Women realise name freedom


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 08 Jun 2003

BY VEENA THOOPKRAJAE

Women - married and single - welcome the very positive step toward the enjoyment of their rights following the landmark verdict of the Constitution Court on Article 12 of the 40-year-old Name Act.  

The decision gives women their freedom to keep their surnames or to change them to their husbands’. 

This marks a significant step for married women in lifting legal discrimination in Thai law. Now women have become equal to men before the law, as stated by the Constitution, and can enjoy equal rights to men when it comes to the matter of their family name.Let’s look at the choices provided after the announcement of the court’s ruling.  

Imagine a lady goes for marriage registration at a district office today, what’s on offer? First, a married woman can keep her last name with the title of Mrs. Secondly, she can also bear her family name as a middle name or, thirdly, she can change to her husband’s family name, if she so chooses.  

Not to mention the option of a woman who prefers living together with a man without any legal obligation and turns down the choice of marriage. But can we simply conclude that married women are emancipated now? As we all know, there are two different sides of the coin between de jure and de facto

Whether they like it or not, most women will still be obliged to follow the tradition that they give respect to the husband and his parents by bearing their last name once she is married. We Thai people believe a woman marries a man with full understanding of the unstated norm that she become part of the man’s family.  

Such a social norm is quite close to the family concept of the Chinese in that a woman is considered the property to her husband’s family after marriage.  

However, the legal norm of the early Rattanakosin period during the reign of King Rama IV (1851-1868) showed that Thais also considered women as the property of parents or husbands. The King considered the problem and, in 1867, he prohibited men from selling their wives without their consent and parents from selling or forcing their daughters to marry against their will. Although this practice no longer exists, a married woman is still considered part of a husband’s family rather than her own.  

Any woman who declines to abide by that “value” of Thai society and insists on using her maiden family name will have to find some very good reasons. She will have to address what are the benefits of keeping her family name. Legal experts and women right’s advocates cite one reason women want to keep their family names is because they want to maintain their personal identities.  

Associate Professor Vimolsiri Chamnarnvej was quoted by the media as saying that some women are robbed of real economic opportunities when they change their names.  

That is the reason why many businesswomen keep their former last name as the middle name, like Khunying Natthika Wattanavekin Angubolkul. 

In politics, someone like Anchalee Vanich Tepabutr sees changing her surname as an obstacle to her political career.  

Her family name “Vanich” is well known and influential in her constituency and the surname is an important factor in winning an election. In showbiz, actresses also prefer to keep their maiden names after getting married, making it easier for them to maintain their popularity. 

Interestingly, there are women who are more than willing to let go of their surnames when they marry someone from a very prestigious or influential family. Remember the case of Jutharat Attakorn (widely known as Mor (doctor) Oy)? She refused to use her own family name after her divorce despite the disapproval of her ex-husband’s family. 

Jutharat’s case helps strengthen the argument that social status (involving economic and political factors) are taken into consideration when a lady decides whether or not to give up her maiden name. 

It’s a power relationship and a woman will have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of keeping her old name or introducing herself as a new member of her husband’s family under his last name. 

Yet the significance of this emancipation from the Name Act is that from now on women can enjoy the freedom of choice, by law.  

They can weigh their personal desires, commercial reasons, social status or whatever other factors arise - and make a decision. For men, there is nothing to lose by complying with the law.  

After all, it is love and understanding that maintains family ties, not the family’s name. 

As for women who plan to tie the knot in the future, you can discuss the use of a family name before the marriage.  

You can ask for your future husband’s consent to keep your family name. But if your man says you must use his surname, you still have two options: marry him or find a better man.  

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