Maiden Names, Family Names, and What’s the Big Deal?

By: Sharmin S.

My father was always a great man of his time; although he was raised in a time period and place that failed to observe women’s rights, he always believed a female’s individual identity was necessary for her to prosper. At the time of my birth, my father made the swift decision of naming me with a name divergent from what society considered conventional. He named me Sharmin Shanur. To many of you right now this name does not seem unusual, rather it just looks like two words put together, it also seemed like that to me; but as I aged and started to understand the culture of society I began to realize how different it was and the effect it would have on me.

As a young child my friends would always refer to my parents as Mr. and Mrs. Shanur; the problem was that it was neither my parents last names. Unaware of this mistake, my parents would never answer and continued what they were doing. I became increasingly embarrassed and resorted to continuously tugging on my parents shirts to make them reply to my friends. Then as I grew older and transitioned into middle school, I would always be asked about the identity of my parents, what their names were, where they worked, etcetera. The collective response I would always get was, “What! Your parents don’t share last names! Your name doesn’t  resemble your father’s either! That is weird!”

Well, I found that carrying my father’s name would be weird. I was always told by my father that he gave me a different last name because it reflected my individuality and the ability to not be pulled down by a family; he also said that if I ever get married this name would stick to me and if I ever considered my husband’s last name as my last name it would just be a name without personal significance. This made me start thinking, did I really need to change my name to accompany my father’s family name or even change it when I grow older and get married?

Although we have experienced the women’s right movement, and even seen a rise in wages and equality in the social system for women; there are still disparities. We are expected to change our names and simply deny our identity. In a survey by the Huffington post it stated that 61% of people survey believed women should change their name to accompany their husbands surnames, 81% of republicans and 60% of democrats believed this as well. When the tables were turned, less than half of the people surveyed believed that men should be ALLOWED to change their surnames and instead insert their wife’s maiden name and 34% of people believed  men should NOT be allowed to change their surnames; 53% of the republicans said the same.

I was quite disappointed that there was still a sense of pressure on women to change their last name, especially because the culture of changing a female’s last to her husbands name came out of the idea that she was HIS property. Regardless, although the expectation to change maiden names are widely seen as normal, many young women are sticking to their birth names. Rachel Thwaites of University of New York, who conducted a research on marital name-changing stated “The discussion has opened up slightly, but the norm of name changing is still prevalent and there remains cultural and social pressure on women to change names.Women who resist this pressure are often doing so as a feminist decision or a move for equality in their relationship” Although I believe if a women willingly changes her name nothing is wrong with it, but we should never have to deny our identity due to what people tell us. We are all strong, intelligent, autonomous women with a mind and bloodline of our own.

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