What’s in a Name?

The other day I was telling a friend about the concept of changing a woman’s first name as part of a ritual in a Marathi wedding. I told her that no one really does it anymore, so I was surprised to find that an acquaintance our age had done it recently.

Regardless, she was appalled. “Your culture… doesn’t have much for women does it!” She exclaimed.

I was taken aback for a second… because that’s totally not true. I tried to put myself in her shoes for a second and sort of saw it from her angle… but then I balanced with her.

I said, “You’re appalled at the thought of a husband changing a woman’s first name, because it’s not standard practice in American society. But you’re ok with changing the last name because it’s norm and we blindly follow it,” ….. “when you think about it… what’s the difference?” I asked.

“Ohhh… that’s true!” She exclaimed coming to the sudden realization that changing either name then technically should be wronging a woman. You can’t be ok with one and not ok with the other.

Now there’s a reason for changing the last name… to identify a family… but for the sake of this argument, I’ll argue that changing a woman’s — or for that matter… any person’s — last name is WORSE than changing their first.

What’s in a name? Identity.

The first name is what we identify with the most because it is unique to us within our family classification. But really it just tells us what name our parents were in love with the moment we were born. That’s it.

The last name however tells us so much about ourselves. It gives us our entire lineage. From a last name you can track down an entire ancestry, it tells you what region of the world your family come from. As an Indian – my surname tells everyone what specific part of India my ancestors were from. Essentially, our last names tell us everything we need to know about our backgrounds. So I’d argue that our last names are what truly define us from heritage to family… and even down to genetics. Defining which part of the world you’re from also helps identify which genetic conditions you’re predisposed to.

“Basically,” I told her, “if you take all of this into consideration… changing your first name really isn’t as bad as changing your last name… because when you change your last name you’re wiping out your entire history… and taking on your husband’s. However, a husband’s history is not your history… down to the genetics… so essentially taking on someone else’s last name is equivalent to lying about who you are… because it masks everything that makes you, you!”

So what is in a name? Well first name, there’s some “identity” … but a last name?

That’s your entire coding… your entire history.


Side note: I’ll probably still change my last name eventually after marriage… but for argument’s sake… when passing judgement about another culture we should all probably take a look at our own culture, or the world’s culture, and see if it’s equivalent if not worse. We tend to blindly follow norms without thinking about what they mean and we tend to pass judgement without realizing that we may be doing the same.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s