What’s in a name?
Years ago, my two kids and I were in a restaurant when a former teacher greeted me.
“Oh, you have kids. So you are now, Mrs. -?”
“No. I’m still Ms. Novio,” I told her, smiling.
So, my eight-year old son asked me: “Nanay, kailan ka magpapalit ng apelyido? ( When are you going to change your surname?). I told him it’s not going to happen because I have my own name.
It was 2005. I was already married for eight years to the father of my three children. My two older children were attending school and they always introduced me like this: My mother is Eunice Barbara C. Novio.
In September 1997, the day before my (now) husband and I get married, I told him, I’ll keep my name. I don’t want to share anybody’s name. And the day I signed the contract, one of the staff at the presiding judge office there told me to sign my name with my husband’s name. I did not. I keep my name. But I changed my status from single to married. Since then, I return the invitations or have those certificates reprinted because of adding his name to mine.
When friends ask me why I still use my name I would jokingly tell them that my kids have their father’s name even though I was the one who birthed them.
All my documents – passport, diploma, work contracts, and insurances are in my name long before the laws in the Philippines.
After 24 years of being married, I would say that my choice to retain my name is now bound by law if House Bill 10459 is enacted.
But even if it is not enacted, I still have the right to choose a family name or surname.
On 18 December 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. But it took two years before it entered as an international treaty on September 3, 1981. One of the first twenty countries that ratified CEDAW was the Philippines, the first ASEAN country to do so on
July 15, 1980. It is known as the International Bill of Rights of Women. Article 16, Section (g) states that The same personal rights as husband and wife, including the right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation.
Former senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani is credited for creating the first working draft of CEDAW. Dr Ramos-Shahani, also an Ambassador to Australia (1981-1986) became the Secretary-General of the World Conference on the UN Decade of Women in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985.
In 2015, 189 states ratified the Convention.
CEDAW became the basis of the specific laws enacted for women and girls. But it took decades before the Philippines passed significant laws beneficial to women.
The right to a name
Filipino women have proven themselves to lead the nation. Yet, they remain under the shadows of the name of their more prominent husbands – look at Corazon Aquino. Even the late Miriam Defensor-Santiago hyphenated her name.
On December 1, the House of Representatives approved in the final reading the right of married women to retain their maiden name. Surprisingly, there were no negative votes.
House Bill 10459 was approved by the House Committee on Revision of Law in March which coincided with Women’s month. It was authored by Reps. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Partylist and Luis N. Campos of Makati City, the husband of Mayor Abegail Binay.
The objective of the measure is to “provide for equality between men and women before the law” by upholding the right of married women to retain their maiden surnames even after marriage. Under the measure, a married woman can use the following:
• Maiden first name and surname;
• Maiden first name and surname and add her husband’s surname;
• Maiden first name and her husband’s surname; or
• Husband’s full name, but prefixing a word indicating that she is his wife, such as “Mrs.”
The Bill also seeks to amend Article 370 of the Civil Code, where a married woman can use her maiden name provided she adds her husband’s name and a prefix such as Mrs, indicating that she is his wife.
While the Philippine Passport Act of 1996 (RA 8239) does not explicitly impose the use of a husband’s surname when applying for a passport. The Department of Foreign Affairs allowed a married woman to use her maiden name in her first-time application if she chooses to.
However, if the woman opted to use her husband’s surname during her first time application, she can only revert to her maiden name in case of the death of her husband, divorce, annulment or nullity of marriage.
Struggles to retain the maiden name
Despite being married, a woman is not under obligation to use her husband’s name. However, in reality, many married women who opted to retain their maiden names experienced difficulties in securing documents such as applying to open a bank account and insurance policies.
In 2002, I applied for a Social Security System (SSS) number in our hometown. As I wrote my name, the staff told me to change my name since I am already married. I told her about CEDAW to the point of arguing, but in the end, I yielded, otherwise, I wouldn’t be issued with SSS. It was the same when I bought an insurance policy in the Philippines in 2016. I already paid the initial amount needed. But the company sent me emails requiring me to change my name. This time, I told them that if they would not approve my name, I would discontinue the insurance, and they must return my payment.
To address these grievances, the Philippine Commission on Women issued Memorandum Circular 2016-07 on October 12, 2016, addressed to all government and private institutions to allow married women to retain and use their maiden name under existing laws.
Why does a woman use the husband’s family name?
For many women, using their husbands’ names meant solidifying their commitment to their vows and embracing their spouses’ families. However, using the husband’s name is deeply rooted in patriarchy, and a creation of the capitalist societies, as described by Frederick Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.
Furthermore, the monogamous marriage was invented by patriarchy as assurance that all the heirs or progeny belong to the husband – the wife and the children becomes “private properties”. Hence, they must be named after the husband or the father. And those named after the father would have inheritance, including the wife.
The religious tradition also plays a role in why women have to change their names. Although it is not explicit, during the wedding vows, the couple is reminded that ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ (Mt. 19:5).
In the Philippines, family name plays an important role in politics. The larger the family, the more recognizable the name, the better chance in politics. It is not unusual to ask about the father’s name even in barangay (villages) especially during the campaign period.
Although in the pre-colonial Philippines, our ancestors were either named after their place of origin or after their father’s name, the women, either married or not lived in an egalitarian society where they could have the same privileges equal to men of the same rank.
Today, even though a married woman does not use her husband’s family name, she is still known by her father’s surname. Does it make a difference? We’ll see.
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