Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Last Names and Choices

A few days ago, there was some discussion on this blog about how to choose last names for new born children. An intriguing suggestion came along

How about asking the child himself or herself to select his or her surname?

That is, whether the child would prefer to use his / her father's surname, or his / her mother's?

Let's give them a choice too.

At times, we simply impose our ideologies, and what-we-want-tos on them, without even realizing the fact that the surname that the new-to-the-family-individual is going to get will be a matter of his/ her identification for his / her lifetime.

This is an interesting possibility. Perhaps we could have a system where a children could have the name their parents gave them at birth till they become adults. After that, they could change it to anything that they wished. (Of course, in most countries you can legally change your name to anything you want at any stage of your life. I’m talking about social customs here.)

However, this line made me go on a completely different thought tangent.

At times, we simply impose our ideologies, and what-we-want-tos on them,

When is something an ‘influence’ and when is it an imposition? For example, even if the parents didn’t choose the last name for their kids, in contemporary society, most kids would likely just go for the father’s name anyway because that’s the norm. So where does the choice lie? After all, whatever we do, we are deeply influenced by our upbringing. What is the meaning of choice in such a situation.

To begin with, having a choice implies having multiple possibilities. Unless multiple possibilities exist, choice is non-existent. Second, choice also needs the power to make a choice. If the individual is not empowered to make the choice, the choice is non-existent again.

In real life, multiple possibilities are easy to find. The power to make these choices isn’t. To get back to the chosen example, you could choose any name you want to. But legal frameworks and social norms and conventions sap away your power to do so.


  1. You're touching upon a much broader subject here. Multiple choices are still the very same choices provided by the society and environment in which a child is brought up. Which leads us to the more fundamental question of whether an individual (in terms of his psyche, his personality) can ever be independent of his society and environment. The very fact that we believe freedom to be good is because we've been hearing that since birth and have been given certain freedoms which we've grown to enjoy.

  2. Hey Thanks Vinod for making my comment a part of your blogpost, and considering the "thing" rationally!

    P.S. I wish you knew who wrote that comment.

  3. @anonymous: Thanks for reading and commenting! And you can always drop me an email and let me know who you are! :)

  4. @ Vinod

    Had I wanted to tell you my name I would have written it. It's not about whether I want to tell you my name or not, it's about you not wanting to know it. :) You would not even want to know my LAST NAME, you know. :D

    The problem is that you appreciate intelligence but not the person who is. :D

    So let it be. I am happy being anonymous. I am happy sharing only, my thoughts with you. :D

  5. @aditya: True. We've talked a lot about this before and there will be more posts coming up about this soon.

  6. Married couples can try options like:

    (1) The partners keep their names (i.e., nothing changes).

    (2) One partner takes the name of the other.

    (3) One partner changes to a “hyphenated” name by adding the partner’s name (it can also be done without a hyphen).

    (4) One partner takes the last name of the other and, in addition, adds the previous last name as a middle name.

    (5) Both partners change their last names to a new blended name.

    How about these Vinod?