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The great switcheroo
Post her famed breakup with Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore responded with, amongst filing for divorce and other things, a new twitter handle. She tweeted for new name suggestions and millions of fans were quick to respond. @justdemi has now left @mrskutcher far behind. But then, when you are Demi Moore, thinking of a new handle will be the least of your problems. Hopefully, she will not be entangled in paperwork to affect the name change as her official documents would still be in her maiden name - Moore.
Tara Sengupta is not Demi Moore. When she wanted to go back to her maiden name, Tara Khilnani, post her divorce, the paperwork seemed more agonising than the actual divorce. The biggest demon was the passport. She was told by the passport office that it would take three months to verify the divorce decree, which incidentally was issued in the same city as her passport, and where she also lived. She was in a fix. This meant that she couldn't travel, which wasn't feasible as her job as a trainer required her to travel often. So now, she is stuck with a passport under her married name and visa authorities questioning her whenever she travels abroad, "So why haven't you changed your name on the passport if you are divorced?"
Considering that marital status is a looming detail to fill in most forms (and visa forms pretty much dissect your relationship status and its gory details) your name post divorce, whether changed or unchanged is always up for scrutiny.
"I wish authorities were more sensitive about probing such details, " says Aparna Ramchandra, for whom it took close to three years to change her name back to her maiden name after divorce. "It's not that you are clinging to the married name with some ulterior motive, " says the mother of an eight-year old who changed her name to Aparna Burli after marriage as it was mandatory to do so since she had moved to the UK as a dependent on her then husband's work permit. After her bitter divorce, she went through a complicated machinery of paperwork to claim her maiden name back, as practically all her documents were in her married name. "My son still has his father's name and often asks me why he can't have mine and it's awkward to explain. I will leave the choice to him I guess, but it will mean still more paperwork, " she sighs.
"Changing one's name post marriage is highly avoidable, considering how shortlived marriages are these days, " says Tara who is still reeling under name-change paperwork. "If you don't change it, you don't have to change it back;it's so much easier, " she says.
It is practical from the legal standpoint, agrees advocate Mrinalini Phatak. She also adds that while divorced women are not legally bound to go back to their maiden names, they would have to if the ex-husband has an objection, which happened in a recent high court ruling in favour of a husband who took objection to his wife 'misusing' his name.
"In many cases, women do revert to their maiden name when they know they are getting remarried, as the new husband may not want the baggage of the old one's name, " she adds.
Mumbai-based designer and page 3 regular Nisha Jamval however thinks otherwise about retaining one's maiden name. "When you don't change your name, a part of you is still not fully committed to the marriage, and conjoining the other person's name to yours is just a done thing. But then, a break is a break, and women should go back to their old names post a divorce. " She does believe that women use the 'What's in a name' adage quite conveniently sometimes. "They tend to hold on to high-profile names, but lesser known names are dropped like hot potatoes, " she says. "Someone would think twice before dropping a Rockefeller or a Getty, but a nobody's name is easier to shed, " says Jamval who is full of admiration for gallerist and art consultant Geetu Raheja who went back to Geetu Hinduja after her divorce and even sent out an email to all her friends and acquaintances to that effect.
Sometimes, women do retain their married names for the sake of children and other logistical reasons. Like Munira Gulati who didn't change her name back to Munira Khan despite a bitter divorce and custody battle as she felt it was easier for her to negotiate the city, its brokers and landlords as a singleton with her married name. She is still Mrs Gulati in all her official documents and has no intention of going back to her maiden name.
But then there are a few who go through the entire rigmarole of name change twice over. Barkha Patel was married in India in 1999, and took her former husband's name, Pande, right after that and moved to Singapore. After her divorce in 2006, it just did not seem fitting to her to carry on using the name. "I wanted to reclaim an identity I felt had been lost over the years and going back to my maiden name seemed the most obvious and comforting thing to do. Also, while I had changed my name in my passport, all my documents in India were still in my maiden name (Patel). This was causing confusion with respect to opening NRI bank accounts and other such, " she says.
"It was a logistical drama, " she admits. "My legal paperwork in SG (resident permit, drivers license, bank accounts, house deed etc) were all in my formerly married name. And changing to Patel required passport updates, a deed poll and visits to the police to change my name on all the necessary identity proof documents. "
Barkha is now blissfully remarried and has gone with the option of using a hyphenated last name: Patel-Zinzuwadia. She hasn't actually gone back to updating all her documents all over again. "It really does attest to the adage 'What's in a name?' and while I proudly carry my husband's last name, neither he nor I worry about it defining me. I am no more or less without it and by hyphenating it publicly, I am paying homage to both names - both of which are inextricably linked to my journey - my roots (Patel) and my wings (Zinzuwadia). "
Television professional and singleton Arati Singh is in agreement with the Jamval theory on name change and sums it up with her own little one which she herself finds regressive. "When you don't change your name after marriage, you are always leaving a window open for singledom, " she says. Most of her friends who married in their 20s and didn't change their names are now onto their second marriage, so she has statistical proof. But given that we live in a country where paperwork is more complex than relationships, it would be alright to not add to the in-tray of work.
(Some names have been changed to protect identities)
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