Islamabad: Widely accepted in majority of cultures, the practice of changing the woman’s last name after marriage has for long been criticised by feminists because it gives the impression of change in ownership of the woman and negates her individuality.
Going a step further, the custom of completely changing the name of the daughter-in-law without her consent is still common in Pakistani culture and that too in educated families. The in-laws especially the mother-in-law of the girl often decides on a name and the bride is called by that name in her new home.
The logic given by those who practice this, is that after marriage the girl should accept her husband’s house and family as her own and for that she disconnect herself from her past.
Another reasoning put forth is that since the girl starts a new life after marriage, a new name reminds her of that fact. “She is ours and we have the right to call her by the name we like,” said a mother-in-law of one such girl.
When ‘The News’ enquired about the feelings of a few girls given new names after marriage, they said they found it humiliating. “I hated it when all my in-laws made it a point to call me with an unfamiliar name,” said one girl.
A mother of two daughters, she said that when she forgot to respond to that name in the early years of her marriage, her mother-in-law used to get annoyed and thought she was doing it intentionally. “Now I am used to the new name but it still hurts,” she said asserting she would never let this happen to her daughters.
Interestingly, in majority of cases the mothers-in-law insist on a new name. In the above-mentioned case, the girl asked her husband to call her by her original name and he did so only when his family were not around.
Another girl married in a family of a politician refused to express her feelings fearing her husband might not like the idea. She said that she had accepted the new name as her real one. “Changing half the name or doing so fully is almost one and the same thing,” she said adding that she could not afford to make an issue of trivial things.
Her friends told ‘The News’ that changing name had changed her completely and she was no more her real self. May be that’s what her in-laws wanted.
Asked about the dynamics of such traditions, Naeem Mirza of Aurat Foundation said that all marriage traditions in the Pakistani society supported patriarchal system and were based on depriving the girl of her name, identity and individuality.
He said that woman of today was more aware of her rights and had become more sensitive about discriminations around her. Terming such traditions a form of violence against women, he regretted that society was still protecting and justifying them.
“Instead of playing any constructive role in protecting the social fabric, such customs give a sense of uneasiness to women,” he said adding that mother-in-law actually becomes a part of patriarchal system and unintentionally starts protecting it.
“Implementing such traditions puts her in controlling position and gives her an edge over her daughter-in-law in the power struggle within the patriarchal system,” he pointed out.
The News, 18/6/2008