Tuesday 12 March 2013

changing names

there's this whole discussion happening about women changing their names after marriage, again.  there's a good rundown of how this discussion started & how it developed here (via here).

mostly i feel really bemused by these discussions and how much passion the issue generates.  i've noticed that posts on the topic tend to be some of the most commented on, it seems to be a thing on which everyone has a really decisive opinion which they don't hesitate to share.

it has traditionally been a western issue.  for many women in the east, changing names was never a thing.  you got given your name at birth and that was the name you had until you died.  and naming conventions also vary in the east.  for many cultures, there isn't any such thing as a surname or family name.  you have your own name(s), and this may be connected to your father's name, or not; it may be connected to the name of the village/district where you were born, or not.  but it's not necessarily a name that passed on from generation to generation, and certainly not something that needs to be changed on marriage.

but globalisation has tended to change some of that.  because many eastern cultures absorbed the notion that western cultures were more advanced and modern, they have adopted some of the cultural norms of the west.  with the result that women who were never expected to change their names on marriage are now pressured to do so.  the societal pressure that was so absent is now building & has been for some time now.

for women of eastern heritage growing up in the west, the pressure is pretty much the same as women of western heritage.  women who migrated to western countries were forced to take their husbands names in order to enter the country.  they weren't allowed a choice, there was no respect for nor even acknowledgement of their own traditions.  and many of their sons and daughters have lost the knowledge that women kept their own names as of right.  so often, it's not a topic of discussion but just a given that the name change will happen.

for me, it's that loss of our traditions, that pressure to absorb a cultural practice that is not authentic  to me nor of any value, that rankles the most.  it's the fact that i had to battle a borrowed pressure (as if we didn't have enough of our own to push back against) that totally annoys me.  at the heart of it is the hypocrisy: so many oppressive cultural traditions that need to go are defended on the basis that they are "traditional", but when you try to use the argument that name-changing on marriage isn't "traditional" for us, was never part of our culture, then suddenly "tradition" doesn't matter anymore.  heads i win, tails you lose.

i don't believe in shaming women for choosing to change their names, just as i hate any kind of societal pressure or expectation that they must or should change their names.  in an ideal world, women would be able to make that decision without being judged for it.  and we certainly wouldn't have to be drawn in to face pressures created by other cultural traditions, as an act of cultural domination.


Chally said...

Yes, this is what has been bothering me about the discussion, too. Thank you.

(Regarding the fourth paragraph, the adoption of this particular cultural norm hasn't been elective for all such cultures, I must just point out.)

stargazer said...

you're absolutely right chally. the way i have framed this around east & west, & globalisation, leaves out many cultures who have been forced to take on traditions because of colonisation. i apologise for that & thank you for raising it.

Anonymous said...

I've been told a wife taking a her husband's last name only became popular in the West in the Victorian era. k