The Patriarchy of Surname

It is a known fact that babies take their father’s surname. And brides take their husband’s surname. Why are surnames always male-centric?

Globally in the majority of cultures, children take their father’s surname. In India too this is the norm. Although some single mothers are opting to give their children their surname, if any married mother decides that her children should have her surname while her husband is in the picture, it will raise a lot of eyebrows. Women do not have the freedom to name their children their surname yet in this world, as the majority of this world is still patrilineal.

There is a theory that surnames came because it was not easy to distinguish one individual from another. There was a very limited number of first names and a lot of people with the same first names. People needed their house’s or father’s name attached to their name so as to be easily identified. But why have the father’s name instead of the mother’s name?

The concept of a child having their father’s name or surname started in the times when humans began to pass down their property to their children. A child’s parentage was not a big issue before that. But when men needed to pass their property to the children in the family, they needed to make sure that they were passing down the property to their own child and not to someone else’s child. And thus started the system of women having only one husband and the child taking that husband’s name so that everyone knows that the child’s father is the husband himself.

And centuries later the concept of surnames is the same. You can identify a child’s mother because she gave birth to him or her. But the father of the child is identified when the child takes his father’s surname. It is an identifier that the father of the child is this person.

And even today a child without a father to name or identify is scorned by society and given derogatory names. This all comes from the concept that a woman should only have one sexual partner and that should be her husband. And the woman belonged first to her father and then to her husband. That is how the women started taking their husband’s surname after marriage. Also to identify as this person’s wife and this family’s daughter-in-law.

Even now, not taking your husband’s surname after marriage is a difficult task for many women. It will still raise so many questions. So many modern women keep both their surname and their husband’s surname after marriage. Yet it is very rare for a child to take both his father’s and mother’s surname as his/her surname. And it is almost unheard of for a child to have their mother’s surname while the father is still in the picture.

Although many adults choose to have their mother’s name or surname as a middle name or last name. Pablo Picasso chose to use his mother’s surname ‘Picasso’ as his surname. And renowned Indian Director Sanjay Leela Bansali uses his mother’s first name ‘Leela’ as a middle name in honour of his mother. Also even if it is a small amount we still have a few matrilineal societies in the world which give their kids the mother’s surname.

But still in society in many instances where you need to use your name and give your parents name, in schools and in government forms, it will raise a lot of questions and problems if your surname does not match with your father’s surname. Unfortunately, this is not going to change in a day and the only hope we have is that some children now are given both their parent’s surnames.

-Staff Reporter

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