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“Please let's stop judging women who change their surnames after marriage”

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The last time I felt this naughty was when I was a teenager, lying to my mum about meeting a friend when I was really going on a date.

I'm standing in the post office, handing over the envelope that holds a completed passport name change form to the clerk. I'm taking the leap and adding my husband's surname, Pocha, to the end of my own, Kapadia. (He's keeping his own surname, unchanged.)

Would the feminist god fly down from her humble throne and strike me for supposedly contributing to the patriarchy?

I consider myself an equal to my husband; a feminist. And some would suggest that changing one's surname is a big no-no for the sisterhood. It once symbolised the traditional transfer of 'ownership’ from father to husband. It’s the equivalent of telling your daughter she has to wear pink.

In recent years, newlyweds are increasingly voting against a name change. Roughly 20% of women keep their maiden name (18 percent in the 1990s) and a third of married women in their twenties in the UK didn't change their surname on Facebook in 2013. 

Admittedly, for some women it comes down to the sheer lack of time and patience to endure the tedious admin process a name change requires. But as feminism increasingly becomes a hot topic - A-listers are talking about it, pro-women videos are going viral and anti-sexist hashtags surface every week - it feels as if keeping your maiden name has become the flying flag for the sisterhood. A benchmark to set women against.

I’ve heard women proudly gush that they’ll never change their surname when their time comes and others go quiet when I tell them I have. Tut, tut - how could a woman who takes her husband’s name call herself a feminist? 

But what's often overlooked is that a post-marriage surname is about more than an individual proving she’s equal to her partner. It’s about family, legacy and uniting identities. 

For me, it was the most difficult, complex and weighty decision I’ve ever had to make - and there were four stages I grappled with as I contemplated my choices:

On our wedding day in July 2015. Photo by Soniya Zeb

On our wedding day in July 2015. Photo by Soniya Zeb

Step 1: Considering a non-change

At first, I hated the idea of taking on a name that wasn't mine. He felt like mine, but his surname didn't. But you know what felt worse? The thought of my future children not sharing the same surname as me (and if they took my surname, my husband would face the same predicament). While growing up, my surname was an immaterial bind between me, my parents and sisters and I liked that it unified us. It was our team name. 

If Victoria Beckham stayed an Adams, would they have become "The Beckhams"? Would Jada and Wills' clan be The Smiths if she remained a Pinkett alone? The idea of children taking their father’s surname - when their mother has retained her own - makes a nerve in the pit of my stomach slump with sadness. It is a traditional way of viewing family, and I know many families have multiple surnames, but I can't get on-board with it. And that’s before I even considered the more technical advantages such as not having to prove the child (with a different surname) you're boarding a flight with is actually yours.

Step 2: Attempting to go double-barrelled

The next option was that we both take each other’s surnames and go double-barrelled. It's a win-win situation right? But when I pictured a mini-me painstakingly spelling out "Kapadia" and then "Pocha" to a call centre teller, the idea was crushed. The Jolie-Pitts (Brad and Angelina) and Taylor-Johnsons (Sam and Aaron) are the lucky ones. But what about the Kapadia-Pochas? Now they would be a mouthful.

I started imagining an endless cycle of future generations double-barrelling their names - first two, then four, then eight… EIGHT surnames. This was clearly not a solution for us.

Surname change

When it got really tough, I considered the Phoebe approach.

Step 3: Discussing a hybrid

So what about a cool hybrid name like Dawn O’Porter’s? She famously adopted husband Chris O’Dowd’s ‘O’ and now their child is an O’Porter. It’s a great compromise. But then the cons creeped in. Not everyone’s surnames beautifully come together (Kapocha, Pochapadia) and it also meant the demise of both our families' surnames and lineage.  

Step 4: Failing and compromising 

I really wanted to find a solution that would honour both my feminist and family values, but I was left disheartened and torn. 

The truth is, there is no brilliant, flawless, female-flag-flying and practical solution all women can take up. Some of us will find that one of the above will work, and others - like me - will settle for the next best solution.

I double-barrelled my name because it was what made me feel the most comfortable. It does not mean my husband suddenly has more power over me or our relationship. It's so that down the line our lives and our children's lives will be a little easier.

Perhaps we'll never solve this great-surname conundrum and the world will be filled with a mix of maiden names, made-up names, historical surnames and more - not to mention how the question frames itself within the context of same-sex marriage. 

So we must be careful to not label 'keeping your name' as THE feminist way. It isn't so black and white. And believe me, I tried.

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