We got married last year in a marriage marathon between France and India. Once the civil marriage was done, I came back to work the next day and my German colleagues were asking me how they should call me now. Since my husband works for the same company I told them that I would keep my maiden name at work and go by my husband name in private. After over a year of marriage I came to realize that this option only works in France and here is why.
Since the French Revolution it is not possible to legally change your name after marriage. Officially changing your name is extremely difficult and costly, you have to prove that you suffer a prejudice from your existing name (e.g. people named adolf or adolphe after 1945) or that the name you wish to take will become extinct otherwise (rare or aristocratic name without male descent can go to daughter’s family). Once the case is made, you have to pay the state to advertise the new name is a serie of nationwide publication including the journal officiel. In practice most women are known under their married name which can be written as a voluntary ad-on on our national ID name X spouse name Y. (This is what I chose) One can also choose to add a “usual name” that’s a combo of both name X-Y or the reverse. The idea is basically to keep your name but have on your ID the same name as your potential future children to make your life easier (pick-up at daycare, etc.).
Funny story is that when we traveled with my parents in India, the trip was booked under everyone birth name as it is the only one which airlines accept outside of France. My mum’s maiden name was alphabetically the first and we were greeted everywhere as D and party. I thought my old school dad would make a scene but after entering her maiden name to get WiFi at literally every hotel we went he was pretty good Sport about it.
Married people have to share one name, earlier the woman would always take the husband name but since 1976 some men chose to take their wife’s name or go on with a combination of both that would then be passed down to their children. In my friends group, they mostly picked up whichever name sounded best or was the least common.
In my case when they transcribed my wedding record they changed my name to my husband name in all the civil record in Germany (city hall, tax office, health insurance). This was month before I had a new ID with my husband name as an add-on. I still do not have a passport with his name on it.
Just yesterday when I registered our new address with the city they forced me to sign with my husband name for the first time and I hated it!
One other thing I hate about this system is that if your marriage ends for whatever reason, German ladies have to pay about 3,000€ to the state to get their birth name back, what most don’t have the money to do.
In India, ladies traditionally used to change their full identity after marriage. During one of the wedding ritual the husband gives her a new first name which he picked together with his family. They often pick the name of the goddess matching to the husband’s god name. The bride would also get her husband first name as a second first name. Imagine your husband is named Ram Deshpande and they rename you Sita (matching goddess), you would then go by Sita Ram Deshpande.
Once the wedding is registered with the state they would then go through with the official name change with the state and all authorities or decide to keep the given name inside the family and leave the official name as it was. Because elderly in my husband’s family can’t pronounce my first name I agreed to get an Indian first name Shivani. To this day whenever a family member in India call me by that name I need 5 minutes to understand that they are calling me. I expect this tradition to die out with the next generation as most brides refuse to get their first name changed and that a lot of groom also set it as a condition with their family.
While I love the idea that we are one family now and that we should share one name. I am only starting to grasp how many mixed feelings the process of name changing brings. I want to keep my identity and not be a property of my husband but at the same time I feel like kids taking the husband name is a recognition of their paternity. I am not ready to break with traditions.
I am very lucky to have the full support of my husband with whatever I choose to do to simply my multiple identity cross-border situation.