What does it mean to identify with a name? It comes with a host of implications, especially in our society: caste, class, gender... and so on. Quite a few of my friends, especially on Facebook, have taken to exploring alternative names. People who have harked back to their mothers, people who have created fanciful names, or people who have chosen to maintain only their name, minus the surname (i.e. their father’s/husband’s name).
So, one may ask, what’s in a name? Why even bother to change it? Is this even an important act in a world filled with uncountable atrocities- rape, physical abuse etc.? Shouldn't these be the issues we should be fighting for? Why can one not just maintain the name given to them?
Often however, maybe not specifically in this context, I have heard people ask if something is a fight worth fighting. Is it significant? Is fighting for temple rights significant? Is a woman who runs a marathon on her period without a pad significant? Is changing your name significant? It is such a trivial notion. How is it going to change perceptions? What effect will it have on a larger scale? How will it benefit the greater good?
But, what is this notion of the greater good? Who decides what is significant and what is not? Recently I came across a post that highlights this:
The moment one has stated that an issue is ‘unimportant’ or ‘insignificant’, the implication is that the way things are currently is all right; manageable. But equality isn't about what is manageable. It ought to be about the ideology behind statements, actions and events. When someone states that certain situations needn't be questioned they are accepting an inequality, however trivial it may seem.
But, feminism anywhere (and for people who might argue, I am discussing a feminism that emphasises the equality of men and women) and at any level is a struggle for equality. I know women and men who are doing this in a radical manner- questioning the norms of marriage, or patriarchy, or gender openly and bravely.
But there are those who do this in small ways, in what is considered ‘insignificant’ ways. And this is equally important, because it is from the small ideas that big notions grow. When one of my friends changed her Facebook name, for instance, she was faced with a verbal attack on her personal stance towards her family name. But such a move, to alter one’s name, is not about the personal. The argument that one can support a cause only because they have a personal agenda behind it is invalid and narrow-minded.
It remains a fact that there are many people out there who are unaware of the politics behind the way names function- where either the father’s name or that of the husband is taken as the surname. It does not require a personal struggle with family or society to act as a cause for change. There are people who choose not to use the father’s name; choose not to alter their names after marriage... The understanding of the manner in which society functions to restrict equality is enough. It is not about the individual, but about the larger society.
That such questions arise is in itself proof that these acts are not ‘insignificant’. They are actions which believe that equality implies the acceptance and tolerance of my notions, irrespective of your belief. And this is true of temple rights as well.
I personally may or may not care about temple entry. But there are millions of women who are denied access to praying to their gods only because they are on their period. And whether or not I personally want to enter temples, it is crucial for us to accept that this is important for so many other women. Whatever the reasons for the restriction, the eventual outcome is the lack of equality.
In the discussion about equality and the struggle for it, every action- big or small- is equally important. And in defining oneself and one’s stance, whether or not it impacts a huge group of people, it is crucial in creating dialogue. It is essential to have an open interaction between people of different mindsets, in order to understand one’s position, in order to discuss the politics behind an individual’s act (in this case the act of name changing), and hopefully in order to initiate a change in societal norms regarding gender equality. Unfortunately that dialogue is not often open, and two-sided. But hopefully that dialogue will help question identities.