“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, this classic illustration from Shakespeare’s lyrical tale about star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet may emphasise that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention and what truly matters is the virtue of the bearer of that name. However, fact and fiction are as different as chalk and cheese, especially in our society where everything is in a name, or rather surname, and that too, paternal.
Women are a non-entity in this ploy of name game. A female name can thrive only in the shadow of a male surname, be it her father or husband. Born as a daughter to someone, a woman is acknowledged by her maiden name till, it’s time to relinquish this borrowed identity and embrace a new one, that is, her husband’s last name.
Not that it’s unbecoming, but why is this ceremonial barter of masculine surname pertinent to salvage the identity of a woman, be it a daughter, wife or mother. Is she just a silent bearer, an obligatory benefactor of a pretentious patriarchal family lineage? Why not leave the decision of how she prefers to be addressed to her discretion.
This dogmatic surname saga has always baffled me but what fanned these sentiments from simmering coals to a ravaging fire is a recent personal communication made public by the living legend of Bollywood. An eloquent speaker and a pensive writer, Amitabh Bachchan bequeathed worldly wisdom to both his granddaughters by penning a thought-provoking letter. While every prudent word therein is worth emulating, what unsettled me was a venerated allusion to the girl’s great grandfather’s legacy and not a fleeting mention of the family’s matriarch.
Let alone a woman’s personal or professional feat, her being a creator and nurturer of life isn’t good enough reason to reminisce her legacy? Singing paeans about paternal lineage may come naturally to us but deviation from this prejudiced practice by the adulated mega star could have fostered the cause of gender equality.
This is not a feminist bandwagon and I am not firing a salvo of an unrequited demand for equality of opportunity or identity. Why demand something when we have the desire and the ability to achieve it? Slowly but steadfastly, we are treading our chosen path with conviction. Today’s empowered women are gradually shedding bigoted societal norms and celebrating their individuality, having a say in whether to draw on their maiden name, married name, both or neither. However, it’s still not considered befitting for children to inherit their mother’s name.
This debate about maiden or married name is futile in a society that is still trapped in a casteist time warp, where reservation rage incites riot and arson.
The need of the hour is not to vie for gender equality in a surname but to shun its use as it unjustly predetermines one’s social standing in a caste-based hierarchy irrespective of one’s education or accomplishments. Ideally, a surname shouldn’t be our claim to fame. After all, what’s in a name?
The writer is a Ludhiana-based freelance contributor