In India, actually most of the world, when a Ms Bhattacharya marries a Mr Dutt and has a baby, the child is a default Dutt. Sometimes, in rarer circumstances he may be named Bhattacharya – Dutt. But its almost impossible to find a child with an entirely different and neutral last name. This was the dilemma that Taruni Mathur faced when she had her baby boy. Today she shares her story and the journey she took to naming her son.
I am mother to a 15th month old boy – who brings me pure joy – of course, in between moments of sheer frustration. I wanted to share the short and (not so) simple story of how we arrived at his last name. Yes, his last name.
I didn’t change my name after marriage, which of course, is not that much of a surprise these days. And neither did my husband 😉 (no big surprise there either!)
So, when we conceived, the big Q for us was, whose surname was the baby going to carry? It definitely was not going to be just the father’s -after all, a mother goes through so much – the pregnancy and months of nausea and sickness, the labour pains, the delivery, the feeding, and the guilt pangs – oh, the guilt pangs (but I digress here),and much more that I didn’t know was still to come! After all that, if that little life that I carried for so long had just my husband’s name, and not mine, I was sure to feel hurt. After all, the child was equally a part of both of us.
Of course, the next most popular thing to do was to hyphenate my name- his name, but I really wasn’t happy with my name being in the middle.All I could visualize, with a hyphenated name, was my child’s class teacher calling out attendance in school. I could just see the teacher making an effort to call out the complete name – for no longer than two days –before the middle name (my name) – would be dropped, and the child would be called by just his father’s surname.
So then, my husband suggested the other way around: his name- my name – and to be honest, it sounded good to me – but really, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t out to prove a point. If it wasn’t fair the other way, then it wasn’t fair this way too.It just didn’t seem alright to me that the child have the prominent name only of one parent, while the other parent’s name was altogether different.
Then what? Maybe a mix of our last names? We tried, but they all sounded terrible, some in fact, even sounded like the choicest of abuses, no kidding!
After much(and I can’t tell you how much!) consideration, we decided, finally, that it would be neither my surname nor my husband’s surname.
Content with that decision, we started the process of looking for ‘neutral’ surnames. By neutral, I simply mean belonging to neither of our families, nor castes. We were even open to having just a second name, not a surname per se. Having vetoed the usual Kumars, etc, we finally said, let’s open up the playground– maybe talk to our friends and family. We knew it would be dicey from the start – the fact that I hadn’t changed my name itself wasn’t a popular decision – or let’s say, it wasn’t a much understood decision – and this one was even further off from normalcy! But we went for it anyway.
Immediately, it was suggested by someone that I just add on my husband’s name too, and then we could all be one big, happy family, as we would all have the same last name. (Though I still struggle to understand why having the same last name is what actually makes any family a family!)
Then there were others who actually just gave me a really blank – no, not blank, but a completely vacant look, that said, I really can’t even comprehend what you are trying to say here.
Someone else told me, what about peer pressure? What will you do when your child comes home from school and wonder why all of you have different names? (Honestly, I think we will just explain our point of view and take it from there.)
Another asked me, surprised, oh, you haven’t changed your name? Why, what’s wrong with your husband’s name? (Err…what’s wrong with mine?)
Many also believe that it can’t be done legally – schools require the child to have the same name as the parents. I know that is not true, for the simple reason that my husband’s last name was also different from the one his father used – though it was an off-shoot of the same name (i.e. gotra/ caste, etc.) and he had no issues whatsoever. Even if issues are to crop up in form filling, they will be dealt with when the time arises.
Anyway, to cut a long story short (or in this case, to not linger on any more reactions), we also got a lot of support and some fantastic suggestions from close friends and my parents, and finally arrived on a name we both loved, which also had sentimental value. We used the middle name (not considered a family name) belonging to the only grandparent of our baby, who was not alive when he was born.
Surprisingly, the form-filling after the birth proved to be a breeze – the birth certificate took no time, and few people at banks, etc., didn’t even bother to check when they saw all three names were different. People even said how nice the name sounded!
But of course, there were those who insisted on wanting to know where the name ‘came from’ – because we generally didn’t feel the need to explain – and when we would say that it was actually the middle name of my husband’s father – their eyes would light up, like they FINALLY understood the decision. After all, a name that ‘came from’ the baby’s father’s side of the family? It all made sense to them now.
Reactions aside, our baby is over a year old now – and we are quite comfortable with all of us having different last names. I had also hoped the neutral name would serve as a reminder that we were just channels for this baby to arrive into this world – for us to nurture, not to own and possess.The name does that, and at the same time, it doesn’t make him feel any less ours.
Yes, questions may arise when he is older. Situations too, but we will handle them. The point is, the choice is ours.
P.S – Though you may not be able to refer to us as your typical Mr, Mrs &Master so and so, we are and feel exactly like one, big, sometimes happy, sometimes not, ‘normal’ family.
Taruni Mathur is a writer, Reiki healer and Shamanic practitioner who is focussing on building her mom skills at the moment.