If we are done obsessing with Taimur, the newborn son of actors Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan, can we please move the lens on his surname, Ali Khan Pataudi, for the sake of sexual equality, or feminism, if you may. You do have some hope from a ‘love jihad’ even if the woman has apparently adopted the husband’s surname to make hers double-barreled, but that was not to be. It isn’t Taimur, but the remainder of the name that has left me disappointed and piqued. It is all about Saif’s so-called royal lineage. The woman, the wife and the mother is excluded once again.
While social space’s right wing and ‘moral’ brigade pounced on the celebrity couple for naming their son after a barbaric Turkish king, exposing their Islamophobia yet again, the discussions among the ‘enlightened’ circles centred on how it was their personal choice. Most of us did not see, or maybe chose to overlook, the patriarchy that is so deeply inherent in the name.
I used to be curious about first names, but it is now surnames that I keenly watch out for. A cursory glance around shows children continue to adopt the father’s surname even in these times of well, purported, sexual equality. This is being done in the garb of tradition, culture or practicality without anyone raising so much as an eyebrow. Nobody is calling it out as deeply patriarchal and outright sexist. It is simply a given, which is what is sad. It is about time that when a woman gives birth to a child, she and her spouse discard the traditional naming practices, engage in a discussion, explore options and find a feminist solution to surnames. There is no law in our country that penalises a man if his child does not adopt his surname. It is not his right.
As a friend points out, women mostly don’t propose their surnames because of years of conditioning and out of a sense of propriety. They fear shaking up the convention and bruising the male ego. As for men, it is either too much for them to give up their entitlement to the child or it never strikes them to bring this up.
My daughter has taken my first name as her middle name, and my husband’s first name as her last name. Is it complicated? May be. A friend calls her “the lady with three first names. Is it a radical step? I never thought so until I started paying attention to the surnames of the children of my friends and acquaintances.
It seems just a handful of men and women haven’t failed at feminism. A friend’s husband himself proposed that her son begets the mother’s surname. It is not a coincidence that this couple had once raised the hackles of the authorities in a conservative university. Another friend’s daughter carries her surname. Now that she is set to be separated from the husband, she is glad she held her ground despite days of heated argument with the husband. A friend wanted a mononym for her son and the husband had no issues. On a different note, a shout out to this friend for dropping her surname and taking her father’s first name in her teens so that nobody gets to know her (upper) caste credentials.
Then, there are matrilineal societies in Kerala where the child adopts the mother’s surname. There are also tribal societies, which though mostly unlettered in the conventional sense, have a greater sense of gender equality. A lesson or two can also be learnt from Meghalaya where children take the mother’s name.
My parents had given me and my three sisters different surnames altogether. They said we did not need anybody’s identity to lean on. But as we were growing up, we all assumed my father’s surname on our own and dropped the ones he gave us. As for my daughter, it is up to her what she does with her “three first names” when she turns 18, or maybe earlier.
And dear Taimur, I hope you also grow up with the freedom one day to do whatever you want with your name. Include your illustrious mother in it. Or break free from all.