Monday, August 18, 2014

Nominal matters: Issue 4

Witness protection?
– on married Maharashtrian women’s names

Madhuri Charudutta Joshi potters about the neighbourhood, goes to school and college, wins championships in sports and arts, interns and works in government/quasi- government/private organisations, hoards certificates and documents, collects friends and foes over the years, and then, one presumably happy day, disappears! Her place is instantly taken by Asavari Dileep Deshpande, and no one bats an eyelid.

Maharashtrian women take this business of moving from one phase of life to another, of becoming another person and making a new start, very, very seriously. Starting with GivenName-Father’sName-FamilyName and hopping to NameGivenByHusband-Husband’sName-Husband’sFamilyName. This tradition gives some boys (when men) the opportunity to realise a nominal fantasy by naming their newly acquired wives. Perhaps it also allows some women to finally get a name of their choosing, via advice to the husband. But mostly this complete erase-and-redo just confuses everyone. [And so would be a great opportunity for someone to commit a crime and change her identity altogether. What better time to eliminate your enemies than the verge of your wedding and the beginning of a ‘new life’?]

Confuses because, often, the name-change is only ‘official’ – what is inscribed in the rice in a post-wedding ceremony is then inscribed on certain documents (e.g., bank passbook), and then put aside except for the rare use in official documentation (official mail addressed to the woman, or mostly on wedding invitations issued by the woman). So it is that you may discover that rather than the aunt you have been calling Madhuri Maami for over two decades, an Asavari Deshpande is suddenly, in collaboration with your Dileep Maama, inviting people to your cousin’s wedding.

Also to be seen in email addresses and on social networking sites is a pragmatic compromise, mainly for personal and social communication. E.g., Madhuri Deshpande, who, notwithstanding her new-found Asavarihood, continues to be Madhuri in daily life (even called so by her husband and his family), and is now a member of the Deshpande household.

Two trends in Maharashtrian women’s names are gaining ground: (i) the NameGivenByFamilyOfOrigin is regiven by the husband, so Madhuri C. Joshi may become Madhuri D. Deshpande, following the highway that thousands of her non-Maharashtrian sisters use. (ii) Both the families – of origin and of marriage – are acknowledged, without declaring the men representing them, viz. the father and the husband. Thus, Madhuri C. Joshi now calls herself Madhuri Joshi Deshpande. What the next generation will do with these compound surnames would be fascinating to observe: Will Girl Joshi Deshpande marry Boy Kulkarni Tendulkar, and powerlift all those surnames thereafter – X Joshi Deshpande Kulkarni Tendulkar? Won’t future generations sound like telephone directories, and develop cramps from filling forms?

Perhaps Harry S Truman will show the way.

Note: Thanks, Shashank, for the comment: “It’s like witness protection”.

1 comment:

do-die-do said...

Super confusing! And annoying that women would like to shed their natural/ born identity and adopt the husband's name, surname and even given name as in how we name a pet doll or dog??!
Ani, waiting to read your take on the family name.. Father's name used as initial or surname.. But the woman takes on her husband's first name as the surname... So husband and wife need not have same surname...!!!