What’s In Your Name? A Mom’s Decision to Keep Her Maiden Name


By Sanober Bukhari @ssanober & online at:  drivingmsdesi.com

2013 Nominee

2013 Nominee

I am in a “last name” conundrum. Since becoming a stay-at-home mom I find I am letting go of (what I think are) my independent almost feminist values and accepting the more so-called traditionalist ones. It’s kind of interesting because while I was a working mom labels such as modern, forward thinking, strong, were easily attached to me no matter if I actually felt that way or not.

But I was ‘accomplishing’ something tangible so it was looked on with pride. It was easy to hold my own, especially in the ‘real’ out of home world of Men. Each day felt like I was winning the battle for feminism, the subversive woman fighting against the norms of a typical South Asian society. So when I became a stay at home mom, initially it felt like a defeat.
I clearly remember being 15 years old and having a strong sense of self. My family and I were on vacation in Florida to attend an uncle’s wedding. Extended family from my father’s side gathered from all over and suddenly

I was surrounded by people sharing the same last name as me. Many of whom I was meeting after years. They were all impressed at the mature young lady I was becoming and that made me feel even more confident. The opinion of family, even those I hardly knew, meant more to me than what strangers thought (I am usually highly conscious of outward impressions). mrandmrskapadia

After spending some time laughing and bonding over ‘inside’ family jokes, it was then that I became acutely aware that I was very proud of where I came from, proud to be in the company of my relatives and it was the last name that brought us all together. That summer I connected with my last name and the identity it reflected in a way I did not think was possible. Honestly I think I fell in love with my own last name and I knew there was no way I was ever going to change it, not for anyone.

Of course it helped that my mother had kept her maiden name as that was the norm in Iran where she grew up. Technically speaking, according to my religion after a woman is married she is supposed to continue to keep her father’s name as that indicates her lineage. There is no compulsion to take on your husband’s name. Of course, there is no harm in being referred to as the wife of husband ‘insert name here’ either (why would there be?). Taking the husband’s name is purely a cultural tradition brought on mainly by Western influence. nameform

Sure, it is practised widely across various cultures, but there is no legal requirement (at least not in the countries I have lived in thus far). This point has been one of surprise to many young women I know in Pakistan, who just assumed it was the law. Since my paternal side of the family is from the Sub-Continent, the culture there (owed to British Colonialism) is very strong on taking your husband’s name, of course. Which is why I always thought it was very ‘cool’ and open minded of my father to agree to my mother exercising her religious and frankly speaking, personal choice. This was definitely a first in our family as far as I know.

It is one of many ‘religion vs. culture’ debatable issues that can go on forever but I am not going to get into that today. As far as I am concerned, when you remove the ‘obligation’ part then it becomes freedom of choice. I do not see any issue in anyone taking on their husband’s name (as long as the wife to be has an understanding and agreement on the matter) even if it is a cultural thing, since majority of the world seems to practise it, so why try to make difficult our already busy and complicated lives. From a religious stand point, as long as I don’t claim that my father is someone he is not, we are all good with The Big Guy Upstairs.

In regards to my own personal choice, I had decided then at age 15, that when it came to marriage, whomever that lucky man was going to be was definitely going to have to be ‘cool’ with me keeping my own last name. No one could ‘make me’, there certainly weren’t any legal ramifications of not doing it and lastly it suited the ‘feminist’ in me just fine.



So I met the man of my dreams and before he proposed I admittedly romanticised the idea of ‘being his’ and would scribble my first name and his last name with hearts around it (we all have our embarrassing moments). Though I do love the way his last name sounds. I stuck to my guns, however. We got married. I signed the Nikah Nama (marriage contract) with the same name I was given at birth. My identity was still intact both professionally and in my new home. Sure, socially I became a ‘Mrs. Husband’s last name’ but legally thank God for the ‘Ms.’ option which I could tick away without suddenly usurping my paternal grandmother’s identity (since my mother had not).

Digitally speaking, I resisted the urge to modify my Facebook account with a hyphenated double barrel name. Another reason that option would not have worked on paper is that altogether that would be 21 letters. Have you seen the number of boxes on document forms? I never stood a chance. My email stayed what it always was, however in a moment of weakness I did add on the hubby’s last name in the account info. So if I ever email you it will probably say “You have mail from ’7 letters space 7 letters space 7 letters’”. Apart from that, life was otherwise easy breezy. This round went to feminism. Yay.

A few years later, I had a baby, moved to another country and became a stay at home mom. I no longer had my professional identity and it had been 7 years since I had previously lived in this country, so even my personal identity was something that needed to be re-established. A lot of changes were brought on all of a sudden, and I felt lost for a little while defined only by my husband and child; outnumbered by the last name. With each doctor’s visit and now preschool visit, I was being referred to by my child’s last name. It was naturally assumed and why not as there are still far too few of us keeping their maiden names.

Working at homeAlso it seemed to ‘go’ with my SAHM status which screamed ‘traditional’, ‘conservative’ dare I say ‘submissive’. Labels that I do not describe myself as but I know the Career mom version of me just a year ago would have pegged me for. Silly, silly, silly stereotyping I know, but when in a position of feeling unsure, insecurity suddenly creeps up on you.

As I write this , I have had a sudden revelation that I shouldn’t let my past career define me (which it did while I was working), nor should I let taking caring of my child at home define me either. Those are things I did or do but it is not who I am. I need to find ME again. That self-assured 15 year old needs to talk some sense into this flailing former feminist-ish me. Of course I will always be my daughter’s mother, and my husband’s wife but now more than ever, I need to be defined by ME and just for that, before I forget again, I think, nay I KNOW I will continue to keep my last name.

Have you ever struggled with the decision to keep your own last name or to take on your husband’s?

Was it a choice that was discussed? Did you romanticise the idea or did you feel culturally bound? Would love to hear your views!





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  1. Amna Hakim

    I too have been consumed with the same thoughts and ideas. As much as I want to stay a part of the family I grew up with by holding on to my name, I also want to be a part of this new family my husband and I will be making together. Sooooo confusing! and reading your thoughts really helps me feel better, knowing I’m not the only one! 🙂 Love reading your posts!!

    • Sanober

      It always gets even more confusring after you have kids! but either way you have to be comfortable with it at the end of the day. So whatever makes you happy 🙂 At the end of the day it’s the love and respect for each other that makes a family, nothing else.

  2. Samreen Saadi

    Hi there Sanober! Love the way you write and definitely an interesting article. I was Samreen Qureshi and became Samreen Saadi after Sameer Saadi and I got married. I never thought of keeping Qureshi as my last name after getting married because, quite frankly, I love and always will love my family background and my father’s family of Qureshi’s, but never felt so strongly about keeping Qureshi. I am, however, a Qureshi at heart! 🙂 But, come on. How funny is it that Sameer and I have such similar names? We have gotten called out on fraud when trying to rent an apartment (they switched up our social security numbers with our names), have gotten comments from Sameer’s friends on Facebook on my wall, people tag the wrong person… it’s quite humorous actually. I do think people make too big of a deal about last names when it really isn’t and shouldn’t be. I never understood taking the first name of your husband as your last name.. but whatever tickles people’s pickles! 🙂 It’s more important to have a true sense of self than to be worried about how you want to be labeled with a name (first name, middle name, last name, no name, The Third, Begum, Prince).

  3. Sanober

    Hi Samreen. So glad you stopped by. The similarity of yours and your husband’s name is quite interesting indeed, fate works in curious ways 😉 Agree, at the end of the day you have to know who you are and stand by it. Sometimes as our roles start to increase it is easy to get lost which is why we need to have something to remind us, be our anchor and hopefully we have that in our partners, our husbands! labels aside.

  4. Maliha

    Awesome post Sanober! I can totally relate. I hold onto being a KHAN which has nothing to do with my love or commitment towards my husband. Also, I absolutely respect those of us who have gone ahead with the name change.

    This was an interesting topic n kind of reduces the guilt that we have at times when surrounded by those who misjudge us for not taking our hubbys name.

    Can’t wait for your next post!!!

  5. Juvaria

    Great article Sanober. Interesting that you associate changing a maiden name with being conservative or submissive. I know many men think this is a sensitive issue so to have a husband who is understanding or indifferent is a luxury. I have suspected that many women like to flaunt the addition of/ change to their husband’s name very much in the same way that they do any acquisition/ achievement (Look everyone I bagged one!). Perhaps even something like adding M.D or Ph.D after your name? (Of course I know that doesn’t hold for everyone and there are multiple reasons why someone might change their last name.) I do wonder if tendencies have changed since the advent of Facebook. Personally, I’ve found it very convenient to add my husband’s last name on all official documentation and retain my own as a middle name. That way we can be a Mr and Mrs on airline tickets, hotel bookings, and perhaps most importantly; on the marker board inside the maternity wing! Appropriate for my moral and chaste image. At the same time, I don’t need to worry about clarifications related to university degrees, old passports etc.

    • Sanober

      Thanks Juvaria! Appreciate your views on the subject. Whatever we decide to do regarding the last name, it should always be out of a choice and not an assumption or obligation. At the end of the day the decision has to work best for you and you have to be happy with it, no regrets.

  6. Ayesha Samad

    Dear Sanober,

    Stick to your guns! I never changed my name after marriage (it’s been almost 18 yrs now). Primarily for the same reasons you’ve written. My identity is my family or my parents who have raised me and made me the person who I am. Yes, I married a guy but I don’t need to change my identity because of that. So I was a stay at home mom for about a year, but it really didn’t bother me. Now at work, sometimes we get invitations with my surname because people assume that it’s my husbands name :)) And my kids’ middle name is mine. And when they ask me why their middle name is my surname, I tell them because they are half mine and their name should be linked with me just as much as their father’s.

    But, in all this, it shouldn’t be a sticky issue with anyone’s hubby. I know some guys who insist that the wife keep their last name. I guess I’m lucky that I never had to discuss it, my husband had no issues.

    Good luck :)) Ayesha

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  8. Anuya Gogte

    Awsome post. I am still going through this dilemma though I am married for past 3 years now.
    Its difficult to part with your identity, isn’t it? Unfortunately just few months after my wedding i had my new surname used in an identity document.
    Now I have no choice but to change my surname. I am still coming to terms with. Hopefully one day I wont be so bothred about all this.

    • Sanober

      Thanks Anuya! It really is a tough decision and very personal. You do what is best for you and your situation. It has to be something you can live with, but either way just own it! 🙂

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