January 9, 2006

what’s in a name?

everything. a name could be an identity. a power which, unknown to you, lets you draw strength from it. a memory. an association. a feeling.

a name could be tradition. it could make you feel accepted in one place, alienated in another. p k gangadharan in kerala could feel more at home in the united states as peter ganga. sukhdeo singh would like to be suky, just like v pratap can demand so much respect when you say daku vir pratap chauhan
some names just grow on you, don’t they? if they don’t suit you, you change them.

for women the rules are generally different. the girl just born, who grows wearing her name like a second skin all her life, is expected to shed it off once she gets married. till her death, her husband’s name is then attached to hers. does she like the new name? does she feel sad parting with the old? has anyone bothered to ask? that’s not for us to know. it’s tradition, that’s the way it is. it’s unfair.

i saw a few marriages before i myself got married. few very close friends, few cousins. arranged marriages where along with the new husband, the new family, the new extended family-friends and relations, the girl also gets a new name. i could never understand it. when it was my turn, i was lucky my would-be husband would agree to my conditions:

i will not wear a ring,
i will not wear a mangal-sutra around my neck,
i will not change my name.

“sure, no problem,” he had said laughing, “do you want me to change mine?” (note: i do wear a mangal-sutra, but one i designed myself)

my father did not approve. “you can’t just live like how you want to all your life! a girl changes her name after marriage, it is normal.” and i had argued. “i was born with this name. so i see no reason why to change it. i like my name. radhika j nair. j nair. it also rhymes with jane eyre, see!?” i saw him glare at me through the rear-view mirror in the car. “when will you change?” he seemed to ask. in my mind, i replied, when it is time to change my name, i will know.

three years and six months into my marriage, i asked my husband for a different anniversary present. (of course, this, apart from the other list… a new dinner set, a pullover, jeans, dinner outside…) i asked him, for his name.

i wasn’t under any pressure. no one asked me about it. i wasn’t bored of jane eyre. it just happened. i was ready.

when i called my father this morning, he was driving again. i read out to him one of the ‘deed-agreements’ (I ABSOLUTELY and entirely renounce, relinquish and abandon the use of my former name of …. and assume adopt and determine to take and use from the date hereof the name of ….) and told him how much i hated the way it was done. such harsh words for my father’s name. i didn’t ‘abandon’ it, i merely was making a choice. already, i had turned my friends back all the way to ipswich where they had come from: they were to sign the deed as witness but i hadn’t expect the deed to sound anything like this.

two weeks later, i realised i had to decide now or never think about it again. i was looking for a response from my father. was he okay with it? my father only laughed out loud. “i am both happy and sad,” he chuckled. “…sad that my name ends here, happy because you have taken the right decision at last.”
“when i have a daughter,” i told him,”i’ll marry her off to a nair.”

less than two minutes after our conversation, the phone rang again. it was amma, asking mischievously, “hello? can i speak to mrs radhika praveen?”


  • the father said:

    Nearly 2 years ago i rang up my daughter to share my grief. I lost my home. You and Deepa are now homeless. How did it happen? My mother wished to divide her property during his life time so that there will be no propertyh hassle later,There would have been none, none of us are property conscious, we just loved our mother, our home, our family. But I agreed to her wish. My old house, my home where i was born and spent my childhood upto 15 years was given to my sister who lived in it with my mother. The house was getting old and needed heavy repeated repairs. She wanted a new home. Her husband the banker will arrange for all the funds. So one fine morning without any further notice to me, my house was brought down and along with it my home of memories of my grandma, my father, my uncle, my childhood in the company of my brothers and sisters.

    Now I have agreed (but it would have happened inevitably) to my daughter dropping off janardhan from her name. I often shared with my wife my apprehension that in the absence of a son, my name will die with me and my wife. . there will be no more janardhans in the next generation.

    These are rules of life. The old must go for the new to come. my dear child, you are blessed as
    mrs. praveen. Live your life full.
    but for god sake dont build dreams with the un born child that u will marry her to a nair etc
    who knows it is girl or boy? we gave u all freedom to do what u want and always gave chance and support in what ever way we could even beyond sometime. we only wish u do the same with your child/children. let her/him come into the world first. shadi to doooor ki baat hai.with best wishes.may ur new identity bring all
    fame and luck amma/achhan

  • shoefiend said:

    nice post. and love your achhan’s comment!

  • lavannya said:

    hahahahahaa… i know what that’s like… but you changed it!
    I didnt mine… and i think i’ll never! Legally too and for all official matters also… its always going to be an issue!
    I like the sound of Lavannya Goradia… sounds like an Italian dish!

    good to know you made your folks happy…
    came across ur blog from the listings of the best designed blog.
    Glad i came by!

  • Uma said:

    aaawww sweet.

  • Anil Kumar said:

    Indian women are changing.
    The will not accept anything in which there is no logic or no comfort factor.
    They want their own life.
    Behind four walls , today’s woman cannot be kept.

    Guys, get to the reality fast.

    Its an Awakening !!!

  • Maani said:

    Very intresting to all ur blogs,

    Good keep it up

    Thanks and Regards

  • elsa said:


    nice post. I for one have decided not to change my name if i get married. One of the reasons being that I like it the way it is. But after reading ur post i think one never knows…

  • Mind Curry said:

    very nice writing, radhika. so why did you finally decide to change the name after 3 years? what changed then? anyway, glad you could make your own choices in life. that way i feel very bad for a lot of women in kerala, and i have strong opinions about it. i have written a few posts even.

  • karunakaran said:

    nice and great!!

    radhika nannai ezhuthum, thudaruka…. ningalude vajakangal enikku ishttai…….

  • SJNAIR said:

    This is a fine blog and Radhika nair made this good, and let me say all of you that I am a nair too hope that you people will see my Blog on nair I wrote to clear that nairs and their relevance, nair products to nair community. Just log to http://www.naircaste.blogspot.com

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