When Saswati Gupta and her husband moved into their new apartment recently their nameplate on the door became a talking point among curious neighbours. "It was very funny because our neighbours thought that we are living together. Our surnames are different because I have retained my maiden surname," said Saswati.
Saswati is not the only woman who has taken such a decision post-marriage. More and more women prefer to stick to their maiden surnames nowadays.
"The Supreme Court passed the landmark judgement recently that it would allow women to make a choice when it comes to their surname," said advocate Subrata Mukherjee. "It is not always necessary to submit an affidavit if you have changed your surname. But it's better to keep such official documents in order since one might need them while opening a bank account, or applying for a visa," he explained.
"Women are not bound by any law when it comes to their surnames. They are free to take on any surname, be it of their father or their husband," said advocate Tamal Mukherjee. "But when one wants to open a bank account, or in any matter which has legal ramification, it might become necessary to produce an affidavit," he clarified.
As actress Sreelekha Mitra puts it, "I am not trying to prove a point. It's just that I can't imagine separating Mitra from Sreelekha. It's like taking away a part of me," said the recently married actor justifying her decision of retaining her maiden surname.
For some women, it seems, penning a new surname is like responding to a new name altogether. "Since women have a mind of their own they don't want to part with an integral part of their identity," said Rajasree Panja, another housewife, who has retained her surname. But Soma Mitra, who has changed her surname after marriage has a valid point to make. "Even if you want to retain your maiden surname then it's after all the surname of yet another man, your father. How many people actually take their mother's surname?" she asked.
On second thoughts, that's a pertinent question. And even if there are instances of people taking up the mother's surname, in most cases it's an unconscious decision. Take for instance actor Nelanjana Bhowmik, who has adopted the surname of her mother, actor Anjana Bhowmik. So have actors Raima and Riya Sen — daughter of Moonmoon Sen. Raima says, "It's not a conscious decision. My college certificate and bank accounts are still Dev-Varma but since the days of Godmother I have been known as Raima Sen in the film industry." The same goes for Nelanjana. "When I made my debut in Kolkata, people automatically started calling me Nelanjana Bhowmik. I personally don't believe in surnames but I think Bhowmik has definitely worked for me," said the actress.
Working women often prefer to stick to a maiden surname because that has much to do with their individual identity. Sudakshina Roy, a television presenter said, "People have known me on television by my maiden name. I prefer not to change it." But there are some women who prefer to change it on purpose. As Priyangini Mazumder puts it, "I never thought that a person's identity depends on a surname. I am the same person even after marriage. But to tell you very frankly I liked my husband's surname more."
Some, however, prefer to club the maiden and married surnames. Like author Nabanita Deb Sen, or Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak. Actor Konkona Sen Sharma has clubbed both her parents surnames — Aparna Sen and Mukul Sharma. Sonali C. Chatterjee, a working woman said, "The C stands for my maiden surname Chandra. I did not want to part with it but writing both would have made my name very long. Opting for a C made my name sound catchy too."
In an era when women have so much liberty asking a question like, "Then what will happen to your child's surname?" seems simplistic. But still some women prefer to change their surname after marriage only because of their child. As Sushmita Ray Chaudhuri, a banker settled in London says, "I feel if we both have separate surnames, my child will have a identity crisis. He/she may think that her parents are separate and not part of the same family." That's precisely the problem many children face when parents get divorced and the mother goes back to her maiden surname, but the child carries the father's surname. "I must say I went through hell when I had to admit my son in a school after my divorce. The authorities asked a host of questions," said Arunima Roy
24 Jan 2004, TNN
KEEPING THE MAIDEN NAME
"The first thing to do in this case is to get a proof of relationship — marriage certificate in Neha's case. That would see her through most of the joint investments," says Kartik Jhaveri, a chartered wealth manager and certified financial planner with Transcend India.
According to Hindu Law, by default, the woman's name changes and the husband's name becomes her second name. So, if the woman wants to maintain her maiden name, then she should apply for the same with a gazetted officer. Then it gets published in the newspaper. "Today, most women manage with the marriage certificate alone," Mr Jhaveri adds. This could be problematic in cases of family disputes where there are possibilities of the woman's identity being questioned. It's always better to have the papers in order.
ADOPTING THE NEW SURNAME
This is a common practice adopted by most married women. In such a case, the logical thing to do would be the marriage registration.
Legally, there are two ways to go for the name change. One is to submit a joint notarised affidavit or a copy of the official government gazette mentioning your new name. Then your husband and you would need to make a joint notarised affidavit on stamp paper, signed by a magistrate or a notary. The affidavit also carries a joint photograph of your husband and you. This notarised affidavit, along with your marriage certificate, is enough to change your name at the bank, on your passport, on the Permanent Account Number (PAN) and driving licence.
Then the second step would be to apply for a new passport. Then there would be a deletion of your name from the old ration card and its addition to the new one. Similarly, you have to apply for a new PAN card with the old number. This would be to avoid duplication of PAN. Only after you complete the whole procedure, should you proceed with purchase of assets, joint holdings and fair distribution of expenses.
MAIDEN NAME LINKED TO NEW SURNAME
This is a new trend, mostly used by actors and celebrities. Eg: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. This option is more complicated as the woman has to go through the legal procedure mentioned in case 1 and the entire set of formalities mentioned in case 2.
It's more difficult than adopting just the new surname because the Hindu Marriage Act anyway changes the name by default. Then, you are just left with some bit of paperwork for the name change. But in this case, it's like adopting a new name altogether, says Suresh Gupta, an advocate.
Indian law permits a woman to make a choice when it comes to their surname. But when it comes to opening a joint account, joint investments or even co-owning a house, the woman may be asked to produce an affidavit. So, it's better to keep it handy all the time for joint propositions, Mr Gupta adds.
But once you make a decision, there should be uniformity in all documents — be it your passport, PAN or even your investments. It is for you to decide whether you want to play around with your name or leave it where it was. But stick to your decision to avoid unnecessary legal and administrative hassles. If you have reworked your name, then you will have to keep track of all the places where you need to make the change. Most importantly, without dealing with the possible name change, it is prudent to avoid investments whatsoever.
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