What's in a (sur)name?
Surnames are very interesting. The Chinese use family names for generations – Tan, Lee, Chong etc. The angmohs also have a family name or sometimes use the father’s name as the surname – Robert Brown, John Doe etc. At times, I have seen them use Jr – Robert Brown Jr. The Indians in Singapore prefer to the fathers name as their surnames – s/o and d/o Letchumannan. I’ve met Indians who use their grandfather’s names, their family occupations (although they are not in that occupation anymore) or places they were born. I don’t think the angmohs can have the latter because their names will look like - Robert Arizona, John New York or Jack Sydney :) The Chinese in Singapore also cannot – Bukit Batok Jack, Tampines Seng – sounds more like gang member names :) Interestingly, the Malays (or for that matter Muslims) don’t have surnames!
According to Merriam-Webster, a surname is “the name borne in common by members of a family”. Ancestral lineage seems to be important. If your family heritage is something to be proud of and hence you want to showcase your roots to the whole world. Practically speaking, you want to make use of all the clout you can from your surname. But how many of us are from clans what wield a lot of influence today? Also, many of the family names that do exert power have very common surnames. Take Singapore for instance….if your name is Lee Tok Kok, do you think you would exercise any kind of authority? :)
From a very practical perspective, having surnames helps distinguish between two people with the same first name. In school, if there are two people with the same first name, it can lead to the wrong person doing the extra homework. In the army, you could be the wrong person being dunked under water. This reason of insisting people to have surnames to differentiate them is in my opinion, really pathetic. Surely, we can be more creative….
I also think surnames are sexist. I mean, why should one always take on the surname from the paternal side? Indeed, in almost all societies, when women get married they usually take on the surname of the husband. This I’m afraid is the most pitiable situation when it comes to surnames today. It’s easy for detractors to say that if you don’t like your surname, get your name changed. But that is not what I am talking about. Why does society need to have the norm of a surname in the first place?
In short, my point is this…every individual should not only have a choice of what surname he/she wants but also a choice whether to have one in the first place.