Is your last-name YOUR last-name?

Few months ago, I saw a hashtag “#MarriedNotBranded” that was used by the wife of a famous Indian film actor. She was responding to someone on Twitter who had questioned her decision to not change her last-name even after being married for over 15 years. It resonated and reminded me of days when people questioned my decision of keeping my birth name. Although, changing my last-name has been a thing of a past, since I have been married for long time and people around me have come to accept it, I still get asked every now and then on why it differs from my husband’s. So, with a thought that I should feel guilty about it, I give my explanation, while feeling guilty for not feeling guilty about it. But I know I shouldn’t feel that way. After all, my husband and his family don’t think it is an important issue (and I am lucky that way). I think the feeling comes from an inherent place that reminds me that I am breaking a norm of sorts. Majority of the married women take their husband’s last-name, and until recently not doing so was looked at disparagingly.

In a society where men are considered high on the totem pole, it is hard for people to understand the concept, even though our society has come a long way. We “almost” had a woman president this year. While our country is still recovering from a heated political season, we can all agree that most of us were in awe to see a female candidate on that ballot.

Today, women are walking shoulder to shoulder with men in all aspect so the name change should be a decision, also at par on both sides. Would a man change his last-name after marriage? After all, marriage is between two people, so why should only one member be pressured into changing the name? What is in changing the last-name? Does it somehow make us more married?

“Doesn’t it feel weird?” someone asked me after I had a baby. To be honest, I had thought that once I have a baby, I may want to change my last-name as I will not want to be the only one without the “family” name. But my feelings stayed the same. Just because I was having a child, I wasn’t changing who I was fundamentally, so why should I change a part of my identity?

For me, my full name is my identity, something I was given at birth, even though my name is one of the MOST common/generic one (thanks mom and dad!). I have degrees and certificates on this name and I am known personally and professionally with it. To change it to something else, meant losing a part of an identity that I had worked hard to create. And I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t connect to the person who had my first name and my husband’s last-name. She felt alien to me, even with a hyphen.

When I was working as a graduate program assistant in college, one of my responsibilities was to enter potential students’ information into a system. Which meant, sorting through piles of faxed/mailed applications, degrees and certificates. Sometimes, it felt like a scavenger hunt. The particular program was a teaching program, so (somehow) it meant more female applicants. For the same person, application forms came with one last-name, undergraduate degree came with another last-name, and certificates with another last-name (if they had remarried/divorced). It was frustrating to find the matching documents! I had taken the decision then to keep my last-name forever!

Let me be clear that I do not judge those who change their last-name. Heck it’s a norm AND a choice they made. Some do it because it is a tradition, some do it because it is important to their husband and so on. Whatever the reasoning may be, it is a normal practice to go through after marriage. I am sure there is a lot of thought that goes into their decision as well. I admire them, as I feel like that requires self-assurance, as in “you won’t feel lost with your new name”, kind of self-assurance. I am the opposite, I felt lost and used to get annoyed even if someone addressed me as “Mrs. Hislastname”, until recently.

Although I still don’t connect to “Mrs. Hislastname”, it bothers me slightly less after my son started his school and his teachers addressed me with his last-name. Few years ago, I would have corrected them…….today I don’t. So who knows, I may or may not warm up to the change eventually. But…….for now my last-name remains my last-name……except with few teachers of my son’s. 🙂

Until I wander again…..