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Changing Names, Same Person


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NicknamesOne may be called by many different names in one’s lifetime. Pet names, nick names, each of us could have different labels at different times. Women are accustomed to being called different names before and after marriage. There are some communities, notably Marwaris, who change the bride’s first name as well as her surname. In such a situation, a girl literally has two separate identities, one before, and one after marriage. Perhaps before marriage she was Dimple Daga. But after marriage she becomes Rakhi Ranka. It seems strange to think they are one and the same.

While many cultures around the world play such games with women’s names, there are fewer instances of matrilineal cultures who change the names of men to coincide with their mother’s family name. It was this disparity that led to the indignation and dissent on the part of feminists in the twentieth century. Why should we change our names just because we are getting married, they asked. Just as ‘Ms.’ was adopted as an appellation instead of Mrs. to indicate a neutrality about marital status (since a man was ‘Mr.’ whether or not he was married) changing one’s name (or surname) after marriage was considered not-so-great for a woman – a sign of weakness and capitulation to a patriarchal social order.

Anyway, this capitulation was what I was guilty of, when I first got married twenty-three years ago. I began signing ‘Scharada Bail’ the day after I got married, when I had always been ‘Scharada Dubey’. My father never made any objection to my taking on my new family’s name (though some of my feminist friends thought I was going overboard in my enthusiasm!) and I cruised through the next twenty-two years of my life with this new label, even acquiring a portfolio of seven books with this author name.

Imagine what happened when my husband asked for his family name to be returned during the course of our divorce. Here I was, years away from the name I had in my father’s family, now about to be legally separated from my name of the last twenty years and more. What name would I now choose? What would do justice to the person I had become since I was in my twenties? In the turmoil I went through considering all these thoughts, I realized many things, among them, this: yes, a name is important – it has an energy and vibration of its own. But the fundamental character and ability of a person is not to be measured by a name. In fact, in the words of Shakespeare, whose immortal quote from Romeo and Juliet rings particularly true,
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

It could be that I was just comforting myself, but I began feeling much better after I considered that I no longer had to search for a name grand enough for me to live up to, but a name that would somehow do justice to the qualities I had spent years developing in myself. I finally found a name, and it felt doubly good because it was a name I had chosen for myself, not one imposed on me by social dictates. I am taking steps to accustom myself to this new label before I unveil it officially by the end of this year.

But meanwhile, as you approach matrimony, do consider the implications of keeping/changing your own name. If you are in any way attached to your own special name, guard it with great care through the ups and downs of life.

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Responses to Changing Names, Same Person

  1. 1 Sereen J Thottan

    Hi,
    Cant agree with you more on this. From the bank application to every form requires your name and your mother’s maiden name. Surprised people never expressed their wish to be addressed by their existing identities. Well its just a matter of time.
    Cheers
    Sereen J Thottan

  2. 2 scharada bail

    Thanks for your comment. It now looks as if I will be reverting to my maiden name soon, thanks to all the complications of choosing a completely new name. At least all my school and college certificates have my maiden name as proof! As for changing bank accounts and insurance policies…well, I am just going to grin and bear it, I suppose.

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