Thursday, February 15, 2007

What's in a (Sur) Name?

Never bothered to find out, but recent events lead me to believe that there might be something in it.

As readers of this blog know, we got married last year amidst lots of good cheer and happiness. There was much rejoicing, congratulating and giggling (sole prerogative of the members of the pretty secretaries club) in the office and all would have been fine, except that the uber friendly members of pretty secretaries club kept asking my whether I needed a new name tag, a new id card etc. etc? One even wanted to know whether my husband was a Mookherjee?

“No, he’s not, his last name is Pal."
"So won't you change your name?It would be so sweet."

The fact that I was still a Mookherjee and he was still a Pal and we were quite content with that was considered unromantic. But then ownership of a joint bank account is considered romantic in these circles.

Begin Detour
My last name is Mookherjee but my birth certificate says Mukhopadhyay. Since
Mukhopadhyay proved quite a mouthful for the three year old me, it was shortened to the more manageable Mookherjee (yes....with two OO's...of the moo-ing variety...done). My Dad figured a literate Mookherjee was better than a Mukhopadhyay who cannot spell. Luckily the school authorities thought so too and that is how I got to be a Mookherjee from a Mukhopadhyay. But as I would later learn, even a Mookherjee can be quite a mouthful. The J-as-in-Jose treatment coupled with the inability to decipher a string of more than eight characters means I am usually referred to as Ms. Mooo-khaa-yeee (or some such version) by the official lot. I have to admit to the occasional pangs of envy (directed at the Ghosh's, Biswas's, Pal's, Roy's and De's), but in my defence these are usually precipitated by having to fill in my full name (one alphabet per box) repeatedly in forms. Apart from that I daresay I have been fairly content with my surname.
End Detour

After a couple of months the secretaries gave up and all was hunky dory in Mookherjee-ville till I noticed that old classmates were turning up on e-groups and social networking groups with spanking new surnames and what is even more alarming - shiny new babies. Was this the new in-thing like the artistic squiggles of red sindoor that the Zee TV bahu’s sport? As if peer pressure was not bad enough the following conversation that I had with a nosy gentleman in India got me really doubting myself:

He: Anyesha Mookherjee *reading it off a card*. Maiden name? Did not change?
Me: No. *stock answer to standard question*
He: So how did you manage all the visa paperwork after the wedding, without changing your surname? It must have been tough, no?
Me: Aenh! What paperwork?
He: Your husband had to sponsor your visa, no? *the dreaded trailing question, no?* How did the US consulate people believe you were married?
Me: No, I already had my visa and was living in the US. I came down for the wedding.
He: So you sponsored your husband’s visa then…I see? *this is a question, no?*
Me: No, he had his own visa and was living in the US too.
He: I see, I see *finally*. Then do you plan to change it later on?
Me: Let’s see.
He: What about future generations?
Me: Yes, in the future, if we find the time. *just want him to go away at this stage*
He: No, no future generation, *makes rocka-bye baby gestures and all that* your future generations. *Ouch*
Me: Have not really thought much about generating a future and given our present state the future does not look really promising…blah! blah! warming...bleh! bleh!...rising sea levels and depleted marine life…no fish in the seas, can you imagine that? No fish for future generations of little Bengali’s to eat etc. etc.

Fine, I made the last bit up because I don’t really remember what I told him, except that it ended the conversation. But I wish I had. Too think that this entire conversation could have been avoided and twenty minutes of my time saved if only I went by Mrs. Pal.

So why am I so pig headed about it? It’s not because I believe that changing surnames is negatively tied into the whole emancipation of women thingie. I never bought that argument. One changes surnames because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do and has been happening for ages. It does reduce confusion and allows for the easy identification of a family unit. If we were a predominantly matriarchal society, men would probably identify themselves with their wives family name. That would not be equal either. In the same vein, hyphenation does not really mean equal. I have also heard the for-love argument which if taken at face value would prove that we are obviously not very much in love as none of us offered to give up our last names for each other.

Changing my surname on the other hand has some definite advantages. For starters I could save myself the trouble of scribbling/typing 7 extra letters every time I have to spell my name. We could also call ourselves “The Pals” (corny pun). Our politically correct friends would not have to spell out both our names when sending us invites. Then why don’t I? Simply put, I have no idea how it’s done. Apart from the legal aspect which some lawyer can take care of, how does one do it? Do you just wake up one morning and decide that you shall be henceforth known as XYZ? Wouldn't it feel odd, forsaking your identity of 20+ years? Now if you did not like your name to begin with then maybe it would be okay, but I do like the ring of my surname; you know when you say your name out aloud while introducing yourself. Anyesha Mookherjee….that’s me but Anyesha Pal would make me look around for another person. Now if that person were to be scintillatingly witty, a couple of pounds lighter and a few inches taller I would totally want to be her. But since that’s not happening I will stay put and so will the Mookherjee at the end of my name.


Vidya said...

Hilarioua as always...I have been a lurker for a few months now.

Same situation here, I did not change my last name, never came up in the discussions we had before our wedding. He was in the US, I was in the US, both had our own lives and identities, so why even bother with name changes. Haven't had too much trouble in India while visiting, because I don't wear a mangasutra or any other identifying marks either in the US or in India. So for all I know, strangers in India probably assume I'm an old spinster, which is just as well.

But I'm always annoyed by relatives and friends/acquaintainces/neighbors who take it upon themselves to inquire about our sex life, since we don't have kids after a decade of wedded bliss. This is by choice and I figure it is none of their business, but they never get a hint. Even when I tell them off, they think I'm bitter because I have no kids and console my mother that I will be nicer when I become a mother and suggest a list of temples to visit and poojas to perform. Thankfully, my parents are very understanding and I have had no headaches from them. Do share your tricks on handling nosey Indian neighbors and sundry relatives.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you can add the Pal to your name. And be known as Anyesha Mookherjee Pal.

Manchus said...

Wow!!! Wonderful post. I am in the same situation here and I find it strange that though US boasts of a progressive society, they still think like in 50s. Women still change their surname regardless of the number of marriages.

I for one reason never changed my surname as I feel that is my identity. Since ours is a North-South marriage I would like to maintain mine.

Bidi-K said...

heh, right on spot! Have had this surname thing going on for quite a while and only recently (after almost 4 years) people seem to have given up on us, but they haven't yet tired of the question of "future generations", bah!

Aparna said...

Thanks for voicing it out so well!! We're really tired of similar questions too.

bulbul said...

Well, whether you take your husbands name or your fathers name...its all the same. I kept my surname, and there were some murmurs from the in-law side but I was considered a bilaiti?? (even though I am bengali from lucknow), after all it was way back in the late 70's. But I did something neat(had to break the cycle somewhere), and without any objections from my better half, our daughter has my surname and our son has Asit's surname. Yeah.. it causes confusion..but I with it.

Anyesha said...

vidya: hmmm...bitter and childless..its interesting how people really love it when they can figure you out...or so they think!

anon: nah! that does not work for me. Its kind of like double dipping.

manchus: But what about the future generations, eh? Answer me that, hahaha!

bidi-k and aparna: So we are all in the same boat...good to know I have company.

bulbul: Aei are giving me ideas. How about creating a new third surname by creativey combining both surnames? That would be fun right!!

Manchus said...

My last name's initial is my daughter's middle initial and of course she has my husband's last name. I agreed to it as his last name is easy to spell. Guess a compromise :)

bulbul said...

whatever floats your boat

Deepak Jeswal said...

Hilarious! Loved reading it through, though I wouldnt obviously have to go thru any such dilemma - not in this birth at least...unless I end up marrying someone from the Arizonian Jungle's matriarchal society female...

(Ok, i also made the last line up, I think i saw it in some film, where they had an all-women society living in some jungle. Don't ask which one though, coz with my film viewing capacities, it could be some corny (rather, horny) film meant for a morning show!)

Creativecook said...

First time on this blog, loved this post. Resonated with me. Did not change my name for no obvious reason other than convienience. Seemed to brother everyone other than me.

We have two little ones and they both have our names, with the order changed, my older one middle name is Bhattacharya with dads last name Gupta and my son has the order reversed. It confuses the hell out of people, who now just call us by our first names, so what's in a (sur) name anyway.