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  • Writer's pictureAisha Salaudeen

I solemnly swear to keep my name



Last Tuesday kicked off as ordinarily as any other day this month. And my routine unfolded as predictably as ever: Workout. Grab breakfast. Publish an episode of my podcast. Send out a flurry of emails. Tick items off my to-do list.


A couple of hours into my tasks for the day, I opened Instagram to catch a break. That’s when I saw it. Someone, who I don’t know, but have affectionately named Perry the Platypus, had left me a less-than-friendly response to the podcast episode I’d published earlier that day. My podcast, “I Like Girls” centers on women, specifically African women from across the globe. The episode in question featured a Nigerian guest who revealed that despite her marriage, she had chosen to retain her maiden name rather than adopt her husband’s.

Perry the Platypus’s message should have stung, but it didn’t. You see, since I got married in 2020, I’ve encountered countless snide and passive-aggressive comments from acquaintances and extended family about my decision not to change my surname to match my husband’s. Sometimes, even strangers like Perry, feel the need to question my choice.


Around the world, it’s standard practice for women to take on their husband’s surnames upon marriage. In Nigeria, my home country, there's no legal obligation to do so, just a deeply ingrained tradition that I respect but don't personally embrace.


Throughout my life, “Aisha Salaudeen” has been more than just a label. It has been a marker of every milestone I’ve crossed and every challenge I’ve faced. It’s the name that bore the weight of my failed relationships, the name under which I’ve garnered multiple accolades, the name my friends yell to tease me, and the name I use when introducing myself.

My choice to retain my name is not an act of rebellion or stubbornness, as some might assume. It’s a conscious decision to preserve an integral part of my identity. My name isn’t just a sequence of random letters; it’s a big part of who I am. All my career highs and lows are contained in my name. It carries the weight of who I am: my achievements, my failures, my experiences, my losses and my wins.


Throughout my life, “Aisha Salaudeen” has been more than just a label. It has been a marker of every milestone I’ve crossed and every challenge I’ve faced. It’s the name that bore the weight of my failed relationships, the name under which I’ve garnered multiple accolades, the name my friends yell to tease me, and the name I use when introducing myself. To relinquish it would be like erasing a significant part of my story, as if I’m being asked to forget the person I’ve become through years of growth and hard work.


I understand the women who don’t share my sentiments. After all, there are a myriad of reasons to align their names with their husbands’. Some see it as a way to express their commitment to their partners, and others, aware of the legal complexities involved in travelling with children who don’t bear your surname, make the switch for the sake of practicality. I believe in accommodating and respecting diverse viewpoints, just as much as I believe in understanding the historical context of the customs we accept as tradition.


I refuse to be viewed as an extension of any man, past or present. I’m an individual with my own identity, experiences and aspirations. It’s important to me that my name reflects this sense of self, rather than perpetuating a tradition that once reduced women to appendages of the men in their lives.

Historically, the practice of adopting one’s husband’s surname is in many ways rooted in the patriarchal ownership of women. It symbolized a transfer of a woman’s identity from her father to her husband, reinforcing that the woman doesn’t have agency but belongs to the men in her life. I know that this has evolved over time, but I’m uneasy about a practice that started off as defining women like me as property to the men in my life. I refuse to be viewed as an extension of any man, past or present. I’m an individual with my own identity, experiences and aspirations. It’s important to me that my name reflects this sense of self, rather than perpetuating a tradition that once reduced women to appendages of the men in their lives.


During my research for the podcast episode that triggered Perry the Platypus, I discovered that a lot of women understandably believe that taking on their husband’s surname is rooted in African tradition. However, this isn’t the case in many cultures. For example, as a Yoruba woman from western Nigeria, my culture historically held names as identifiers, connecting individuals to their family totem and lineage. Women were named using descriptors such as the circumstances of their birth, the name given to them by their parents or grandparents and their oriki (usually a praise name that is used to celebrate them).


As a result, it’s not a core part of Yoruba traditional culture for a woman to change her name after marriage as it would dilute her identity and descriptors. Yoruba historian, Samuel Johnson, in his book “The History of the Yorubas” affirms that the concept of adopting a different surname doesn't align with traditional Yoruba beliefs.


The landscape began to change when Britain colonized Nigeria in the mid-nineteenth century. During this period, many of our naming conventions were swept aside, and societal pressure was exerted on women to adopt their husband's surnames after marriage. Since then, it has become the general convention to do so.


I remember reading a few paragraphs on this topic in feminist and author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book ‘Dear Ijeawele’ some years ago. In it, Chimamanda discussed how people sometimes questioned her choice to retain her surname after marriage, arguing that since her surname belonged to her father, it was a name still rooted in patriarchy.


Even if I were named ‘serial number H12017216’ at birth, it would mean much more to me than adopting a name to which I had no previous ties.

She wrote: ‘Indeed. But the point is simply this: whether it came from my father or from the moon, it is the name that I have had since I was born, the name with which I travelled my life’s milestones, the name I have answered to since that first day I went to kindergarten on a hazy morning and my teacher said ‘answer ‘present’ if you hear your name. Number one: Adichie!’ I like it and will not change it. More importantly, every woman should have that choice.’


This is my perspective too. It wouldn’t matter to me if my surname came from my father or from a government stamp; my resolve to keep it is because the name itself is a testament to my individuality and my experiences. Even if I were named ‘serial number H12017216’ at birth, it would mean much more to me than adopting a name to which I had no previous ties.


Many times, critics like Perry the Platypus may label women like me, who choose to go against the status quo as rebellious or arrogant. And while there may be some truth to this perception, it’s not a deliberate act of defiance on my part. I simply want to bear the name I’ve chosen without judgment. As I navigate my journey in this increasingly chaotic world, I wish to carry my birthname along with me – the one who has witnessed both my accomplishments and my mistakes.


If embracing this choice is what defines rebellion, then I suppose I'll proudly accept the title and wear it as my trophy.


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13 commentaires


Adeleye Agiri
Adeleye Agiri
30 août 2023

Well written article. My take on this is simple - to each, his/her own.

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rabiyahaya425
30 août 2023

Thank you so much for sharing, Nana. As someone who went from answering Rabi Hussein from birth to Rabi Muhammed in primary and secondary school to answering Rabi Yahaya in university, given the circumstances of my birth, I understand this perfectly.


At a point during uni days, I think I experienced an identity crisis. And so I have made a decision to never ever change my name again.


Thank you, Nana❤️

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Aisha Salaudeen
Aisha Salaudeen
30 août 2023
En réponse à

Thank you for reading. We often underestimate how our identities sometimes intersect with our names. I'm rooting for you in this journey of embracing your current name sis.

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chinenyezeb
30 août 2023

Was such a good read. As someone who is not even interested in getting married, my life becomes easier. I hope we transcend a stage where women don't even need to explain why they choose to keep their names.

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Aisha Salaudeen
Aisha Salaudeen
30 août 2023
En réponse à

Thank you for reading. I too hope that the world becomes more tolerant of women's choices, especially when it comes to their own names.

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Muhammad Tahir Hasssan
Muhammad Tahir Hasssan
29 août 2023

A very good read. It's good that you respect the views of people in support of the wife adopting her husband's surname. To each his own. I just don't understand why some get triggered by a woman choosing to maintain her name even after marriage.

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Aisha Salaudeen
Aisha Salaudeen
30 août 2023
En réponse à

Thank you for reading.

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sakinah.musa99
29 août 2023

Got married last year, also keeping my name. When confronted, I simply say it's disliked to change your name in Islam. E ma fi ejo pami. I am my father's child not anybody else's. Changing my name feels like I am losing my identity.

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Aisha Salaudeen
Aisha Salaudeen
29 août 2023
En réponse à

Haha Masha Allah. I find that, as a muslim woman, it's easier to just get everyone to keep quiet by reminding them that in Islam, it is more valuable for the woman to keep her surname after marriage.

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