I will not change my name after marriage, why should I?
Contrary to what people believe in our society, a woman should retain the family name of her father instead of taking her husband’s name after marriage. There are various Hadith which caution against adding a name other than one’s father’s.
I can just imagine some readers raising their eyebrows indignantly at this statement while others will roll their eyes and think,
“Here comes another feminist argument.”
But the fact of the matter is that this is not about feminism at all; this is not an argument about ‘If men don’t have to change their name, women shouldn’t be made to either’. This is simply about a right that has been given to both, men and women; a right that we have somehow forgotten over generations to the point that we ironically question those who remind us of it.
At present, a vast majority of women – locally and internationally – take their partner’s name after marriage simply because that is how it has been for a long time. Apart from the fact that it has become an unquestioned tradition, when some people dare to question a girl getting married as to her intentions regarding her name after marriage, her usual reply is a surprised, ‘What do you mean?’ as if the thought never occurred to her and if probed further, her reply would be something to the effect of,
“I feel that taking my husband’s name will give me a sense of belonging.”
My argument to such women would be that men seem to do fine and have as much of a sense of belonging as they need without having to change their name. But it has been women, who since time immemorial, have been made to feel as if they have to have an identity other than their own (paradoxical as it may seem) in order to be identified as a person.
Take the titles of Mr, Ms and Mrs. Has it ever occurred to you that a man is a ‘Mr’ whether he is single or not while a woman’s marital status is differentiated – even emphasised – by the titles Ms or Mrs? Does this not imply that a man is ‘whole’ on his own while a woman’s individual identity is not so ‘individual’ after all?
What can be more ‘individual’ than a person’s name?
As far as the Islamic viewpoint is concerned, the Quran clearly states that even adopted children should be referred to by the names of their biological fathers. But if the name is unknown for some reason, then these adopted children should be called Mawalikum (your freed slaves). Of course, this does not mean that adoptive parents or guardians cannot refer to their adopted children or wards as ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ or that the adoptive parents cannot be referred to as ‘mother’ or ‘father’ simply out of respect and fondness.
It only implies that there is an innate human need to know where we came from – our identity and our lineage – and a father’s name is a core factor in that sense of personal identification. Think of it in this way. A woman, just like a man, cannot replace or blend her lineage with that of her husband upon marrying him. Her ancestry will remain her own just like his will remain his own. Hence, her name – which is a major part of that lineage and ancestry – should remain her own as well.
However, we have been emotionally conditioned to accept otherwise and hence, are not willing to accept basic logic as it is.
Moreover, think of the rationale behind this. If a married couple decides to get a divorce for some reason, a woman who has taken her husband’s name will invariably have to change her marital status and her name in all her legal documents, whereas, a woman who retained her father’ name after marriage will only have to change her marital status.
This is the ease which our religion allows us.
All Muslims have to take their fathers’ surname and there is no proof from the Quran or Sunnah that a woman is excluded from this injunction upon marriage. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) all women continued to be identified by their own name followed by their father’s, irrespective of whether their father was a Muslim or non-Muslim.
As such, what is resolutely prohibited is to intentionally ascribe one’s lineage to another or negate one’s lineage to one’s own father. If one retains the father’s surname but verbally denies him fatherhood and claims that another person is the father, that too is considered illegal. On the contrary, if one takes on another last name, but clearly acknowledges the biological father, this is not considered illegal. In other words, the concern is not about the name one chooses but rather that the lineage and identity of a person must not be obscured or ignored.
Unfortunately, this is what happens, particularly in our society, where upon marriage a woman is made not only to change her name but also her allegiance to her past, her family and her parentage. It is a subtle but sure way of stealing her identity step by step and giving her a new one.
Your name is your individuality. It is what gives you a place in this world of seven billion people. Although overlooked, there are far-reaching impacts of the cultural requirement for a woman to change her name at the time of getting married. We teach our girls from an early age that they will be made to change their ways, their behaviour and their names after marriage in order to be considered flexible, adaptable and ‘good wives and daughters-in-law’.
In effect, we tell them that they don’t really have an identity of their own; that as individuals they are incomplete without their other halves. We teach them to see themselves as ‘relatives’ and not ‘absolutes’ in this world – they will always be identified as someone’s daughter, sister, wife or mother.
On the other hand, Islam keeps things simple – legally, practically and emotionally. It gives each person, man or woman, one identity and helps in establishing and protecting their individuality.
If you look at it in a more holistic way, you will undoubtedly see that this seemingly insignificant thing, can actually have a major impact on how a society behaves and performs towards its individuals. By allowing women to retain their maiden names (or at least letting them make the choice), we accept their individuality and do not have this culturally conditioned compulsive need to impose our ways and customs on them. To me, this seems like the basis of a healthy, tolerant and accepting society which allows people to realise their true potential rather than shackling them on the basis of age-old norms and traditions.
Imagine this for an instance; you raise your daughter to be a self-assured, confident girl, capable of making her decisions (of course, taking into account the perspective of others) and on her marriage, she is asked to change her name – the first step in the traditional ‘the way we do things’ mind set.
Would it not disturb you to see her being asked to negate her identity and perhaps, her upbringing?
Think about it.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.