When YouTuber and choreographer Dhanashree Verma, who is married to cricketer Yuzvendra Chahal, dropped Chahal from her name on Instagram, the gossip mill quickly assumed that the couple might be breaking up. Chahal’s Instagram story that read ‘New life loading’ added fuel to the fire. While it took a clarification statement from both parties to put an end to rumours, a lot of toxicity was directed to Verma. Social media users called her a ‘gold digger’ and accused her of marrying the Indian cricketer only to attain easy fame and money.
Polarising and incongruous, the internet’s reaction to the name change says infinitely more about us than it does about the couple. But the discourse raised an interesting question: What’s in a surname? And frankly, why do we care?
Culturally, adopting the husband’s name was connected to patriarchal notions of ownership - women once belonged to their father, then their husband. Times have changed and this tradition has now become a romanticised custom. According to a BBC report on the subject, there are two main reasons for keeping this tradition alive in the 21st century: “The first was the persistence of patriarchal power (whether that was obvious to the couples or not). The second was the ideal of the ‘good family’ – the sense that having the same name as your partner symbolises commitment, and this ties you and any potential children together as a unit.”
Suggested Reading: Dhanashree Verma Reacts To Divorce Rumours After Changing Her Surname
Not changing surname: What's the big deal?
I have been married for almost eight months now, and haven't added/subtracted any changes to my name yet. My social profiles still retain my maiden name, and so do most of my legal documents. On the other hand, my family often berates me on the subject and have repeatedly asked me to adopt my husband's surname. A year ago, when I told my now-husband on how I wish to continue using my maiden name even after the wedding, he did not raise an eyebrow but instead asked me elaborate on my stance.
Opting to hyphenate, combine, or invent a new surname could be framed as a mutually fulfilling means of self-preservation but our declaration of intent cannot be put through a name change. We are a team, supportive of one another on all ends, no matter our names.
Last month, Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck finally got the whirlwind of wedding that was 20 years in the making. The bride wore two gowns over the course of the evening, one of which she’d been saving “for so many years.” And the next day Lopez broke the news with an announcement not-so-casually signed, “With love, Mrs. Jennifer Lynn Affleck.” The signature triggered a chain of reactions on Twitter. Some criticised, some lauded on the legacy of love and some saw the business side to it. JLo is more than a nickname—it’s her brand.
Similarly, a former colleague of mine chooses to identify just by her name and no surnames citing that it is her both personal and professional identity. When I mentioned about this piece to her, she said , "I refuse to jive into the old tradition of changing your name (adding surname) the moment you tie the knot. I mean for what? Will that deepen our relationship or make it any less than what it has to be or it is."
I have got nothing against the women who do change their surnames, and applaud the ones who view it from a feminist gaze. But my reason to retain my maiden name was purely due to professional reasons. As a young writer in her 20s, I have built quite profile for myself (even though it's a tiny one), have a a few important professional connections who identify me through this very name. Change may lead to confusion, I remember telling my mother once. However, at the same time, I cannot dismiss the fact that a shared family name eliminates a lifetime of little inconveniences around booking flights, enrolling in joint health insurance, and delineating who’s allowed to pick up a child from school. Yet, I refuse to let go of my identity yet.
Taking your spouse’s name can be perceived positively as an act of devotion or negatively as a show of deference to outdated social norms. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to the matter of choice and agency women hold.
Our power is not in keeping our names, but in our ability to choose. Choice is power. We as a society have done much — in the past and today — to undermine women and their ability to make choices about their lives. Hence, just let us be. We can choose to be competent, self-sufficient and happily married with our old name, or with a new one.