Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I'm going through changes*

The web is a wonderful place.

I am finally catching up on all my blog reading which, much like my blog writing, has dipped into near non-existence of late. Slowly, slowly however I am clawing my way back into the ether world.

I also finally got myself organised and have a feed-reader thing. So now, I have my people onto you. Or those of you I know about.

One of the blogs I enjoy but don't visit with sufficient frequency - What We Said - had an interesting post about name changes on marriage by Emily. In response, Span posted on her own site the following post.

Name changing on marriage is a no-brainer for me. Mostly because I have no intention of getting married. But also because in Vietnamese culture, women do not take their husband's name on marriage.

I was always very confused when people called my mother Mrs (my father's family name). Who were they talking about? And they were always very confused when I explained what my mother's family name was. Who was I talking about? Why was my name different to my mother's? And anyway, what difference does it make when there are only about 25 family names in Vietnamese?

Um was not the avant garde of Viet feminists, retaining her name because she held some belief that she was resisting her status as chattel in a married relationship. No, my mother is very much not a feminist. I recall her saying to me at an early age when I was fighting with my brother that I was not supposed to argue with him because he was male, older and stronger. She also told me at the same time she was asking me to desist from battling my bro that when I married I should always defer to my husband in an argument otherwise he would not remain my husband. I was, oh, I don't know how old - maybe 6 or 7. Salutary lessons for a 7 year old - how to keep the husband you don't have by subjugating yourself and your worthless opinions.

No, my mother just did what tradition and culture dictated.

Traditional Viet weddings symbolically pass the woman over to her husband's family. The groom comes to the bride's house and asks her family if he can take her. The dowry that he must bring represents a form of payment for the wife, who will become the husband's newest acquisition in his working household. Husband and wife together offer tea to all of the woman's family to thank them for looking after her up to that point in her life. Then husband and wife trundle back to the husband's family and offer tea to all of them to ask them to accept the wife into the family. It's time consuming.

Even though this ceremony passes the bride into the groom's family, the bride retains her father's name and does not take on her husband's.

If I were to marry, there would be a lot of baggage about whether to change my name. The answer, if you're curious or had not already guessed, is that I would not. I like my name. It took me a long time to become reconciled with it, so I'd like to keep it, thanks. And I am not disappearing post marriage. To not, follows Viet culture. To do so, would be to follow the mainstream of which I am now a part but which is too patriarchal a gesture for my liking. (That is not to say that Viet culture is not patriarchal; it is.) I expect that I would discuss the issue with my partner, too. Although I suspect we both already know the discussion will be brief.

Some of my acquaintances get defensive about not keeping their name on marriage around me, presumably because I am an unapologetic feminist. I bandy "feminist" about like I'm comfortable with it. Because I am. But it does not mean that I judge people for their decisions. At least, not all the time.

I am curious about why people do, or do not, change their family name. The rationale that an entire family should share the same family name for unity's sake strikes me as insupportable. I agree with Span's reasoning. I met a family who had a plethora of surnames: Mum & Dad each kept their families' names and, when the first child was born, a coin was tossed to decide which surname that child would take (Dad's as it turned out). The second child took the Mum's remaining family name, thereby carrying on her name, too. I do not know what happens if there is a third child. They were a delightful family unit.

I do not understand why the article Emily refers to says that the woman should ensure that her female children carry her family name? Why not any of the children, or half the children? How does ensuring the female children carry the woman's family name undermine the tradition? I have wondered about this myself: if my partner and I were to have a child together, whose family name would the child take? I am inclined to think the child should have my partner's - because there are fewer of his names floating about the world than mine. And if we were to have a child, that child would probably be the first of his family's next generation, whereas it would be - oh, maybe - the 30th (give or take) of my family's next generation.

And in any event, why does the decision whether or not to change one's name on marriage affect the decision regarding what name any child of the relationship should have?

I agree with Emily that choice is relevant, but more than that - thinking about the issue is what is important. I would prefer we lived an examined life, and if there is value to the individual of doing what the mainstream dictates, fine. And if there is not, then an analysis of the reasons for acting one way or another will provide the solution for an alternate path.

* that's a song. Not a reference to me. I think I'm staying the same.


Hedgehog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hedgehog said...

I haven't changed my name since I got married for the very simple reason that I didn't see the need to. The hubby has said that he would like me to change it eventually when we have kids and I think if I were to have kids, they will definitely take his surname, for the reason that I follow the tradition that kids should take after their dad's surname. Besides, there are millions of people with my surname as it is the second most common surname in Vietnamese, just after Nguyen :D.

laziicat said...

hmmm...what about the joys of hyphens?? i have a cousin whos mum got married again and now she has been formally adopted by the second husband and her name has been changed to one of those hyphen surnames to keep both her fathers surname and the step dads name. poor dear. and of course she has a middle name. lucky (?) for her she doesnt have a viet name. just english or her name would take up a whole line to write!! harhahrhar

heres an odd one that i heard. at my work place this couple got married and then instead of one changing the surname to the others they both got thier surname legally changed his mothers maiden name....mind boggling...

maybe we should just go back to using first name and occupation as the surname...harhahrhahhrar

OTT said...


I think I can make a pretty educated guess about what your family name is ;-)

I am curious - would you change your name to your husband's when you have children, and if so, why? Or what are the reasons that your husband has asked you to change your name, and how do you feel about that?

I'm also curious - and sorry to throw questions at you but I value your comments and your perspective - why do you feel that naming your child using its father's family name a tradition worth maintaining, to you?

I am prying, so if you do not wish to answer, that's fine.

My reasons for considering naming any child that my partner and I had together with his family name is that the child is to carry on his family - my family has quite enough people carrying on its name, no matter how common they family name (and it's common!) they are still uniquely Oanh's family.


Oh goodness - I don't want to be Oanh Lawyer. That would be horrid.

Ah, the double-barrel hyphenated family names. What happens though when two double-barrels marry / unite in long-term relationships: how will their names or their children's names go?

I can see the value in both parties leaving off their birth family name and taking on a new one - even if it is harking back to a name that is in one of the birth families already. If the reason for taking on a single family name is for the sake of recognising a newly created family unit, I do not see why the single family name should be that of the husband's only, or as a first choice.

I have friends who have married and created a family name out of syllables from their birth family name - and then both parties changed their family name to that. I quite like that - it is symbolic of the equality of the union but also and here's a stickler is viewed by some outside parties as the dominant hand of the female partner. I think that is unfortunate.

It would be somewhat unusual to pick a name from the ether, but if that suits the individuals and they've examined their reasons for doing so , and the decision imports equally the partners' desires, then best of luck to them. What I am really interested in is why the status quo and tradition is retained - has the individual thought about why they have taken on the status quo - or did they do it just because that is what's done? Just interesting to think about...

I had enough trouble picking my blog title, and a nickname (which did not last long as I reverted to using my real name), so I can't imagine the issues I would have picking a family name if I had to do so ....

Hedgehog said...

I think the reasons which my husband asked me to change my name when we have kids is because he wants the unity sense of a family by sharing the same surname. I'm not too fussed about it to be honest but I just don't feel the absolute need to change it for now.
As regards to the other question, I guess I just follow the well-established tradition of naming a child after its dad's surname. It's just something I would do without questioning so I don't have a particular reason for doing so :D (even though I have already thought of putting my mum's surname as the middle name for any future baby, to remind the baby of its Viet connection,haha may be I think too far ahead as we haven't even got any plan as when to have kids :D)
Hope that satisfies your curiosity.

OTT said...

Thanks for dropping back in with your thoughts, Hedgehog.

Spanblather (whom I've linked) writes a very powerful post about the usefulness of sharing one family name to represent the unity of the family. I guess I do not feel that my family is any less unified because my mother bears a different family name to my own.

I too am very conscious about how to pass my Viet heritage on - it's a vexed issue for me and should I ever have a child, I'm sure I'll be pontificating about it a lot, on this blog!

LBW said...

I didn't change my surname and never considered it. I broke up with a guy once over this name change discussion! He backed off and said, "I just think it's a nice tradition" but by then I knew we were coming from two different places. I know people where the guy has taken the girl's surname. my baby has both our names because as a hapa kid i think it's important he has both names - it's up to him later which one he wants to pass onto his kids. For me, my name is me and to change it to some European surname just seems a bit odd - especially since my struggle with my hybrid identity was such a big part of my growing up process. But I think even if I had married someone within the same race, I would have kept my surname.
In my mum's group everyone has the same name as their partner and kids because they like being a unit. And like the last comment I'm the only one in the family to "carry on" the name. Whereas my husband has brothers whose wives are happy to ditch their names. Having said that if he was the one who went through the childbirthing process ...I would let him name the kid anything he wanted!
I read somewhere once that the character for "surname" in Chinese has a woman symbol in it because back in matriachal society people might not know who their fathers were but always knew who their mums were.

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