The History of Name Changing Culture in India and Do We Still Need It?

By Staff Feministaa in Editor's Pick 09/01/2019

“Men are taught to apologise for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.” – Lois Wyse


A person’s biggest strength is his/her identity owing to which every human is recognised. So why is it that women are made to give away their name, their identity, their strength after they put on that wedding ring. Why a woman who has already given away her parents, house, things, siblings and her entire way of living is made to give away, something that was only hers to keep, in the name of tradition.


Our name is our identity. It is among the first few things we learn to write when we learn how to write. Our achievements, our failures, and our collective history are all kept under the name we were given at birth. It is a fundamental marker of who we are, and to sacrifice it due to wedlock is a notion not to be taken lightly, especially given the practice’s oppressive heritage.


History says that the name changing culture came to England around the time of the Norman Conquest, when the French brought with them the idea of coverture — that “her legal existence as an individual is suspended under ‘marital unity,’ a legal fiction in which the husband and wife are considered a single entity: the husband.” According to one of the court documents of 1340, “when a woman took a husband, she lost every surname except ‘wife of’”. A woman was known only in relation to her husband, and that was, in fact, her only identity.


Under the concept of coverture, which in literal terms means “covered by,” women would have no independent legal identity apart from their spouse. This “coverage” or process began with the birth of a female baby – who is given her father’s surname – and was only allowed to change upon marriage, at which point her name would automatically be changed to that of her new husband. Historically, it represents the transfer of women’s subservience from father to husband, the subjugation of women’s identities to those of men.


But the times have changed and women have become more confident and self-reliant hence maintaining their maiden name even after their wedding. Women today follow the idea of “He knows I’m his. I don’t need to tell anyone else.”


This is not to say that it is anti-feminist to change your last name. The goal is to erase the hetero-sexist assumption that a woman should take her husband’s surname and the absurd notion that she’s a not a wife if she doesn’t. We need to understand the reason behind why this practice ever happened in the first place and accept the fact that sustaining this practice is reinforcing patriarchy, which is more offensive than anything else.


Regardless of the choice you choose, a marriage should be a marker of an egalitarian partnership, not a succession of one party behind the other and your name should reflect that.


Staff Feministaa

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