The last word on last names

Women in Nepal and America feel similarly about keeping or changing their last names after marriage


I have always been proud of my name, and cannot imagine it being anything else. From the time I could write, there was this special attachment to my given name and the last name Rajbhandary with a ‘y’ and not ‘i’ that came with it — taking pride in being a Patan Newa from Kwalkhu.

It is a norm in many societies, including Nepal, for many married women to take the husband’s last name, but that never made sense to me. Why did getting married require the women to change surnames they have lived with it all their lives, and men don’t have to do that?

Even as a young girl with crushes on multiple boy bands, I never considered being a Mrs. Anything, even during the height of my love for the Backstreet Boys.

I have my father’s last name, which is my connection to my culture, ethnic group, and nationality. It represents me and makes me who I am. I would feel like someone else if I had to change it.

Having said that, people are free to change their last names, and nowadays, many couples in fact take each other’s surnames. But women are generally expected to take their husband’s, some hyphenate it together while others keep their maiden name.

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Laura didn’t feel the need to change her last name after she was married. “I have lived and accomplished many things with my name in 35 years. I can’t imagine giving up all that history,” she says, adding that it would feel like a betrayal to give it up. “Not to mention the need to hold down the family name as an only child.”

Priya is no different. “Changing your last name won’t change your bond with your partner. The feelings would be the same, and it is an individual’s choice,” she says.

Some people simply choose not to go through all the paperwork to change their last name in legal documents from before their marriage. Saakshi is among those women.

For Kriti on the other hand, it is about her very identity. “I have been known by my given full name all my life. It is who I am, have been, and always will be. I was always sure about keeping my last name even after marriage,” she says adding that marriage is a partnership between two people and neither one should lose their identity after getting married.

She adds, “I never asked for permission to keep my last name. Rather, it was always understood between my partner and me.”

Prachi has been married for a few years with a daughter. As a professional, she has been known by her maiden name and didn’t want to go through the name change process. “However, the most important reason I am not changing my last name is that I don’t want to,” she says.

To be sure, plenty of women also prefer to change their last name, sometimes for a good reason. One of them is Sheela who is married with two beautiful girls. “I changed my last name because my mother kept her last name, and it created so much confusion, I always wondered why my parents had two different last names.”

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After having children herself, Sheela found it much easier to have the same last name as a family unit. “It's much easier to travel together," she adds.

Emily found a way to keep her maiden name and take her husband's too. She says, "I changed my last name as a tradition. To hold on to my identity, I kept my maiden name as my middle name."

There is no universal rule about changing one’s last name after marriage. Each to their own. But there is an unspoken pressure of various forms on Nepali women to change their last name after their wedding, which is quite obsolete in this day and age.

Whether you choose to keep or change your last name after marriage, it should be your decision. You have to do what is right for you.

Some names have been altered at the request of interviewees.

Anjana Rajbhandary writes this Nepali Times column Life Time about mental health, physical health and socio-cultural issues.

Anjana Rajbhandary