What's In That Married Woman's Name?

This month being the wedding month, allow me to still delve into one of the most beautiful, and yet sometimes oppressive, products of cultural evolution: marriage.

In the early egalitarian societies, men and women were equal. In more concrete terms, it meant they had equal access to wealth, power and prestige. A woman was her own person. This was evident in the fact that the only name she was known by was her own name. (The indigenous Cordillera societies were one-name societies. According to Dr. June Prill-Brett, among the Ifontoks and Kankanaeys, the women were named after female forebears as the men were named after male ones. I believe that it was when the educational system was introduced in the Cordilleras that the indigenous peoples started using surnames. The schools simply required surnames.)

In Karl Marx's historical determinism, primitive communist societies evolved into master-slave societies, then into feudal ones. During the stage of feudalism, women and children were regarded as properties like cattle and heifers. As proof of the ownership of the feudal lords, the cattle were stamped with insignia using heated iron. The burning iron was pressed hard to the animal's skin until it inflicted a third-degree burn sure to recede into a deep scar fashioned after the owner's insignia! Fortunately, even at that age, it was inconceivable to burn human beings in that manner. Surely, however, the world had to know who they belonged to but how?

The alternative was to make the women and children carry their husbands' and fathers' names, respectively. You knew whose possession a child or wife was by the surname she carried.

Vestiges of this belief that women were properties of the men are evident in the traditional church wedding ceremony. During the ceremony, the bride is "given away" by her father. Never by her mother, in case you haven't noticed. In fact, if the father predeceased the bride, she will be given away by another male relative, usually an uncle or a brother.

To "give away" means to transfer possession from one person to another. Argg!!! Did I have to explain that one? Talk about insulting other people's intelligence. But I only want to overstate the obvious so that the significance of that part of the wedding ceremony will sink into everyone's subconscious. :-)

Because she is given away to her groom, the wife is expected to bear her husband's surname to tell the world who she "belongs" to (Ang sama ng dating, ano?). It is as if the life cycle of a woman is seen in the metamorphosis of her surname. From birth until before she gets married, she is the property of her father and must therefore wear the badge of his ownership: his name. When she marries, she sheds off her previous badge and puts on a new one-her husband's surname. Sigh.

Society counts on a married woman using her husband's surname. For years, I did not, a decision he and I reached (Thankfully, my husband is a women's rights rah-rah boy). I found out it posed problems. Before foreign affairs officials, I had to justify why I opted to use my maiden surname. I had been barraged with questions on the state of affairs in the home front simply because of the too conspicuous absence of the HIS name in some papers I wrote or signed. And to think that my marriage has always been one of the most stable in the world! Largely, this is because we respect the other's individuality. Nobody was beheaded when we got married (See my earlier post on Gender Inequality). Sometimes, I use his surname to save myself from too many questions. Like in this blog. Sige na nga.

The basic question that is seldom asked: In the Philippines, is the wife mandated by law to use her husband's surname?

Let us look at what the law has to say about the name of a married woman. Article 370 of the Civil Code says: "A married woman MAY use: 1.Her maiden first name and surname and add her husband's surname; 2. Her maiden first name and her husband's surname; or 3. Her husband's full name, but prefixing a word indicating that she is
his wife such as "Mrs."

The use of the word MAY indicates permissiveness. In other words, it is a woman's right to use or not to use her husband's surname. I do not know if my friend Harry Paltongan will agree.

Now, how many of you, married women out there, feel duped? :-)

More than ten years ago, I wrote a poem relevant to our topic:


On her wedding day, the sun shone
with either warning or promise
She looked delicate in a dainty
white dress tight around her waist
And she could not escape away
fast even if she wanted to
Was it a blessing or a curse? I
am sure, not even she knew.

With a nervous smile, she reached for
her father who “gave her away”
Like she was an object to be
alienated despite what she would say
Branded once more like a
product under a new owner
She assumed her husband’s name after
shedding that of her father

Was it a wedding or a turn-over?
Is there a difference, I wonder?

Oh, I noticed that wedding ceremonies haven't evolved yet. My sister is getting married this December. I am sure my handsome Dad whose surname I still wear proudly like a badge of honor will give her away to that very nice man who will be my brother-in-law. Good luck to him, by the way. .
Post a Comment