Thursday, May 7, 2009

Problems With Marriage: Names Edition

So I was reading this post about how many patriarchal systems, especially here in the West, tend to assume that if a woman is a) with a man, b) clearly in a relationship to said man, and c) somewhat a spouse to the man, she must have taken his last name.

This thing about women changing their last names is, quite frankly, something I never really had much experience with until I came to Canada.

In Malaysia, a woman is called Puan [her name or surname], mostly to denote if she is married. If she is not, "Cik". Some of us use the marriage-neutral terms "cikgu" (teacher) or, for a teacher of religious studies, "uztaza" (which is really just Arabic for teacher, but it sounds so much more Islamic that way *rolls eyes*).

My mother is called Mrs. [husband's surname] by people who know her through my father on an impersonal basis. However, when she is introducing herself, she says, quite firmly, "call me S." For official documents, she chooses "Madam [her surname]". I fully expect that when I am older, I, too, will adopt this habit, this "I'll name myself, thankyouverymuch" assertiveness.

And why should she change her surname, anyway? If she changes her name, she'd have to change her name on all her documents. What a pain in the ass! She is who she is, and her name is her name. She doesn't need her husband's name. She'll use it socially, but it's not necessary to help define who she is in relation to my father - she is still my father's wife, quite, quite married to him, even if she doesn't take his name.

The only thing I've ever been able to divine about the origins about this mysterious wife-loses-her-name thing is based in the roots of women being commodities, and the name she bears would be the name of the man who owns her.

What?! If that's the case, hellz no. This is definitely one "Western tradition" that my Eastern ass does not need to buy into!

I know that if I do ever face any pressure to change my name, it won't be coming from my family. A dear friend of mine briefly visited home from Australia after having been married, and wanted to register her marriage in Malaysia as well. She also wanted her Malaysian records to register her new name, and asked my father about how to go about registering her marriage here.

He gave her a puzzled look and said, "why would you want to change your name? Big hassle only, then you have to change everything. Don't bother, especially since you won't be living here anyway."

Yeah, safe to say, neither of my parents understood the name-changing thing. And I'm pretty thankful for that. My mother has her own name. My father has his own name. I may take my father's surname, but I don't have to give it up if I don't want to.

Call me Jha.

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