What’s a woman’s name worth?

FEBRUARY 12 ― When a woman gets married and has children, the offspring usually adopt their father’s name/ surname.

In Malaysia, Indian, Chinese and Malay women legally keep their maiden names after marriage, though they may be socially addressed by their husband’s name/ surname. Cities and countries like Quebec, Greece and France even forbid married women from legally taking their husband’s surname.

Malaysia and these countries are much more progressive in this respect than some Western countries like the US, where only 20 or 30 per cent of women keep their maiden names after marriage.

Even though Malaysian women generally keep their maiden names after marriage, their children are still named after their father. In Chinese families, the children follow the father’s surname; while Indians and Malays usually do patronymic naming, where the children take the father’s given name.

Cultural priority on a man’s name can be seen in events like weddings.

At a recent Chinese wedding dinner I attended, the groom’s full name was spelled out on the backdrop of the stage, while only the bride’s first name was mentioned. Only the groom and his father gave speeches. When the bridal couple and their parents marched towards the stage, the groom’s parents were in front of the bride’s. Should the couple have children, they’ll probably take their father’s surname.

Women are the ones who go through pregnancy for nine months and play the main caregiver role for at least the first two years of the child’s life by breastfeeding it.

So why shouldn’t children take their mother’s surname or use matronymics? 

Following the male lineage just for the reason of establishing paternity (and subsequently, property inheritance) only reinforces the cultural value of maleness over femaleness. Not taking the father’s name (especially if the child was born out of wedlock) opens up the child to ridicule and the mother to slut-shaming.

It’s as if we need (literally) the male stamp of approval through their name.

In China, a preference for sons amid the country’s one-child policy that was scrapped last year after 35 years had led to sex-selective abortions, infanticide, and the abandonment of female babies. This caused a huge gender gap, an excess of tens of millions of men who will likely die single, and has sparked concern about a rise in crime, social instability and sexual violence.

One way to correct the system and to recognise women in history is to have more children take their mother’s name.

Pictures at the Khoo Kongsi in Penang that I recently visited featured only men. The 650-year-old history of the Chinese clan did not trace women’s lineage.

Women are only treated as birthers. Their names and offspring are not recorded in history. They are made invisible because we place a higher value on paternity than maternity.

If I get married and have children, I would want them to take my surname, which is a very cool and unique “Boo”, not my husband’s name. Hyphenation or creating an amalgam of my husband’s and my names are possible options, but they could sound awkward.

Lots of other women are probably okay with their children taking their husband’s name. They say there are other more valuable things than a name, and besides, they’re proud to do it too. That’s fine.

But as for me, I just want my kids to have my surname because my name is all that will survive in the generations to come after I die.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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