Marriage is a change in itself and it is more important that couples learn to understand each other’s differences better than setting things common between them.

For me, my last name is not my identity. Who I am makes me and nothing else can replace that. What do you think?


Anita, thank you for this prompt. It brought me back to IndiSpire after a couple of months. #SurnameChange  

37 Responses

  1. aseemrastogi2 says:

    Someone has perfectly said – “What’s in a name anyway”. Sadly, not too many people agree with that :(. I generally believe that the decision on changing the surname should be based on mutual consent taking in the factors of any issues in the future in terms of documentation etc. in case of any differences.

  2. Nearly 20 years ago we side-stepped the issue by using the excuse that as I was a Canadian passport holder and we got married in India, it would be challenging to go through a name change / passport change, etc. Of course, immediate family knew it was personal choice and they supported it wholeheartedly!

    When we moved to Canada, nobody questioned the decision to retain my ‘maiden’ name. However when we moved back to India in 2003, my passport, bank accounts and all forms of ID may have used ‘Carissa Hickling’ however the Aditya Birla Group was determined to rename me ‘Carissa Hickling Agarwal’ so that was what my business card said. As it never caused any issues either way, I let that slide.

    However once I moved on to working with a global consulting firm, the Agarwal was dropped… and I merrily enjoy using ‘my’ name.

    Only recently did it come up – IndiBlogger has denied both of my blogs (EverydayAsia.com and WhiskyLady.wordpress.com) membership. Whereas I’m quite sure if the Agarwal fiction was still tagged on to my name, this would not have occurred.

    I guess having spent the better part of my life in India off and on since 1990 doesn’t qualify one for IndiBlogger!!

    So sometimes having the blended approach with both maiden and spouse’s last name enables ignorant folks to check a few boxes!

    • Gosh! sorry for what happened on Indiblogger. Your story is interesting and reading your posts, I feel you are an Indian – so what if you were not born here?
      While I was growing up, I was not given a last name and I lived happily with that for over 2 decades. Only when I first started a job, my employer wanted something to make my email id firstname.lastname@companyname.com and I chose S..then in some other org, I chose something else. When I got married and I wanted to fly to US with my husband, I had to pay 5000 INR extra for tickets cos I did not have a last name on my passport. So, I added his last name to my name and now I am hoping I can save some bucks 😀

  3. Vineeta Srivastava says:

    v well said Parul. 35 yrs back I did not have any choice . I changed my last name without any hesitation . Actually those days it was beyond imagination to think over these matters . But now I MISS my maiden name . I wish people call me as Vineeta Verma .But I am happy I did not put last name to my kids and I have decided that my daughter- in- law is free to do whatever she likes . ( when ever she comes ).

  4. adwitia says:

    I also believe that an individual should be known by her name. She should have her own identity. I’ve never changed my surname and my daughter’s name is such that no one can identify her parents or religion. She’ll be known by what she does.

  5. shanx says:

    The hassles.. whether you want to change the name or you don’t.. It may be society or the boring documents 😀 I wonder where it all started from and like why? All said, it should be left to an individual’s choice (without any hints or pressure whatsoever) A good post again Parul 🙂

    • Thank you ST! I hope women are given a choice in days to come (without pressure, guilt or hint).

      • shanx says:

        Even now.. I see women taking their stand. few create a fuss…. I always want to ask them.. would u b okay with ur son changing name to her surname if it’s about having same surname? Wish they are really given a choice 🙂 yes!

  6. Priyanka says:

    Hey Parul, Thanks for putting this up! Until your last line, I felt you were writing the post on my behalf!! but that may be so. I appreciate you have put in so much of research to this issue, and glad to know what they do in Greece. After all its all about gender equality. But then if someone wants to change his/her name, then that should be allowed too… Anyways, my husband never had an opinion on me keeping or changing name, but as I said previously, he is being convinced by my in-laws to make sure I change it. He being a thorough gentleman, he putting me under no pressure to do so.. but I am able to feel the kind of pressure he goes while he deals with his parents…. do they want to force things on us like this.. I think they are thinking I might bough down if they put pressure on him. But I feel, as a man, he should be able to stand by my decision, and make sure his parents understand them. And if they don’t, its their loss! I have also heard through him, they speaking of not letting me in their house if I don’t change my name.. all this is conveyed through him! My thoughts of the rationale of not changing my name are mirrored in this article:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/reflective-bride/why-im-not-changing-my-la_b_5172581.html?ir=India

    Thought might be an interesting read!

    • I am so glad that you shared your own experiences and I feel sorry about what you and your husband have to go through. What I feel good about is the fact that your husband supports you in your choice. That’s a big thing cos I have seen men break down when there is unwarranted pressure from in-laws. Staying away from them must be a relief in some ways for you. It’s hard to understand that people are not appreciated for who they are, their kindness and sense of duty towards the family. Instead superficial things like name change, when you do what, takes over. I wish things could change for better someday and women have freedom in the truest sense – not just physical but mental too..
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing Priyanka!

    • And that’s an awesome article. I am so glad I got to read it. Thank you thank you Priyanka! 😀

  7. I am not sure why this debate is raged. I know many women who have not changed their surname after marriage. Who cares anyway..

    Partha
    themalefactor.com

  8. @parul I would love to hear your position on this movie about the Indian rape victim and the Indian government banning of the movie. I keep reading men’s perspectives in the Indian media but would much prefer to hear from a woman.

    • I am glad you would like to know what I think. I have always found your comments on my post very meaningful.
      I have watched India’s Daughter and there are views all over the internet. What shocked me most was that the culprit was paid for the interview.

  9. Prajakta says:

    It is a reflection of the heavy patriarchal society we grow up in. Eyebrows are raised if you confidently state that you don’t intend to change your last marriage… Takes time!

    • Priyanka says:

      Hi Prajakta, great that you noticed what women who dont change their maiden names go through, and sorry if you yourself went through such situation ever. The key to this is being confident & assertive that you are not willing to change your name, and its nobody’s business to tell you to do so.

  10. ananyakiran says:

    I am married still haven’t changed my last name. I just would like to choose to do it out of love not as a obligation. But sadly in our country this choice is rarely given to a woman.
    My reader had sent me an email regarding the chnage of her maiden name, pls do read
    http://www.ananyatales.com/2014/08/change-of-maiden-name.html

  11. Let’s extend the impact of changing names (or not) beyond just the two people who agreed to marry. What of the children? Will you be ok if your children (if you have any or plan to have any) choose a completely random last name?

    @Somali, how does a law removing a woman’s right to change her last name upon marriage bestow “rights” to that woman? Clearly to me, her right of choice has been removed.

    Promoting equality of rights by removing rights from the individual is NOT progress.

    • Khurt – Great point. If I ever have children, I am personally okay with whatever last name they want to take.Even if it is random, no issues with me. In India, children go by father’s name or father’s last name.
      To Somali’s point – if you give a woman the choice, her choice “could” be driven by husband’s wish or societal pressure more than what she really wants. And that’s where a law helps. I would deduce that from the practice in Greece.

      • @parul removing someone’s choice does not improve outcome. My point, instead of being pressured by her husband to change her name, she is now forced under threat of law to keep her name. At least with choice, it’s a choice.

      • I should mention my wife changed her last name from Raval when we were married. I’m neither Indian nor a traditionalist. My wife took my last name despite my insistence that it did not matter to me. She believes in the tradition. I do not. It was her choice.

        For the kids, we made a decision together to give them a traditional Indian first name and keep my last name. It could also have gone the other way. We could have chosen traditional Scottish first names and given them her last name. In the end, we wanted to celebrate both cultural heritages.

        • Wow! I feel really good to hear how you and your wife have blended the two cultures. You are open and hence you never forced your choice on your wife. Her choice was her love. In India, in some communities this is the basic requirement. Changing last name is menial. What’s ever harder is changing food habits, dressing, way of living and what not. For some women, marriage brings a set of restrictions that they ‘have’ to accept. There is never a choice. I think – this is an ongoing debate. Isn’t it? 🙂

      • @Khurt – I believe that in an ideal case the choice of deciding what surname a woman wants to keep after marriage should rest with her, rather than being imposed on her either by societal pressure or by law (just like it is for men). A friend of mine keeps both her maiden surname as well as her husband’s surname because that is the way she prefers.

  12. Interesting to know about this practice in Greece wherein women are required to keep their maiden names after marriage. A step to ensure gender equality. Great post Parul

  13. Mersha says:

    Absolutely true. What’s in a name anyway ? Who you are is based on your character .

    • Yes Mersha – you put it right! 🙂
      Thank you!

    • Aya M says:

      Names are very important in many cultures. They often tell who you are and who your family is. I do think that a women should have a choice in what last name they take/keep but really it’s based on culture. From what I can see taking the husband’s last name is a western thing. ln my home country of Somalia there is technically no last names. We have our given name, then our Father’s name, then our Grandfather’s name. Women don’t change it because it to change it is to say so-so is not my father/grandfather. In China a woman keeps her last name because of tradition. In Korea and many other eastern countries as well.

  1. April 17, 2017

    […] between a married name or a maiden name is not a new thing. Different cultures have different ways of looking at this topic, people have […]

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