Everybody’s got a surname. Ever since our ancestors decided to formulate a system to name the individuals of the human species, the surname has been the indispensable, compulsory part of a person’s nomenclatural identity. If I’m a Kapoor, my dad’s one, my grandfather’s one and so were the men who preceded them. Is this really necessary?, I ask.
In the modern human society, to question one’s surname is considered a frivolous inquiry, and finding thinking, rational individuals who realize the shortcomings of the surname system is an extreme rarity.
What’s in a surname? Why do we need to endow children with a predetermined identity that their parents inherited from their predecessors who were inheritors of this mandatory suffix themselves?
A common reasoning would conclude that the fierce conviction of our ancestors in maintaining the family’s legacy, or the “proverbial bloodline”, if you will, was the simple notion behind the creation of a generation-after-generation descendible name.
Alright, fair enough, if not a little narcissistic considering how you would intend your name to be passed down to posterity from one descendant to another, possibly indefinitely. But the most irksome quality of the surname that forces me to undermine its presumed importance is the highly conspicuous influence of the patriarchy over it.
Let’s come to terms with this: the surname is a sexist, male chauvinistic idea. Is that a bit far-fetched? Is it a bit too much to disparage a simple method of entitlement that all of us use, and has been followed for centuries now, as being gender biased? Especially when gender inequality isn’t even remotely caused by what an individual writes after his/her forename while, say, filling a form?
Well, considering how a man or a woman’s name is the primary identity they carry for life, the second half of their fundamental appellation is in no small way a part of who they are.
The concept of a surname is severely ridden with sexual politics. The sinister routine, generation after generation, of entitling a child with the family name borrowed from his/her father is an obvious, unmistakable reminder of the ever-present patriarchal authority in human society.
That anyone with a literate and educated mind, apart from also holding egalitarian views when it comes to gender, would not view this rule as observably absurd and insulting to all of womankind is, frankly, more than surprising. The fact that the mother, who, apart from having played equal roles to that of the father in creating life, also experiences additional pain and agony and trauma to bring her child into this world, does not get to pass on her surname to her child, it having been stripped from her upon marriage in the first place, is frustratingly ridiculous. Such a norm that outright neglects the essentiality of a woman in the conception, birth and upbringing of a child is an insult to our intelligence and completely disagrees with reason. The surname is, without doubt, the creation of some ancient male chauvinist degenerate.
The very enforcement of male dominance and supremacy over the life of an individual, unjustly amputating and recreating a portion of her former identity and, following that, denying her the right to have a say in the naming of her own child is reason enough for a pro-feminist such as myself to disown the entire concept of a heritable second name.
Granted, there have been some people in history who borrowed their maternal surnames and are known by those very names. An excellent example would be Pablo Picasso, the remarkable artistic genius whose magnificent creations we refer to, to this day, as Picassos.
So yes, perhaps the sexist ideology behind the naming of a person can be combated by adopting the said person’s mother’s original surname, instead of the father’s. But in terms of gender equality, this still isn’t exactly fair either, so that idea goes out the window as well.
But the fundamental narcissism and the blatant sexism aren’t the only defects of the human surname.
Consider an individual, irrespective of sex, who has inherited his/her father’s surname. Now if we were to take the names of his/her preceding thirty two immediate ancestors, it is not really exciting to find out that he/she shares the family name with only six of those thirty two (the female ancestors having merely adopted the name after marriage, unfortunately, and not having inherited it). This is truly unjust to the remaining twenty-six who were all equally responsible for the existence of the individual today.
I find this casual lack of respect for the rest of our ancestors, regardless of whether we knew them or not, especially for our maternal predecessors, extremely disturbing. The heritable surname cruelly disregards the crucial and inevitably necessary part that these men and women played in the continuance of their genetic legacy and hence, in the process, created the future possibility for our creation and birth.
Thus, I return to my first question. Is a surname necessary? My answer is a firm, well contemplated no. Coming from a family which has more or less ignored the surname system for decades, I can say without ambiguity that there are absolutely no disadvantages in giving a child a new first and second name. In fact, it enhances the uniqueness of his/her individual identity. The original narcissism, sexism and disrespect to our ancestors are the basic reasons that make me whole-heartedly disagree with the rudimentary idea of a family name. And these, regardless of my family’s existing tradition, are also the reasons why my kid will not have and does not need a surname.