Kyunki Maa-Baap Ek Din Saas-Sasur Banenge (Because parents will one day become parents-in-law)

Over lunch one Monday many years ago a colleague, who had just returned after a weekend visit to her recently married sister, was complaining bitterly about how her sister was always addressed or referred to by her parents-in-law by her ‘new name’. “This custom became obsolete many years back. How can it be followed in this day and age? I can’t imagine such old-fashioned people exist even today. I feel really sorry for my ‘didi’,” she said.

My colleague was not speaking about her sister’s surname. She was referring to the custom, followed by some communities in India, of a woman being given a new first name by her parents-in-law after marriage. Apparently, since some years, the particular ceremony was still followed as part of a traditional marriage, but just as a ritual/formality. The bride would continue to be addressed by her own first name after marriage.

This was a purely personal/family matter about which I could do nothing, so I did not comment. Of course, I felt sorry for my colleague’s sister and for my colleague.

One day, about a year later, the same colleague’s ‘maami’ (mother’s brother’s wife) came to our office for a few minutes. The colleague introduced her as Sita maami. The next day, another colleague said that Sita maami bore an uncanny resemblance to a woman called Meera who had been her neighbour in Delhi many years back. Our colleague laughed and explained that Meera from Delhi and Sita maami were the same person. Because her husband’s name was Ram, Meera’s name was changed to Sita after marriage.

Again, this was a purely personal/family matter about which I could do nothing, so I did not comment. Of course, I wondered how my colleague, who had complained bitterly when her sister’s mother-in-law followed an obsolete custom, laughed about the same obsolete custom when it was practised by her grandparents.

A few months later, this Sita maami’s son got married. To my surprise, my colleague, who had felt really sorry for her ‘didi’, started referring to and addressing her cousin’s wife by her new name!

This is only one small example of how many of us are quick to criticise our own and our sisters’ parents-in-law when they discriminate against their daughters-in-law, but gladly overlook the same discrimination when it is perpetrated by our own parents. Sometimes, as in the case of my colleague, they even perpetrate the same discrimination themselves!

I’ve always wondered how, while so many women complain about the regressive behavior of their parents-in-law, very few women speak about the regressive behavior of their parents!

If we want to get rid of old-fashioned, regressive, patriarchal attitudes, we must resist them and fight against them irrespective of whether they are displayed by our parents-in-law or our parents.

Each person must remember that her/his parents are, in most cases, another woman’s parents-in-law.

This applies to all social ills. We all examine others with a magnifying glass. We must also remember to look into the mirror.

To quote William Arthur Ward: It is wise to direct your anger towards problems – not people; to focus your energies on answers – not excuses.

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28 thoughts on “Kyunki Maa-Baap Ek Din Saas-Sasur Banenge (Because parents will one day become parents-in-law)

  1. Wow, this custom of renaming the bride is quite interesting, have never heard of it.

    And to the point that you make about how all of us treat our parents in law differently from our parents, it is so valid of all married men and women I know. There are very few people, men and women alike, who treat both sets of parents with an equal amount of love, respect and warmth.

    • The custom of renaming the bride is certainly not interesting to the bride!

      (Since I know about your balanced and rational views, I know that your use of the word ‘interesting’ was not meant to be an endorsement of this custom.)

  2. Sigh, this has happened in my family as well.

    My father’s side of the family address my mom as per the new name. When my elder cousin sis got married (this more than 10 years ago), and I referred to her with the new name, people threw a fit.

    • Hats off to you!

      Such practices have to be tackled from inside each family, not from outside. Unfortunately, ‘respect for elders’, ‘maintaining traditions’, etc. are used as excuses to perpetuate these practices.

  3. Memories keep flooding — My name was changed according to the prevailing custom by the women of his extended family. I however refused to respond despite their persistent attempts. My husband’s parents thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle and were very supportive whilst my husband categorically said that he did not think it right to change a name so thoughtfully my parents had chosen for their firstborn. Rather than change a name of a young girl coming into their family, I do wish we would change our attitudes, belief systems and welcome her into her new home wholeheartedly like I was at every juncture in my life.

    • It’s good you were firm about not succumbing to people’s attempts to impose the new name. Not many women do that.

      It’s really heartening to know that your husband spoke in your support, and even more heartening to know that his parents were supportive.

      In many cases, it is the extended family and ‘well-wishers’ who insist on upholding such regressive customs.

  4. In my father’s day where he was with a British Pharma major, affixing a “Mr.” with surname while addressing was mandatory. Now leave alone surname it has come to first name terms!
    In audit profession during working hours I addressed my client with “Mr.so-n-so.” and after office hours by his first name like “Sultan”, It worked well!

  5. Thought provoking post. Haven’t yet heard of this custom.

    World would have been a better place if we all follow the Golden rule in all our interactions and treat others as we would like our self to be treated.

    Many relations fail because we fail to learn from life experiences.

    • This custom does exist in some communities, as confirmed by Comments made by Santulan and P.R. Shenoy. In fact, the ‘renaming’ is done in a ceremony at some point on the wedding day.

      Since around 40 years back, a few people started doing a ceremonial ‘renaming’, not actually using the ‘new name’. This trend caught on in a big way, hence now, most people do not use the ‘new name’, but some people still follow it.

  6. This outdated custom is still followed with little or no opposition from the girl or her new husband
    in the name of tradition! It is time that we oppose all such customs on all sides of the family,
    not just when it suits us! Our attitude has to be the same w.r.t. both sides of the family!

  7. Yes, this custom is prevalent in North India too. My mother and her sisters and all the women of their generation in our family (maternal-paternal) have got a new name after marriage. But fortunately, it ended with their generation. Now, none of my cousins and/or their girls after marriage have followed this custom!

  8. I had never heard of this custom of re-naming wives before. You are right, though, about how quick we are to complain about something that affects us (or a close loved one), but how we can seem perfectly fine with it when WE are the ones implementing it.

    I’m one of AJ’s wHooligans for the AtoZ challenge. I saw that you had signed up for the challenge and stopped by. I can’t wait to see what you share during April!

    TaMara
    Tales of a Pee Dee Mama

    • Thanks for stopping by!

      This custom was prevalent among some communities in India. Since the last few decades, it’s been steadily reducing and is not common these days. I used it as an example because of my real-life experience over 25 years back.

  9. This name-changing is common practice! Especially to match Gopal with Radha (as in the case of my Uncle), Rama Sita, and so on. 🙂 Ridiculous! Especially when many women retain even their surname/second name after their marriage these days.

    I remember my aunt would have to be called twice before she answered, because she had to get used to being called Radha and not her real name.

    We and some of our meaningless customs!

    • Indian men have got used to this when they migrate to the US of A. So, to give real life examples, Venkat became Van, Srinivas became Shane and Sumant became Sam simply because the white guys couldn’t pronounce their original names.

  10. I had no idea such a custom existed. We Indians adhere to many woman-unfriendly ‘customs’, while we accept changing technology and comforts without blinking. Much of this is simple misogyny. Indian society was so progressive and free thinking, until Manu codified his laws (remember Anuloma and Pratiloma). The coming of foreign invaders like the marauding Turks, Mongols and the repressed British did our culture no favors, at least not in the attitudes towards women. But today all those are far in our past, why can’t we bounce back like the fresh young culture we are today? The Rama Sene types would like us to regress further. But we are strong and supple. This is our chance to begin afresh and be the progressive and forward-moving society we can be again.

    • Thank you for commenting, Nuthan. While I totally disapprove of this custom, I’m really glad that a post on this subject provoked a normally ‘silent’ person like you to comment!

      I am a bit surprised, though, that you had no idea that such a custom existed, even though you hail from Mangalore. This custom has been followed by at least one prominent community of Mangalore. P.R. Shenoy, who has posted a comment, belongs to this community.

  11. “I’ve always wondered how, while so many women complain about the regressive behavior of their parents-in-law, very few women speak about the regressive behavior of their parents!” So true. And this is not to do with only regressive behavior … it is to do with any behavior, good or bad.

  12. I didnt know that ‘new name giving’ was done with such fan fare .. in bengal its done without any fanfare but surely done in some cases nonetheless .. I can recall one of my extended relative’s marriage, happened in 2006. She was given a new name.. The reason they gave was that her maiden name was not very nice… so ridiculous .. I do not know her feelings, but others were not bothered….

  13. This custom is very prevalent in Northern India. One of our neighborhood aunts whom I was very close to since childhood, was given a new name and until recently I didn’t know that the name we all called her with was not her given name. When asked whether she liked when her name was changed after marriage, she simply smiled and replied, “Sometimes you have to keep aside your likes and dislikes for the harmony of the house.”

    • I will not comment on your aunt’s reply simply because I only she knows her circumstances and her constraints.

      But it is this desire for ‘harmony’ that ensures that social ills continue to be perpetrated. The privileged person always benefits from ‘harmony’, while the underprivileged person always loses from the same ‘harmony’ and becomes even more underprivileged. Somebody has to break the ‘harmony’ to correct the situation.

      • The question has always been, who’ll bell the cat? The one who questions is declared as an outlaw by the society, by the in-laws, and in many cases their own families.

        This aunt had to leave the house on the pretext of going to office and meet her husband half way to go to her parent’s place. She speaks very highly of her husband being supportive, but I feel he was a coward.

  14. I got redirected to this post from your comment on Gayatri’s post, and I’m glad I did.
    My mom got a new name after wedding, because they said her maiden name sounded ‘ Christian’.
    My maternal grandma was a widow, and she got to know of this change only after it had taken place, so she could never raise a voice in protest.
    She continued to address my mom by her maiden name, though.
    My mom later changed it officially, so as to maintain the ‘harmony’, which Rekha has wisely spoken of in her comment above.
    At that time, I had this strong conviction, that I would ask my in-laws to change my name, so that people at home know how much it hurts you when your child’s name gets changed for silly stupid reasons and customs. But fortunately or unfortunately, my in-laws didn’t do it, and I still retain my maiden name with surname for all official purposes ( though I use my husband’s name for the blog).
    Changing the name doesn’t make any sense, but yes, if the girl doesn’t object to it, or agrees to it for her own reasons , there’s nothing we can say, right ?

    • What I find objectionable in changing a bride’s first name after marriage is that it’s done as a matter of the mother-in-law’s right and the bride herself normally has no say whatsoever in the matter.

      Most women who change their names to ‘maintain the harmony’ do it without enthusiasm. They are just resigned to the situation.

      You say, “if the girl doesn’t object to it, or agrees to it for her own reasons, there’s nothing we can say.” Actually, we can say something, but we don’t say anything for 2 reasons:
      a. To ‘maintain the harmony’ in the girl’s life.
      b. It’s probably none of our business.
      But, our not saying anything doesn’t make it correct.

  15. I was just 21, when all this drama of Name change happened and I couldn’t congruently stand up for what I believed in. My in-laws did give me an option of not changing my name officially, but my anger clouded eyes, couldn’t see what I was upto. One fine day, I went and changed my name officially. It took me years to finally make peace with the new name, but some corner of my heart, still queestions me, “Why couldn;t my in-laws accept my maiden first name, why did they change it, are customs so important that feelings of the other person don’t matter?”
    Maybe I shall never get answers to these questions, but yes sharing it on my blog, did make me feel much lighter Proactive Indian.
    As you said, I actually resigned to the situation.

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