Why should wives change their names?

Opinion  |  Dean Johns
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Having convinced myself that I’d pretty well exhausted both my own opinions on and Malaysiakini readers’ patience with this topic in my previous column, I’ve received some highly thought-provoking comments from mostly pseudonymous but far from pseudonymousey people, and thus feel encouraged to continue the conversation.

Starting with the glaringly obvious observation that I carelessly overlooked last week – that by far the majority of pseudonyms are used not by writers, movie stars, politicians, philosophers or Malaysiakini subscribers, but by women, or more specifically, wives.

Because, at least in most if not all of the countries in that part of the world I know best -the West – by far the majority of brides forsake the family names they inherited from their fathers for those of their husbands.

Admittedly, there is a small and apparently growing minority who keep the names they’ve been given at birth and grown up with; some without any change at all, and others by adding their husbands’ names to their own, as in the case, for example, of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But amazingly to me, in this allegedly enlightened era of egalitarianism in general and sexual equality in particular, most women are still prepared to put up with the patriarchal practice of being ‘given’ in marriage by one man into the care, or, if you prefer, the custody, of another, and assuming a ‘pseudonym’ in the process.

This practice is patently reminiscent of the days little more than a century ago when a woman was presumed to be the property of her husband, was denied rights ranging from a proper education to participation in elections, and had few if any legal protections against marital mistreatment or outright abuse.

Unsure of why so many intelligent and in most other ways independent women are still wedded to the tradition of changing their truedonyms to pseudonyms in marriage when the practice is so reminiscent of the bad old days, I conducted my customary survey of one, and asked my wife why she did it.

Nothing to do with subordinating herself to my patriarchal authority, I was both happy and, in light of her ferociously independent personality, far from surprised to learn on the contrary, as she explained...

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