Diaries of a British-Nepalese Bride: Namesake

By Bandana Upadhya

Photo Credit: Navin Mistry

Marriage has uncovered – with full force – personal vulnerabilities that I had not anticipated. At each step I have been overwhelmed with an intense need to question and subsequently reorganise my sense of personal identity. At the very core of this struggle has been the question of whether or not to adopt my husband’s surname.

My husband has the nicest surname. By nice I mean, it is easy to pronounce and sounds rather good next to my first name. Moreover, I have not always been a fan of my own family name.  As a young child in Nepal, I was often teased about the way it sounds; it is a typical Brahmin surname and can be broken down to expose a mildly rude word, both of which attracted negative attention that I did not enjoy. Since moving to the UK, my surname has often generated awkward silences (the person about to pronounce it suddenly appears very worried), polite questioning (“sorry, how do you say your surname?”), misspelling and mispronouncing. I don’t get angry at these people; I feel sorry for them. It gets more difficult when there are issues with your first name as well.  Every time I am about to introduce myself, I feel a little anxious about how I should say ‘Bandana’. So, I desperately looked forward to the opportunity to at least change my surname and was planning to do it as soon as I got married. In my mind, replacing my surname would not change who I believed myself to be.

Then the Kanyadaan (giving away the bride) happened. My parents were giving me away (via my right hand) to my husband. They were seeking religious and societal permission to submit over my responsibility and finally allow me to be an adult. It was meant to be liberating and an overdue step into independence. Instead, I was filled with the agonising realisation that it was not my hand that was that was being passed from one man to another, it was my ownership. I watched with eyes filled with tears of disappointment, protest and sorrow. It was this moment that triggered an influx of doubt and dilemma about the decision to change my surname. The idea of changing my surname started to feel deeply uncomfortable. I worried that if I change my surname I will lose my self. I became consumed with a fear that by giving up my surname, I will forever lose a place in my original family.  

Since getting married, I have felt less of my parent’s daughter. Well, I am still their daughter, but something has definitely changed. It is hard to explain what it is. Perhaps they feel they have no rights over me, or that they cannot expect anything from me. They remind me every so often (not harshly, but rather dutifully) that I belong to my husband’s family now. Apparently after marriage, it is not only my address, but also my loyalties and priorities that have to change. This is how my culture works. The truth is I don’t know where I belong anymore. I have not really integrated into my husband’s family either. I feel lost somewhere in transition, or as though I am orbiting along the boundaries of the two families. I want to be committed to my husband, but I do not identify with his family name. With his name, I would be representing his family’s history, their reputation and their ideologies, which feels unfamiliar and frightening. With his name, I feel I would be a stranger to myself.     

What I haven’t yet admitted is that my husband does not want me to change my surname. He has a mother who proudly and (probably) defiantly kept her maternal surname after marriage. His position should make mine easier, but it doesn’t.  Unfortunately my internal conflict will not resolve so easily. I worry about what will happen when we have children. I imagine they will take his name and that won’t feel too good either. I am worried about being left out. I am worried about appearing to lack a sense of commitment and duty. I know that this is the (inevitable) influence of a lifetime of societal and cultural brainwashing. I also know that I am lucky enough to be living in a time and place where I could (with a little fight) reject and shift the traditional or cultural norm. I do not want to take this freedom for granted. I believe it is my individual right to make my own decisions (no matter the reasons), but for this I have to be willing to take full responsibility and pride in that decision.

I have been married for seven and a half months now and everyday I have wondered what I should do about my surname. I tell myself to wait until the decision feels comfortable and easy. I tell myself to take as much time as I need to. Most of all I tell myself that regardless of the choice I make, at the end of it all, I will own my name.     

3 thoughts on “Diaries of a British-Nepalese Bride: Namesake

  1. Prabhakar Pokhrel says:

    Our culture has been there for years and going on a gradual change. At the cross section many things may look illogical, biased and enforcing to current/ next generation but we should also look at the way it was initiated or created. Why only surname, it may also apply to our own names. We were given names when we were infant, next to unconscious about this world, our likes and dislikes, our dreams and passion. We were given names in the best interest of our parents, families, god, astrologers and many more. Few people do change their names but most are OK with it as they never question it or readily accept it. Acceptance has a bigger role in happiness.(backed by many research) whether its accepting that “God” our parents and relatives introduced us do exist and is kind to us without going into nitty gritty . Even Buddhism have highlighted acceptance as a part of meditation(mindfulness) in peace and happiness. To believe that four people(husband , wife , son , daughter) are specially connected as a unit one needs to have common factors that strengthens love and bonding. I believe common surname is one of the factors among many ones. eg the sharma’s . You are right, it may also mean losing your old identity, but I guess girls were chosen to handle the burden of change because they are have more endurance, emotionally sensitive, more accepting to change , better at caring others ,can make better interpersonal adjustment and bonding with less ego play(backed by oxytocin neurotransmitter and receptors) and would love their child more than men and thus would be more compatible than opposite combination. So I believe they were chosen because of their strength and not the weakness. However being male, its easy for me to say so and difficult for you to adjust. I can empathize but then I don’t think it is just the flip of the coin and girl loses her surname but a planned and organized system where one loses a surname but finds a new identity and becomes happy with a new beginning. sorry for the long comment , couldn’t shorten it.

    • Richa says:

      Thanks for such a thoughtful response. I think the names we are giving at birth is different because we had no choice but changing our last name after marriage feels more like a choice. There is some thought to you and you become more aware of how that make change you. But I think it important that women have that choice, nothing wrong with changing it, and nothing wrong with keeping your maiden name or making something up together.

  2. nepalidawg says:

    Come on! First, you better start accepting and owning your surname first. You have a beautiful surname. It is not your fault that someone else can not pronounce it correctly or that they tease breaking up your name. By the way, that teasing is probably bullying if you are not comfortable with it. Stop feeling guilty about your surname.

    Second, you can keep your surname and do not need to change it, if that is how you feel. A lot of women do it these days and your mother in law has done it too. If you are worried about your children, you can give them two last names your and your husbands, Upadhyaya Mcgregor or whatever that is. If you are worried about your grand children, let their parents decide. That should not be your problem unless you are a control freak (i know you are not).

    There you go, I solved it for you. No need to thank me. 😄

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