• Sunday, March 01, 2015


Made in Name: Non-issue to the fore

By Osama Rahman

First world problem: I don't know if I really want to change my last name after marriage.
Third world problem: What's in a name? Especially, a last name? Rose doesn't even have a last name. But why are they stealing our problems?

Many among us believe that a woman should have the right to retain her last name after marriage, instead of taking up their husband's family name. This seemingly unimportant aspect of marriage has been glorified and treated as a significant bastion of the feminist movement. Kate Winslet, of ONLY Titanic fame, refused to change her name after marriage, having nothing else to do. The fictional character, Hermione Granger, also said she would not change her name, not that anyone cared. This clamouring for such a non-issue is now steadily rearing its ugly head in the Third World. As usual, we can't help but jump on the band-wagon. And as usual, we refuse to accept facts in favour of something to make a ruckus about. Except we fail to realise that this was our problem to begin with anyway and that it should be nothing new for us.

Could have been Mrs. RocknRoll
Could have been Mrs. RocknRoll

First off, this name-changing thing that the First World bangs on about is actually a Third World phenomenon, specifically the South Asian region. This isn't the First World's problem but some folks, having nothing else to gripe about, have suddenly put a 'keep your maiden name, keep your woman's right' spin on the whole deal. Truth be told, most countries do not even expect a woman to change her last name to her husband's name. Greece forbids the practice unless someone officially petitions to do so while the United States of America, Canada and Germany allow either sex to change their last name, without legally obligating them to do so.  Another misconception is that it is an Islamic thing, which it is not. Women in Arab countries hardly ever change their last names, with the practice more common among South Asian Muslim and Hindu women. Again, it's more a societal than religious thing.  
Even the feminist who wishes to break free from the patriarchal chains of society do not really make the best of escapes. Consider famous figures like Oprah Winfrey, Angela Davis and Hellen Keller. Each were given and retained, throughout their lives, the name passed from their fathers. Somehow, they deemed this to be correct. Mary Shelley, on the other hand, took her husband's name without any qualms and had no trouble both establishing her own identity and even perhaps surpassing her husband's. A quick solution is to get rid of the last name altogether, and Cher and Madonna took this easy way out.  A big reason why this is really a non-issue is the fact that 80 percent women in the United States do change their last names, without parting with judgmental and rather colourful sentences. Lucy Stone, a 19th-century suffragist who was the first American woman to revert to her birth name after marriage, may have raised the issue, but it never managed to gather steam and it really should not have. Couples, in this time and age, do indeed have the right to do as they please. This is not a power play; it really isn't.
Financially speaking, changing your name in the UK for instance, would set you back around 50 pounds. That is no joke. One must also change the names on their driving license, social security, passport and a horde of official forms. It's a waste of time and energy. So it's not like the husbands are begging for it. Pamela Paul, Editor of the New York Times Book Review, gave her take on the issue a few years back. "I held on to my professional name while also taking on my husband's," she wrote, showing that there is a way without all the hassle. In fact, this is a great solution when couples want it both ways. Beyonce and Jay-Z, music industry's biggest power couple, took the same route, legally adopting Carter-Knowles and in the end actually marrying two different families.
This whole name business may just be one of the few instances of the First World adopting Third World problems. Or it may just be another way to champion and lead the way in terms of one of the easiest issues. Think Mariah Carey and Barbara Streisand, who did not change their last names without the hullabaloo. And as for Kate Winslet, even you wouldn't change your last name if you were in her place. It wasn't for a feminist agenda but rather a practical one; who would want to be called Kate RocknRoll? Such was her consternation that she even refused to give their boy his dad's name, instead calling him baby Bear Winslet. That's right. Bear.

Osama Rahman is a regular columnist for Star Lifestyle, resident detective and a man's rights activist.

Published: 12:00 am Thursday, May 01, 2014

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