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What's in a name?
March 7, 2010
Why is it that the burden of name change is laid on the shoulders of women alone, when they get married or divorced?
Perhaps in the long term, it would be simpler for women to hold on to their maiden names...
Last month, divorced women in India must have been startled to read a news item in a leading English language daily newspaper. It stated that the Bombay High Court had ruled that divorced women could not use their former husbands' surnames. The “ruling”, apparently, was in response to an appeal filed by a woman against a judgment in the Family Court in a case filed by her former husband. The judge had restrained the woman from using her former husband's name stating, “By using the ex-husband's name, or surname, there is always a possibility of people being misled that she is still the wife, when in fact she is not.”
The item caught my eye and I decided to check with a well-known lawyer whether there was any provision in law under which a court could give such a ruling. Did it in fact apply to all divorced women, as the story seemed to suggest, or was it just a judgment in a particular case? I was told that in fact the court had not given a “ruling” and that a single judge had merely upheld the judgment of the lower court in this particular matter. This did not mean that it applied to all divorced women. In fact, she pointed out, there could be no such ruling as people were entitled to take a name of their choice and could at anytime change their names simply by filing an affidavit.
Questioning a convention
The story, despite its inaccuracy, has triggered off a debate on whether women should change their names when they get married, and whether they should revert to their maiden names when they get divorced.
Last year, before the general election, actor Sanjay Dutt kicked off a similar controversy when he suggested that married women should adopt their husbands' surnames. He was clearly peeved that his sister, Congress MP Priya Dutt, continued to use her maiden name — which also established that her father was Sunil Dutt — instead of her married name. He was clearly not so worried about her violating a tradition as the political advantage she gained from maintaining her maiden name.
In India, not only are women automatically expected to adopt their husband's surname when they get married, but in some communities, as in Maharashtra, they are also expected to change their first names. As a result, once married, their identity changes completely. It is almost as if getting married also means wiping off your previous identity and completely subsuming yourself in one chosen by your husband and his family.
Politics of identity
Although the overwhelming majority of Indian women automatically follow the custom of adopting their husband's surname, increasingly some of them are asking why this should be so. What does the institution of marriage have to do with your name? Are you any less married if you adhere to the name you were given by your parents? Are you any less your husband's wife if your surname is that of your father? Is not love and understanding more important than unquestioned tradition? Should the choice not be left to the woman rather than being an imposition, one that she might not want?
Professional women, for instance, who marry after they have already established themselves, much prefer to stick to their maiden names. On the other hand, there are many women who marry young and get established in their professions after marriage. As a result, their professional identity is based on their married name, that is, if they have chosen to take their husband's surname. If such women get divorced, what sense does it make for them to revert to their maiden names? In other words, the issue is not so much whether women take their husband's surnames or not after marriage but that they should have the freedom to decide.
And why is it that the burden of name change is put on the shoulders of women alone? After women get married, if they choose or are compelled to adopt their husband's surname, they have to change all their names on their passports, bank accounts, driving licence, etc. It is not surprising then that only around two per cent of divorced women revert to their maiden names after divorce. This is not because they want to misuse their former position as being married to a particular person, or to appear to be married to him, but because it is just too much trouble. And in any case, they also want to remain connected to their children who have the same surname.
Perhaps in the long term, it would be simpler for women to hold on to their maiden names whether they marry or not, and whether they get divorced or remain married. This is not such a radical suggestion as it might sound. Even in very conservative societies, such as Iran for instance, women do not change their names when they get married.
Markers of belonging
In the past, the issue of surnames has often been subject of debate in many social movements. In the 1970s for instance, many young people who were part of the movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan, chose to drop their surnames because they felt that these identified them as belonging to a particular caste. As one of their principal struggles was against the institution of caste, they felt they should start the trend of dropping surnames altogether. When they got married, their names remained unchanged. Neither the man nor the woman had to worry about a surname. In South India in any case the issue of surnames often does not arise as people use initials.
Surnames are just an instrument for ascertaining family lineage in a patriarchal society. In modern societies, where marriages are registered and courts rule on divorces, why should the last name of a woman matter on issues of succession? Fortunately, some of the bureaucratic hurdles before married women maintaining their maiden names are now being removed and it is a little easier to get a passport, for instance, with your maiden name even if you are married. Schools in Maharashtra now accept the mother's name as the guardian of a child, something they did not do earlier where only the father's name could be entered.
Such changes in rules are important. But the controversy over surnames essentially illustrates the mindset that lays down that a woman's own identity must be submerged in that of her husband's once she marries. Women, married or unmarried, divorced or widowed, are equal human beings, with the same rights as men. Surely this should be reflected in the institution of marriage.
Email the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Expand your Initials in Passport - Ministry of External Affairs
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) advised Indian expatriates in the Gulf and those intending to go there on work should expand their initials in their passports
Please read the following articles to understand the possible complications of appearing wrong name or name without expanded initials in the Passports
In India, we are used to have names with initials, instead of using Full Name. When applying for passport, most of the time we mess up the things by filling name, surname, given names etc in the wrong place. Most of us are unaware of potential problems that one can run into while applying for Visa, studies abroad, applying Driving Licenses abroad etc. In most of the cases names appearing in school certificates, birth certificates, college mark sheets, passports, driving licenses and other important documents differs from one to another
In south India, normally the first letter of the initials indicates the native place of the person or his/her house name and the second letter the name of the person's father and the person's real name is entered at the end. The most of the time this error occurs when the school authorities fill the school leaving certificates wrongly or to write short name or shortening the name for want of space. Eg. The short name is O R Padmanabhan Nair and the full name is “Oanamthuruthil Raman Nair Padmanabhan Nair” This is very long name, so its very difficult to write, so normally cut-short this name to O R Padmanabahan Nair
The following are the possible name combinations
· Certificates – Ramesh O P
· Birth Certificate – O P Ramesh
· College Marksheets – OP Ramesh
· Driving Lcense – Ramesh O
You have to remember this – Name mismatch between passports and certificates not major problems at all. That can be fixed easily following the required formalities and submitting the required documents.
Possible combinations of names in Passports
In the passport, there are only two parts to furnish the name of the passport holder. The “surname” appears first. The actual name comes next under “Given name”. Different systems are followed in India in giving a name to a person. Confusions and complications arise when we are asked to fill in various official forms in our country – first name, middle name, last name, surname, given name are some examples even some cases you are asked to furnish your “pet name” also. It would be better if passport authorities to slightly change the method of writing name in the passport application or name appearing in the passport. The name of the passport holder should appear first and the surname should appear next. This is the minimum changes suggested.
Combination 1 :
· Given Name – Ramesh
· Middle Name – Oxxxxx
· Surname –Pxxxxxx
· Given Name – Ramesh OXXX
· Middle Name – Empty
· Surname – PXXX
· Given Name – Ramesh Empty
· Surname – Empty
Of all the above three possibilities, the last one is the problematic. As long as you have Surname in your passport, you will not have major problems. If there is no surname in your passport, stop right here and get your name changes in your passport first before going forward with any application or study abroad process visa
Empty or blank Surname in Passports will create problems
If you already applied or received passport without surname, get that fixed. Visit your local passport office to find out passport name change procedure and get it done. Some students apply for passport without Surname and end up facing lot of issue when they go for higher studies abroad. It’s good to know that you are taking efforts to know the right way to fill the passport.
In all official purposes use the name as per passport. Remember that name in your passport will be your identity (in future may be the name appearing in AADHAAR card). If your Surname in Indian passport is blank and if you are planning to go to US or Study in US, you better add Surname in passport before applying for Visa or booking GRE Exam dates etc. This rule is equally applicable, if you are going aboard for employment. You must expand your initials in your passport (presently this is not a legal requirement); there is a chance that so many passports are issued in the same name with different identity. But the names look same, suppose somebody in the same name committed crime aboard or the foreign government black listed or restrict to enter into their country. Unfortunately if your name matches with the black listed person’s name, you will land up in trouble. So many innocent people got into jail because of this reason. You need to prove your identity to get out from the jail. To avoid all these hassles, its highly recommended to expand your initials in your passport before leaving India for employment or higher studies.