O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
Most people have read these lines; they are from the most popular and celebrated play of William Shakespeare. In spite of its popularity, however, these particular lines from Romeo and Juliet have always appeared somewhat offensive to me, because Juliet here is not only enticing Romeo to give up his name, but is most happily willing to forego her own as well.
What’s in a name? Well, your identity, for starters. It is what defines you, what gives you recognition. Yet, we see women giving up their names every day, on getting married; women whono longer want to be Capulets. In the above mentioned lines, Juliet is at least striking a balance by suggesting that they both forego their names. But in reality, do we ever find men giving up their names and taking up the last names of their wives? Of course not.
That would really be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? After all, it is the woman who is being assimilated within the new family, not the man. I wonder why the champions of feminism have never raised their voice against this clear violation of gender equality?
Now all this must sound extremely unconventional.
The fact of the matter is, however, that this apparent unconventionality is endorsed by Islam.
The women of the modern world appear to be quite ignorant of the fact that Islam gives them the right to retain their father’s name. Acting in a spirit of true feminism, Islam posits a form of feminism that no other system or movement has ever propounded.
A woman is allowed, in fact encouraged, to keep her identity, and is given the choice of not granting ownership to any man by taking up his name. Marriage is a contract, not an ownership of one party by the other.
This emphasis on retention of identity or name simply points to a realty, which is that a woman can and may change husbands, but she cannot change her father, the person responsible for bringing her into this world, and of course the only man who can claim to have unconditional love for her.
Hence, if she is, or should be, owned by anyone, it is her father. He is the one who hands her over in marriage, and he is the one she can go back to.
It is especially frustrating when, hit by a sudden wave of nostalgia, you search in vain for old friends and classmates on social media and cannot find them because all, or at least most of them, have changed their maiden names.
In a world brought so close together through the world wide web, we are still constrained by beliefs enforced upon us by this prevailing antifeminist mentality imported from the West. In countries like Pakistan, Middle East and most of the Muslim world, keeping your own last name is still quite acceptable, and does not prove too problematic, but it isn’t so easy for women wanting to retain their last names in Western countries. It causes all sorts of complications in documents and job applications and travel, to name a few. This so called liberal world of ours does appear to reek of inequality and sexism when 90% of American women feel obliged to change their last names when they tie the knot.
Psychologically speaking, a person’s name is part of the schema that defines the word “I.”
It is part of the ego, and an important element in an individual’s self image. You cannot just change your schema of identity and insert another name in it. There is something amiss in expecting one half of the human population to give up their own self image, and take up the identity of the other half.
Thus, take pride in being a Capulet, ladies.
Let Romeo change his name if he must, but do not give up your own identity!