In the name of the Father

Last week, I stumbled upon a post from the Guardian bemoaning the travel troubles of parents who do not share their child’s surname. As I read, I laughed and inwardly cringed at the same time. I’ve been in the same boat enough times to know exactly how that feels. Though I have never actually been asked point blank to ‘prove that you are your daughter’s mother’, it has been close. In fact, to make matters worse, not only do my daughter and I have different surnames – she and her Dad also have no common one. Yes. We are a family of three different surnames.

In the name of the Father

To cut a long story short: I retained my maiden name and in my daughter’s case she got surname-d her Dad’s middle name because of south Indian traditions – blah, blah, blah. And then add to the merry melee the fact that her place of birth is somewhere in Europe but she carries an Indian passport. Traveling and filling forms just takes a whole new dimension.

I can understand a border security issue in having three people with different surnames being allowed to pass through without enough proof of relationship. But it is ridiculous to be questioned every time about your choice of name (We live in a world with people called and Snoop Dogg for heaven’s sake!). All our official documents have our relationships stamped and ratified. So why make an issue out of it every time one travels?

And then there are the PNR’s. I have lost count of the number of times our little family of three has been assigned seats in three different parts of the aeroplane, just because our names differ. Travel agents, booking systems and forces unknown seem to have issue with our different surnames as well. Almost every second flight we take together seems to have one harried episode of begging airline staff, fellow travellers and random others to exchange seats in a bid to sit together.

And I know for a fact that we are not alone. As the article in the Guardian is proof, it is a common dilemma. The easiest way to rectify it would be to go get a common surname. But what if one doesn’t want to? Our names are our identities. And we need to have control over our identity and we expect the same for our children, don’t we?

Historically, it has been the name of the father that has been called the surname. Thankfully, that is changing now. A few brave people are going in for double-barreled surnames (a combination of mother’s and father’s name). And a very small and extremely brave group has let go of the surname for good.

Given the fact that we the parents, are responsible for naming our children when they are born it falls upon us to decide what is the legacy in the name that our child will carry. And if some of us do decide to keep the slate clean of any such legacies of name or lineage, our decision should be honoured, don’t you think?

Do you have any such name stories that have left you fuming? Did you ever reckon that the simple act of naming a child could have such far-reaching consequences? Oh, and have you heard of Hashtag and Blue Ivy 😉


  • Do the supercops manning border check the column ” Father’s name” on the passport… I guess not…… 🙂
    I do know some of my friends from AP whose name is as big as a Haiku and nobody in family shares the same last name…..:)

    • Nidhi

      Ah..exactly – fathers get away with a lot don’t they 😉 I have always had a problem with that ! Though I do have a feeling that if my husband was to travel alone with the kiddo – he could be stopped – because of the different surnames – though I really don’t wish it to happen :/

  • I am sure I am gonna also face raised brows! Damn, I can so very well relate with it!..

    • Nidhi

      Don’t worry Vandana – let us all wear them down with our names – kitne dinnon tak pareshaan karenge!

  • Fab

    My husband, son and I have three different surnames as well!! What actually irks me is when people attach their caste names as surnames. Apparently, once upon a time (where the caste system belongs), people of higher castes wanted to show their superiority and be identified by their caste. It’s sick when people today continue the same, even though I understand that everyone has the freedom to name their kids according to their choice.

    • Nidhi

      Yes – I think the ‘surname’ thing in India especially is deeply connected to the caste system. It’s utility has far stretched beyond any point of value..but many stick on with it – well, to each his/her own!

  • I totally agree…. I haven’t changed my surname post marriage and people have a 1000 questions on that. Thankfully now it has become quite common. Another weird thing is when you have an unusual surname (no matter how cool I think it is), people always by default start guessing my place of birth/religion when they hear my name. It’s irritating.

    • Nidhi

      I know – the guessing games are the most irritating! If only they spent as much time in pronouncing the name right instead. Many people go on mis-pronouncing and mis-spelling names despite being corrected ad nauseum.

      • Mis-pronouncing even if you check them 10 times … I love my name so much (thanks to my parents) but I through my life I have to correct someone or the other every single day. 🙂

  • Amrita thavrani

    Do we really need surnames ? I want to live in a world where we can identified by a single word.

    • Oh I second for a world without surnames. It is very common that we try to identify people’s religion/caste through the surnames. Now one Neha can be Walia [Sardarni] or Sharma [Brahman] or Potlaraju [Telegu] or Roy [Bengali] how on earth does it matter. It is the person you need to relate to not the region/belief they come from.

      • Nidhi

        Incidentally do you remember that ‘Friends’ episode where Phoebe renames herself ‘Banana Hammock’ ? It was hilarious 🙂

        • And yeah, Mike renamed himself as Crap Bag. Ha! Ha! Jokes apart, in our generation, many women are not changing their surnames and many are also opting for creative names for their children. So this is going to happen to a lot of people really!
          Note: You know, in Bihar, kids were given 2 names instead of a name and a surname to protect their caste identity like Saurabh Suman as caste rivalries were pretty rampant. It happens even now. And yes, as someone said, we do slot people, unintentionally, by their surname!

          • Nidhi

            Thats very interesting – about the Bihari naming tradition – didn’t know about it!

    • Nidhi

      I would love that! We could always have a unique second name of our choice which could be used as an identifier 🙂 I would love to be called Nidhi TypeWriterMom then 😉

  • Roshni

    I have a grouse all right….I changed my maiden name, which was 5 letters long, to my husband’s surname, which is 12 letters long!! What was I thinking?!!

    • Nidhi

      I am with you – I have always had a long surname! Problematic in all sorts of ways 😉

  • I haven’t changed my maiden name after marriage… yet! It’s been 6 years of marriage. I remember, we were going for our honeymoon and the immigration officer at the Delhi Int’l airport, looked at my passport and then at the chura-clad-newly-wed-types-me and said “Madam, ab to aapki shaadi ho gayi hai. Ab to aapko naam badalna padega. Honeymoon se vaapis aake kar lena.” I waited for him to finish stamping and then I smiled, said “Aapne shaadi ke baad apna naam badla tha kya? and walked away. I was fuming inside, yet happy too!
    It’s not that I find taking the husband’s name repulsive or against my closet-feminism principles but when people tell me I need to do a certain thing because of so-and-so society rules, the rebel in me awakens. I might change my name some day, I might not, but till then I am happy!! 🙂

    • Aparna Jha

      This post reminds me of how my sister gets called Mrs. Kushagra instead of Mrs. Jha or just Archana as her son’s name is Luv Kushagra and he doesn’t have a surname. It’s high time we accepted the fact that there can be people who wouldn’t like a surname and let them be instead of questioning them for it at every step.

      • Nidhi

        Totally agree – whats with the surname anyway? I am so glad your sister did away with it altogether 🙂

    • Nidhi

      Hi five to you for saying that to the immigration officer! I also haven’t changed my name- which was fine till a few years into my marriage but when my daughter was born I had to get my husband’s name endorsed on my passport (thankfully he also had to get my name put on his passport!) – but the police officer who did our verification asked me : “Aap ab bhi Papa kaa naam kyon rakhti hain. Aapko achcha lagata hai aisa, aapke pass toh ab husband hai”. I was insanely angry..told him, “Yeh mere Papa kaa naam nahi, mera naam hai – bachpan se!”..anyways.!Phew!

  • I experienced this frustration once when our flight was cancelled and the airline wanted to squeeze us onto a flight in three separate areas. There would be my husband and I separated (one of whom would carry then-infant Flowergirl on their lap without a co-parent’s help) and our five year old in his own separate seat. Again, they wanted five year old Sunboy to sit alone on a flight! We asked for our money back and stayed home for the holiday. 🙂
    I can’t imagine going through the hassle each time you travel. There should be a proof of family card…or something! 🙂

  • Sony


    I so totally relate to this yaar. I kept my surname after marriage but oh my god, the questions from relatives, friends and every tom, dick and harry leave me fuming. And then I did the ultimate feminist thing (according to some people). My kid has both our names (ok mine is classified as middle name and his father’s becomes the surname in documents). I don’t see why our kids can’t have their mother’s name. After all we did contibute more than 50% in their birth.