A famous cricketer in India, Yuvraj Singh, gets married to his sweetheart, Hazel Keech, a model and actress. During the wedding ceremony, Hazel’s name is changed to Gurbasant Kaur, by the Sikh priest performing the ceremony. He is the ‘Guru” of the family, and both Yuvraj and his mother, follow his instructions to a T. As does the new bride obviously.
From Hazel to Gurbasant, what is in a name after all? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet Shakespeare claimed. Yet, let’s examine this a little closely. Our names are the repositories of our identities. Our histories, our backgrounds, our cultures are all tied in with our names. Is it quite so easy to discard them and don new ones?
As most little girls would attest, the first sign of a crush is to link one’s name with the object of one’s affection. Signatures are practised with flair. Surnames are dropped with nary a thought. But this is all play. When it comes to the actual doing, post marriage, many women choose to keep their original surnames. The reasons could be professional or personal. It’s a name they are used to, have had their entire lives, have earned their degrees on, and refuse to compromise on, at that juncture.
Years ago, my mother had a run in with an American boss’ wife. In correspondence, she had unwittingly referred to her by her husband’s surname. The lady was livid, and insisted that this was rectified immediately. My mother was confused. In India, in the 80’s most women donned their husband’s name after marriage. This current trend of double barrelling names or even keeping the maiden name did not exist. When we discussed this at the dinner table that night, we wondered if the lady was some kind of a bra burning feminazi. In actual fact she was just a qualified professional who refused to be pigeon holed by her husband’s name or accomplishments.
Later, in the nineties, a cousin of mine called off an engagement, and settled on staying single because, not only had the future husband and in laws demanded that she become a stay at home wife, but had also insisted that she change her name to his. This was a doctor who had put several years of study to gain her qualifications, only to have her attainments and her career be subsumed by his. She wasn’t having any of it.
Contrastingly, a school friend did what Hazel has done, and took on a new name- first and last- to please her husband who did not much care for her original name. She seemed happy with her decision, and to this day, doesn’t see why it should have been a big deal at all.
When I got married in the late nineties, I did what most good Indian brides did back then, and adopted my husband’s last name. Would I do it today? Maybe. Maybe not. I was still discovering who I was back then. Today, I am farther along in that journey, and am comfortable with the name I have. It has become a part of my identity.
Would I have changed my first name? Not a chance. It’s a name that was picked out lovingly by my mother. It’s an unusual name, and much as it has been a pain in the rear, career wise, and living in the West, with it getting mangled beyond recognition, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Which brings us full circle to Hazel. Hazel, who had an ugly altercation with some bank officials a while ago. They refused to recognise her name as Indian, and release her monies to her. Who argued, leered and embarrassed her to the extent that she took to Twitter to lambast them. Would Gurbasant have had the same problems? Maybe their Guru was exorcising those demons by christening her with a more Indian than Indian name. Or maybe he was just exercising his clout. Either way, Hazel, going forward will be Gurbasant Kaur, and more power to her.
Critics will carp that a woman’s surname was never hers to begin with. It was her father’s and then his father’s before that. Quite when this tradition of taking on a man’s name began, I do not know. What I do know is that whatever one chooses to do with one’s name- keep it, take on another, change it by deed poll- it should be one’s own decision.
What lies in a name is a lot more than meets the eye. And I doubt very much that we’d like a rose to be called a cauliflower.