Unlike Elizabeth Hurley, I did not plan a ‘special gift’ for my husband. I did not change my last name to his. I am glad, for when we parted legally there was no decision to be taken about reverting to the maiden name.
Recently, a police officer complained that his ex-wife was misusing his name. The Mumbai high court ruled that a divorced woman must not use her former husband’s name and surname anywhere, including in her bank account.
It is entirely possible that some women may misuse the ex-spouse’s name. But reports in the Indian media have been quite crass, especially with reference to high society women. “Often such women continue to keep their marital surnames after a divorce to ensure better networking, or to remain in the social circle.”
It does not take into account that there have been instances where the women find themselves in an awkward position and in the patriarchal system that even the puff brigade follows they become persona non grata. Those who are now talking about misuse quite forget that when the marriage was on, the men used these women as arm candy to up their visibility quotient. In many cases it meant showing off the wife in designer wear, which made it seem as though the male was in a position to pamper her. It is a fact that quite a few of these women got into some sort of business – usually jewellery designing, fashion, charity because of the connection. This is turn gave the men the added halo of being enablers of woman power!
Although I was quite comfortably-placed as a columnist when my ex met me – he got in touch with me as a reader – I know he was looked upon as some sort of saint. After all, I wrote “like that”! No offence meant, but he did manage to get that Pope-like beatific look on his face. I am sure our balcony would have been more Vatican than Romeo and Juliet.
Within marriages, too, there is the use/misuse aspect, but it is seen as legitimate, even if it crosses all limits of decent give-and-take. In family settings or in his work-related social situations, his last name was mentioned. In invitations that were meant for me, though, people went out of their way to confirm his and added it. I cannot understand. If a woman is expected to be Mrs. So-and so, then why does society become politically correct when it comes to male identity?
And what is the guarantee that the former male spouses do not misuse the woman’s name? The fact that she was a part of his social circle and has something going for her could well be enough bait. The male ego often uses it in rather disgusting ways. A certain film star from the South married to a well-known dancer started living in with another film star. He would shamelessly make personal digs about his ex-wife, aware that she was famous enough for people to be interested. She had retained her maiden name.
And then there is this socialite, quite known at one time in her field, who had a long-term relationship with an extremely prominent idiot. He left her for a younger woman, but she was pregnant. She bore him a son. Today, since she uses her first husband’s name, she had to approach him for permission to add to her son’s as well as gave the child this other man’s name although they were never married.
So, who is using whose name here? The ex- husband has his own life, but agreed to give his name to a son not his. Does it help him grab Page 3 eyeballs? The live-in guy for happily flaunting a son although he had nothing to later do with the woman? The woman for managing this coup? The father of her child married again and has a daughter, and apparently everyone lives happily including a daughter from his first marriage who is probably as old as his third wife.
Since these people belong to the charmed circle, no one really bothers. It will be difficult for people who lead different lives. If the courts have announced their verdict in one case and it is said it would set a precedent, it is really a regressive verdict painting women as ‘marriage careerists’. It might also help if the law then gives women who have custody of the children to let them use the mother’s name.
We need to look at the issue holistically and not throw away traditional nomenclature while remaining conservative.
Therefore, I cannot understand why Elizabeth Hurley is making a noise about the special gift for her husband. She is adding his last name to his and that too, as one report states, “when she is not working”. He married her when she was working and the hyphenated Elizabeth Hurley-Nayar would not affect her career. Her reason is, “Arun is quite old fashioned about these things.” For three years that they were married was it okay? A friend told the papers, “She is doing this to please him. It’s her publicly accepting that she is his woman.”
For years before they were married, it was obvious that they were a couple. To make it more than clear they even tried making out in the first class cabin of a British Airways aircraft. Their wedding ceremonies were the typical exotica geared for ‘Hello!’ magazine. All this was public. She won’t become his woman by adding his name just as he won’t cease to be the guy she married by not adding her name to his.
Relationships, marriage or otherwise, need more than seals of any kind. And if it is a seal that keeps you in it – not to speak of mortgages and children – then that constitutes misuse.