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Husband’s Last Name: What Happened When She Didn’t Use It?”

When an Actress decides not to use her husband’s last name…

The popular Bollywood actress, Varsha Kulkarni arrived in Mumbai from Nagpur in 1997 as a young woman hoping to make it big in the entertainment industry of the metropolis. She developed a fruitful career as a television actor over time.

Kulkarni, who requested that she and her husband be given pseudonyms for this story out of fear of professional repercussions, claimed that a lone girl from Nagpur arrived here and worked her way up while she states: “I’m grateful for where I am today and all of my life accomplishments.”

Kulkarni was certain she did not want to take her husband’s surname and abandon her own when she got married in 2002 because she had gained notoriety using her maiden name. She answered, “My name is really important for me in my career and for easy reach with my fans.” My last name is what the world knows me for. Why should I alter the reputation I’ve built for myself?

However, she didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to maintain her name: as soon as she got married, people began to believe she had changed her last name. Her spouse works as a television producer, and the two of them also co-own a theater company, thus they frequently appear in the media.

Kulkarni noted that after her wedding, articles in the entertainment section of newspapers started referring to her as Mrs. Kelkar and using her husband’s last name. Kulkarni was irate and recalled how periodically she had even called reporters to see if they knew anything about her formally changing her last name.

Her issues persisted after that. Kulkarni and her husband decided to open a joint bank account soon after being married. They had to provide copies of both their ration card and their marriage certificate as documentation of their union.

Since ration cards are allotted to households, Kulkarni had, following her marriage, crossed her name off of the ration card for her birthplace and substituted it with the surname of her in-laws.

There, I was unable to use my maiden name. She said, “Main unke Ghar ki bahu, bahar se aayi thi”—I was the family’s daughter-in-law who had moved in from somewhere else. So I was forced to use their last name.

But when it came time to open the joint bank account, this presented an issue because bank workers wouldn’t use her maiden name. After all, she had provided the ration card as proof of residency. Finally, Kulkarni consented to use her husband’s last name when opening the bank account. She believed that this was the sole instance in which Varsha Kelkar was being used.

There, I was unable to use my maiden name. She said, “Main unke Ghar ki bahu, bahar se aayi thi”—I was the family’s daughter-in-law who had moved in from somewhere else. So I was forced to use their last name.

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“My Career and Reputation was Stuck in the Shadows of my Husband’s Name”

To her dismay, her surname was changed on most payrolls to her husband’s since she transferred her professional payments into this account. She was also given this name in several television

programs as a result of this. Kulkarni eventually discussed the issue with her husband and agreed to stop using their joint account in favor of receiving income into an account in her maiden name.

Kulkarni and her husband decided to apply for their Aadhaar numbers in 2011, not long after the country introduced the Aadhaar program. They inquired as to whether there would be issues if she sought an Aadhaar card using her maiden name after realizing that it would be a significant piece of paperwork.

People warned them against it, saying that because they had different surnames, the pair might eventually have issues with issues like property rights. Kulkarni recalled them saying, “Government se panga mat lo,” which roughly translates to, don’t gamble with the government. So as to using his surname on the Aadhaar, her husband insisted.

The couple decided to order their passports a few years later. Kulkarni decided to use her maiden name in the document at that point.

However, a friend cautioned her that because she kept her maiden name on her passport, she would occasionally be asked for her marriage certificate by airport authorities when she traveled with her husband overseas. Nevertheless, Kulkarni decided to maintain the name she had chosen for her passport. She now makes sure that she and her husband always travel with a copy of their marriage certificate.

Kulkarni was adamant about getting her husband’s last name off of other paperwork as well. She, for example, was able to get her name removed from her in-laws’ ration card and chose not to apply for another. She also had her Aadhaar card’s name changed.

Solving the “Mrs. Kelkar” Problem

She has become accustomed to being referred to by her husband’s last name over the years, but she still finds discreet methods to express her disapproval. She laughed as she mentioned, “At first, I would correct people and they would be shocked when I used to get upset at them, but now if it’s a man, I would just call him by his wife’s maiden name to explain my point and he quickly understands what I mean.”

She recalled how, in the past, her name would frequently appear on invitations to prize ceremonies. However, when her husband’s notoriety increased, “Mr. and Mrs. Kelkar” began to appear on invitations. Kulkarni frequently chooses not to go to these events as a protest. I’m not sure if I’m doing this right or not, she said. “But I’m still very sensitive and uneasy about it. My name would be on it if they wanted me there.”

The difficulties Kulkarni has with her name are not just common in only India but even many European countries as well and worldwide. People across the world assume that after marriage, a woman will adopt her husband’s last name. Those who choose not to, like Kulkarni, must repeatedly overcome governmental, professional, and emotional obstacles that can be both difficult and frustrating.

Since time immemorial, Indian women have changed their surnames to that of their husbands after marriage. In a patriarchal tradition, it has always been believed that a woman’s identity is tethered to her husband and that only by taking his surname.

However, as feminism and women empowerment create a tidal wave of change in India, the young generation’s mindset and opinions are shifting.

The sociologist Raja Jayaram remarked in a 2005 paper that traditional naming customs in India were “complex” and “diverse,” depends what part of India she’s from and what religion she is and that they had not yet been fully investigated.

But under the influence of the British, he pointed out, the system started to be standardized. In line with their naming system, which included a first name (for example, John), a middle name (for example, William), and a last name or surname (for example, Goldsmith).

In Greece, France, Italy, Nederlands, Belgium, Malaysia, Korea, Spain, Chile (and many other spanish speaking countries) – Women keep their maiden name after they get married and it’s completely normal.
Japan – Women are required by the law to change their names after marriage. (Unless they marry somebody from another country.)