Friday, January 04, 2008

On surnames.

I read an article recently about someone named, say, Nirupama Raghuram*. Throughout the article, the author kept saying, "Raghuram graduated from Bangalore University, Raghuram works with the poor, Raghuram likes animals..." - Hello! It is not Raghuram who likes animals, it is Nirupama! Raghuram is probably her father or her husband. And he isn't the one who works with the poor and likes animals!

Haven't you seen this often? It makes me laugh out loud. You could refer to her as Nirupama Raghuram! Or if that makes you cross the word-limit, just say Nirupama. Or is that too informal?

This problem arises mostly with South-Indian names, where the usage of surnames is not too widespread. But since the concept of surnames is catching on, most people just affix the father's name to their names. In fact, even in the above Nirupama Raghuram example, say the article was about Akshay Raghuram. Akshay is the guy, and Raghuram is his father's name. In the article, they would say, "Raghuram likes dogs", which again is not true. It is not Raghuram, but Raghuram's son Akshay who likes dogs. So, isn't there a rule in written media, about not using surnames, but the whole name?

This brings me to another thing that I have noticed. Say this Akshay Raghuram character gets married to Sahana Subbanna. Sahana wants to change her surname after her wedding. So she takes Akshay's surname, which is Raghuram. That makes her, "Sahana Raghuram". Now, Sahana is stuck with a surname which is neither her husband's name nor her father's name - but that of her father-in-law!

Of course, nowadays, many people I know simply attach their husband's name to their surname. For example, Sahana would be Sahana Akshay.

That brings me to changing surnames. Now, what is the necessity? Ok, I won't get into that argument - it is the individual's choice. But I also feel that there are some people in particular, who should not change their surnames after marriage. My sister had a friend who was doing her post-doctorate. Many of her papers were published in respected journals. Her name was, well, a known name in those circles. She was going to get married, and mentioned to my sister that she was going to change her surname. What? Asked PeeVee. And start from scratch? Building a reputation is not that easy. Why give it all up? At least use a hyphenated surname - but no, she was adamant. PeeVee gave up. She must have her reasons!

That brings us to hyphenated surnames. i.e. Sahana in the above example would be Sahana Subbanna-Raghuram. I think these are quite cool. You retain your surname, you add your husband's surname. Great. Do let me know if this results in any major hassles!

By the way, many Akshay Raghurams have got over their "Father's name as surname-not convenient" problem, by adapting the father's ancestral village as their surname. If Raghuram hails from, say, Doddakere, Akshay calls himself Akshay Doddakere. Personally, I think these sound quite nice!

Now, you might be wondering - what has Shruthi done? Retained her surname? Used S~'s surname? Used a hyphenated surname? Well. I had it easy. S~ has the same surname as mine. No, that wasn't one of the reasons I married him. It just turned out to be a bonus, though.

There are many, many more questions that remain unanswered. As to why a child should be given only the father's name, and not the mother's name. And why a husband should not take his wife's name after they get married. I leave the historians to explain that. If one of you can explain it to me, please go ahead.

Then there is the argument - why do we need a surname? We can have another name instead of a surname. We could. For example, Sahana could be Sahana Madhuri. I have heard of some people are going in for this option too. Will it catch on? Let's watch and see!

P.S. All the above statements are made on actual observation, and about my personal opinions on them. I am in no way demeaning any choice. I respect each individual's decision to do what he or she pleases.

*All names in this post are fictitious. Any resemblance to anybody living or dead is purely coincidental.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

one of my team mate had name nagaraj kenchaia where kenchaia was his father name. He was popularly known as kenchaia among team members. The real problem started when some one called on his land line on a sunday from office asked for kenchaia told him its an emergency and asked to come to office immediately only to have a rude shock when kenchaia the father had traveled half the bangalore to come to office when the jr.kenchaia was on a bike trip to simsha :)
believe it or not :)

Kadalabal said...

these surnames issue you have raised is very good issues for discussion and I want to share
some interesting things happening here. If you go to north karnataka they have got a unique way for ex sbkatti here katti is the surname s shankar his name and b is bhaskar his fathers name. but usage is sbkatti and you go to his house and ask for katti or sb katti there may be more than one sbkatti like shruthi b katti, sangamesh b katti etc., etc., if you dont know the name the first name you are confused and your friend is not at home gone case.
In our side normally we have a different way as shruthi mentioned it is family name may be village or other for my name is k.praneshachar
k stands for kadalabal my ancestral village at least I have seen the place and we visit every year where all my k family will come.many keep this village identification have not seen and after generations it may become reduindant
here we are not taking fathers name at all but when i went to study at hubli my name was written in their records as praneshachar prahladachar kadalabal so much big and we are not used to it. I think our prctice of using surname as initial and your name followed by is one of the best as your name is given prominence as it should be.
now slowly people start adding one more initial father's name so it is ones likes and dislikes it is their convinience.
changing surname after marriage is purely a individuals choice but you may face problems with your certificates etc., which are different and your name after marriage is different it may create problems at times.
comment of anonymous shows another confusion which I say will not arise if you use like in our place say my name it is k.praneshachar
there is no distortion you are distinctly identified as yourself and no mistaken identities in any communication.
If you go to north east west surnames are followed and in east you can identify the caste or trade
good topic for lot of research and in most parts is is surname and in
east it identifies the caste as I know varied cultures varied practices and still we live together and this makes us proud. even in abroad there is this surname concept
some interesting surnames in north karnatka are kotambri, menasinakai, bellulli, bellad etc., apart from usual desai, kulkarni, katti etc.,
singer sangeetha katti has followed
unique way after marriage she has kept her original sangeetha katti and added kulkarni her husbands surname so she is kept her identity and also added new surname where she joined after marriage
pranesh

rajk said...

Oh, this is a never-ending discussion! BTW, even I like the trend of giving 2 names to kids...Two of my friends have done that...I sounds really good. And it is a good idea.

Anonymous said...

Some thoughts-Names I think are for convenience. If a woman wants to keep her surname after marriage, fine but then what will be the surname of her children? Give them both? Fine, then what happens when they marry? Will they have four surnames? Say, Sahana X and Akshay Y's daughter, Shubha XY will marry Sameer MN and will their child be Sahithya XYMN?
A friend of mine became Elizabeth Ravikrishnan after marriage, when asked why she changed her name , told me that she would have hated to have different surnames from her kids, and she wouldn’t put her children through Rodriguez Ravikrishnan as their surname... imagine the practical problems![I mean the spelling etc]
As long as we understand that the names are for practical usage and there are many other ways to stamp our individuality in this world. Indira Gandhi was still who she was, her father's daughter.

All said and done, I guess it is the individual's choice.

-jayashree aththe

Deepak said...

Let me add another angle... first name middle name surname... I am Deepak Mohan Nadiger where deepak is me, Mohan my father and nadiger my surname, since people were torturing nadiger out of shape since they couldnt pronounce it in north india, forget abroad, I ended up dropping it in my official interaction, now people call me Mr.Mohan and i dont react to it... i am dying to hear someone call me by my own name :(

anoop said...

I could have tried to answer why a child should borrow its fathers surname/name rather than its mothers, but when S.L.Bhyrappa has done it so beautifully in his magnum opus - "Parva" and to a lesser extent in his other novel "vamsha-vruksha", I'm afraid I may not do sufficient justice to his line of thought. In "Parva", he repeatedly dwells into this matter in different cases. Also, the reason for the epic-war , he elucidates, is a result of questioning the pancha-pandavas right to the throne, as they are not born of their father.

'why a husband should not take his wife's name after marriage', I have no answer, and I don't support either case. I also doubt whether this tradition is completely Indian, it may have been borrowed from the west.

And about all the confusion about surnames, first names etc : I remember that Indians, from ages, were used to having their surname first (traditionally used for the family name/birth place), then their middle name (for fathers name) and then their first name (individuals name) in the last. Again, here too, I would like to blame our aping of the western pattern of naming, which has led to much confusion. I was enrolled to school as H.A.Anoop (Hullenahalli Appaji Gowda Anoop), but by the time I reached High school my name morphed into its current form - Anoop.H.A. .

Vivek said...

on a funny side..have a friend who has bangalore attached as the surname. So at airports he gets announced as "Mr.Bangalore could you please come upto the counter.." or something similar. Seems like he has won some pageant contest but then..

Viky said...

ROFLing at Vivek's comment above.

Usage of the right word as the surname can take you places. Like Vivek said, one can become the hunk of his place by becoming Mr.Doddakere. He also has the power of extrapolating his likes and dislikes to the whole of his region -
"Doddakere likes dogs". Let's see the municipality catch a dog in Doddakere!!
"When in tension, Doddakere smokes". ITC, are you listening??
Or consider "Doddakere almost drowned while swimming in the lake". The whole of the town in one lake, and still drowned? Some big lake, eh!
"Doddakere flies to America for a seminar" :D

Abhipraya said...

I will not elaborate on the use of surnames like many here are already saying it is an endless debate :)

But I would like to explain something about the usage in reports. The usage of second name is common but now women journalists are trying to change that and there is much debate on whether we should just say Nirupama or Ms Nirupama.

Sunil said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepika_Padukone

Check out the Early Career section... Its confusing as to who they are referring to!!

Wunderyearz said...

A never ending discussion...

My aunt whose son worked for the army was once invited to a kitty party hosted by her son's boss's wife.She was in for a rude shock that none of the ladies addressed each other by their first names but by their husband's names.
When she was asked her name and she said her first name and the ladies went on to ask her " No tell us your husbands name,cause thats how you should be known after your marriage"
My aunt just went mad at this and just wanted to get out of that place at the earliest.....

Anonymous said...

This reminds of an interesting fact I came across in a book I read recently (Left to tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza). In her own words...

In Rwanda, every family member has a different last name. Parents give each child a unique surname at birth, one that reflects the feelings of the mother or the father at the moment they first lay their eyes on their new baby. In Kinyarwanda, the native language of Rwanda, my name (Illibagiza)means "shining and beautiful in body and mind"

Is'nt it interesting?

Srikanth said...

nice post. it reminds me of 2 incidents:

# my full name is srikanth anantha murthy (srikanth is my name & anantha murthy is my father's name). When i was waiting for a flight at US some 10 years back, the public speaker was asking some Mr.Murphy to report at a help desk!
They had used the last part of my name (which is my father's surname)
and messed with it (t become a p - conveniently)

# i had a colleague whose last name is his father's name and his first name is his grand father's name. so every generation the name just toggles. And this runs in their family & has been for ages. quite obviously the the two names look pretty old and 19th centuryish now but is still cool.

btw, I reached ur blog thru viky's
and love your posts.

Usha said...

Interesting.
I actually know a case where the daughter in law refused to attend a wedding when the invitation was made out for 'The Subramanyams'. You know it was the father in law's first name which was shared by the m-i-l and her husband as surname and she felt she was excluded!

Shruthi said...

Anon at 12 34, heh heh :D

kadalabal, yes, interesting examples.

Rajk, it IS catching on, isn't it? Quite a convenient thing, maybe?

Jayashree atthe, oh yes, yes, I have thought about that - it will definitely be a problem. Of course, unless the couple decide on an entirely different surname altogether. Like i said, the problems are endless..

Deepak, Ha ha :D

Anoop, oops, I have read neither of those books. I intend to do so someday. Yes, the south indian tradition of initials does have some merit, but it doesn't really fit in when you need to fill forms for example :D :D

Vivek, LOL! That sure is funny!

Viky, You! You! :D

Abhipraya, ah just what I wanted to know.. thanks!

Wunderyearz, whoa!

Anon at 2 12, hey that is very interesting.. thanks so much for this tidbit.

Srikanth, thanks! Heh heh.. Mr Murphy indeed! And, yes, I do know of this keeping grandfather's name.. but are they actually still following it? cool :D

Usha, attagirl! :D

chitra said...

Oh1 Ask me, Living in N.India with father's initialswas such a problem. We had top government functionaries look down on us when we mentioned we didnt have a surname, and we had to explain we belong to a family but we have initials.

I am still K Chitra, but my son being born in U.P. the Municipal commission, themselves added his father's name as his surname. I did think of adding my husban's name as my surname, but his name is a caste in Punjabi. People thought I am married to a Punjabi and i would have had to explain the entire naming procedure. So, I retained my maiden name.

Poppins said...

I have thought often about this too, what we did for our little one was to adopt the Gothra name as her last name.

And yes, I have not changed my surname either. It's not a feminist move, just a practical one. It's way too much hassle to change the surname in every other document right from banks to passport. Especially for someone as organizationally challenged as I am :)

Poppins said...

Wanted to add that because of this the three members in our family have all different last names and people abroad look at us funny, as if we are not a family :)

veena shivanna said...

Professor,
Very interesting posts and the examples too. I had no worries about this surnames etc., before I filled up forms or got my passport. My complete name has my dad's village name(his native) and my dad's name with my first name(of course they were initials). I was totally into confustion to make out which was my middle name, which was my last name etc., Finally followed a pattern throughout :-)
Females sharing their husband's surname(which may be his father's name) may be because in foriegn countries viz.,US, all family members should have(infact has) same surnames!
In India, many people think that last name is by default husband's name, I remember once somebody had asked me what does Mr. Shivanna do? they infact intended to know about prashanth!

Anonymous said...

I just dont like this Surname business....esp with some South Indias names where we expand our intials and all of a sudden father's name will become surname and wife will have to take f-i-l's name as surname!! my wife's name is one such which has two different words and we decided to leave it like that and use second word as surname in Passport ,Visa etc....its one hell of a task to change Passport/Visa and other docs just 'cause of getting married...

--Ananth!! [ yeah i know...its been quite long ]

Taste of Mysore said...

Hi Shruthi,
Happy New Year to you. This was interesting post with interesting coments. I never went to the hassle of changing my name and my in-laws and husband understood it very well. I am still with my maiden name ;)

Vidya said...

Shruthi, engidiya?
Gud article!
I never like the idea of changing surname after marriage. I think I will lose my identity if I do that.
ciao,
v

A gal hailed from Phulbani said...

Is not it better if we do not use a surname at all. Though here you are talking of confusion,I have seen discrimination by the name of surname. Read my views at http://www.pledgebank.com/altriuist
And if you support my views, please sign the pledge and join hands with me.

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