I met my husband when I was 18, and we got married when I was 20. When I look back at my life (I’m 39 now), there are many moments of disbelief. Don’t get me wrong, I’m generally very happy with how my life turned out, but as they say – hindsight is 20/20. My one big regret though, I gave up my maiden name.
Let me make it totally clear first that no one made me change my name. On the flip though, no one in my family ever brought it up as a topic of discussion either. None of my sisters or older cousins even asked me if I was planning on hyphenating my name.
Funny enough, I didn’t actually change my name right away. For the first three years of our marriage, I just kept my last name because I was being lazy about updating my documents. I kept telling myself that I would update my “official name” when my licence expired, but I had already started addressing myself as Raj Thandhi. That’s what my email said at work, and it was how I was introduced at meetings. Then my son was born, and I started thinking about last names and what they mean.
I’m one of four girls, no brothers. Anyone from a Punjabi family knows what that meant for my sisters and I growing up in the 80s and 90s. We were constantly reminded of the fact that we weren’t boys by our relatives. Everywhere we turned whether it was music, movies, or pop culture we were told that desi parents needed boys. Who would carry on their family name, and complete their final rights when it was time to leave the world? I was so moved by my thoughts on last name that I gave my son my maiden name as a middle name. My family name will carry on I thought to myself.
Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and tell that exhausted anxious young mother that there was one other person that could carry on her family name – her. Sadly that didn’t happen, and when my son was 5 months old as I was getting ready to take an international flight with him, a travel agent pointed out that our ID didn’t match when I went to get the tickets. He was adamant that even though Armaan’s birth certificate had my last name as his middle name, it was too risky to try and take him out of the country alone. Apparently they were never going to let me fly with him and believe I was his mother if we didn’t have the same last name.
So, I rushed to update my ID and passport and in the confusion and haste, I didn’t even think about hyphenating my last name. I wish I could say I forgot to, but the truth is I didn’t even consider it. Just like that, I gave up the identity I had for 20 years and became someone else. Someone’s wife, and someone’s mother.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband and kids, and I love our little family, but my almost 40 year old self knows that last names don’t make a family – they make an identity. Sometimes when I reach a professional milestone and I see my name printed in the press, or I receive an award or designation, I feel a wince inside of me. There is a part of me that can’t help but think, it was my family, my parents, and my experiences that made me a writer, a foodie, the person I am today, and all the credit goes to a different identity.
Something else I wish I could go back and tell my 23 year old self is, being a good daughter, a good wife, or a good mom isn’t your identity. You are your own identity.
For the record … I’ve had this conversation with both my husband and my kids, so I’m not nervous of putting it out in the world. Also, I’ve spent serious time considering changing my name now and hyphenating it, but I don’t think it would be a good decision professionally at this point. Instead, I’m just sharing my story here so that it might prompt someone else to think and make an actual decision, not just follow the norm.