So you are now Mrs. X?: Hits and Mrs.

Anabelle Ragsag on retaining her maiden name after marriage and the law that allows Filipina women to do the same

As they say, there’s no place like home.

After living away from the Philippines for seven years first as a graduate student and later on, working in different capacities in international organizations, each trip to the Philippines is a cause for sleepless nights filled with anticipation. There is so much to look forward to: getting together with family, friends and indulging in the food that I could not cook myself because the ingredients or its alternatives are not easy to find abroad.

All fun and cozy, it sounds–or not.

When in the Philippines, I also take time out from all the fun to do necessary transactions like updating pension policies, making medical checkups, visits to the bank, among others.  Some of these transactions require me to indicate my marital status.  But since I chose not to change my last name, I inevitably find myself faced with a barrage of questions as to why my maiden name remains to be mine.

Some questions are forthright and clinical, and a short answer would suffice. Some, with the mind of an Inquisitor, fall along the lines of insinuation, “Di ka naman ata kasal kasi pangalan mo pa din”.  [Maybe you’re not really married, that’s why you’re still using your own [maiden] name.]  In the past, I would always get annoyed by this line of questioning, who wouldn’t?

Now, three years, later, my perspective has changed. Perhaps I got older, or I simply got tired of getting annoyed, but now each time a hullabaloo is raised because of the use of my maiden name, I now see it as an opportunity to evangelize–a way to make this practice understood.

All this makes me recall those times when I was still single. I had lots of practice in explaining this choice among my friends–even years before I met my husband, even during years when I was not in a relationship at all.  Arriving at this choice is a mush of different factors; among them an understanding that an identity is something personal, something important to a person’s sense of being, and you can say, dignity.  I realized that love and marriage do not necessarily have to be antagonistic to one’s decision to retain her maiden name. It was helpful too, to be in a community of like-minded academic friends on this matter, knowing that there are others who are doing the same.  My younger sister who has been living a continent away has a world divorced from feminist theorizing (though I know she is a feminist at heart), also retained her maiden name when she got married.  It may have been all theory then, but my sister who married ahead of me, was acting on this decision already.

A friend told me that negotiations, in a marriage, like in a job, happen before you have signed on the dotted line.  During the two years that we are dating, I scoured my husband’s mind and heart about things like marital names, the desire to help parents and family, family role expectations, money-keeping, among others.  By the time that we got married in 2008, I felt that we had properly negotiated the terms of our relationship.  My husband, who comes from a different cultural and national tradition often perceived to be more conservative than others, has rallied behind my choice.

The idea of retaining one’s maiden name may be revolutionary in the Philippines, but in my husband’s home country, it is the norm.  In the other countries where I have lived,  norms are different too. In Germany, for instance, I know of a friend who carried a hyphenated name after marriage but not in the way we know it in the Philippines.  Instead of “maiden name-husband’s name”, it is written as “husband’s name-maiden name”.  In a province in Indonesia, the men only have one name, but get their surnames usually given by the maternal side of the family when they are married.  I heard of an acquaintance in Norway who carried his wife’s surname as his own hyphenated name, so they have the same surnames.  All these examples further strengthened my resolve that retaining one’s maiden name after marriage is but one choice among a universe of choices in the world. It is a choice that I am sticking to.

Even our Civil Code is sympathetic

“If you knew you could keep your name after marriage, you would not change too, right?” was my offhand way of answering the curious, sometimes prying questions that my choice was met with.

Though no lawyer, I start with Article 370 of the New Civil Code of the Philippines, which provides that Filipino women have the option, and not a duty to adopt the surname of her husband.

In other words, married women have the prerogative to choose the state of their surname after marriage. These options include the retention of one’s maiden name.

What sticks to my listener’s mind as well is the reminder that a change in civil status does not necessitate a change in name.  It is a choice, rather than a mandatory. The law protects this principle.

A close friend and I love quoting what Erica Jong wrote:

“Naming oneself is an act of the poet and the revolutionary. To take away one’s name is to remove one’s identity. Immigration officials do this to refugees. Husbands routinely do this to wives.”

I have softened on the use of this quote.

Having lived in different countries abroad from–progressing and progressive, rigid and moderate, closed and open–I have come to realize that the naming process as we know it, is not the same everywhere. And husbands, for that matter, are not the enemies here.  It also does not mean that those who adopt their husband’s surname after marriage have turned their back from the land of brave women.

What we need to remedy is that which we take for granted:  that as a routine, Filipino women, after marriage have to change their identities.


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