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Melay Lapena

What's in a name?

May 23, 2011 12:42pm
So I'm officially married. Not because we signed the contract, said I do at the altar, and had a merry epicurean celebration after - but because, well, it's on Facebook. As my officemate pointed out, if it's not on Facebook it's not real. So it's real. On to the next question.

Why haven't I changed my name?

Well, there are many ways I can answer that question, almost as many as the names I already have. It's a nice number and it's also one reason I'm not going to change my name.

The fact that I don't plan to change my name at all also answers why I haven't changed it, but on to my many names.

I happen to have had the fortune of being firstborn in a typical Filipino family. This means I got to be named after everyone. All in all I have four given names, my middle name and my last name. None of my names are monosyllabic.

Apart from having difficulty memorizing all my names and writing them countless times on quizzes, exams, and official documents, I have also had to deal with a lot of red tape because the name on this ID didn't match the one on that form, etc, etc.

After more than two decades of filling out forms, I think it's safe to say I've gotten the hang of it, and I'm not about to go through all of that again. Changing my name means more forms. No, thank you. It’s not that I don’t like my husband’s name. In fact, it rhymes perfectly with mine, so there’s some kind of poetry there. But I’d rather not.

It may appear that my choice to not change my name is just laziness on my part, but it isn't that simple. Apart from being firstborn, I am also one of tres marias, which means our family name will soon disappear from the telephone directory. Not that many people still look through the telephone directory. On that note, changing my name will complicate things. What if my best friend in kindergarten decides to look me up one day? Would she recognize me?

Another question is, would I recognize myself? I know it may be a stretch to say that if I changed my name I'd feel funny, but the fact is, I would. And what for? If it's to indicate I'm married, I don't think taking your husband's surname does that. Neither does being married indicate what being married is about, for that matter. It's not the contract or the ring or the name, it's what you actually do.

Another reason I won't change my name is I don't want to lose my identity. I'm not saying that my name is my identity, but given the circumstances, I'd rather be referred to as me than as the wife of somebody - even if that somebody is my husband.

But am I not required to take his name?

I'm very happy to say that the answer is no. Not at all. My friend and lawyer Jing Gaddi blogged about the whole name changing thing a few years back, and I will quote him here, just in case you need to hear it from a lawyer.

He and his wife Ava Gonzales, who has retained her name, were transferring a title and wanted the title registered in both their names, as spouses. When they arrived to sign the documents, Ava's name was printed with her surname reduced to a middle initial, and Jing's surname as her own. When Jing explained that she had retained her name, and quoted Article 370 of the Philippine Civil code which governs use of surnames, the real estate developer couldn't believe him.

Article 370 states that a married woman may use:

(1) Her maiden first name and surname and add her husband's surname, or

(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."

In his blog, Jing quotes the prominent civilist Arturo M. Tolentino: "Under the present article of our Code, however, the word "may" is used, indicating that the use of the husband's surname by the wife is permissive rather than obligatory. We have no law which provides that the wife shall change her name to that of the husband upon marriage. This is in consonance with the principle that surnames indicate descent. It seems, therefore, that a married woman may use only her maiden name and surname. She has an option, but not a duty, to use the surname of the husband in any of the ways provided by this Article."

Of course, you will notice that the article does not explicitly state the fourth option for the wife to simply retain her name. Jing wrote how this shows how patriarchally-geared our civil laws still are. He also provided a link to a court resolution that says Article 370 indicates the wife's use of her husband's surname is optional, not obligatory.

I do know people who would prefer to take their husband's surname, and a lot of people who expect their wives to take their surnames. But I'm not one of them, nor does my husband expect me to take his name. So here I am, married and still me. New civil status, same old name, and absolutely loving my husband who respects my preference to keep it.