What's in a Name? Why I didn't change my last name after marriage

PINUGU. It’s the kind of last name that piques the listener’s curiosity, attracts a lot of teasing, and inevitably gives the unfortunate bearer some form of emotional baggage. First day of school was always awkward because of the million creative ways my teachers would try to pronounce it, and the fits of giggles it would elicit. In high school, my classmates teased me to every boy whose last name is Tan, so that they could call me Mrs. Eleanor Pinugu-Tan (pinugutan means getting your head chopped off in Filipino). As I got older, I began to dread restaurant reservations and every RSVP list. Speaking to the person in charge of the front of the house always felt (and still feels) like a Rumpelstiltskin moment- with me trying to guess which name my table/invitation is under

Marriage was supposed to be my shot at reinvention- the chance to live freely under an inconspicuous last name. So when time came for me to renew my passport, the decision to have the new one issued in my maiden name surprised the people close to me.

This included my own Parents, whom I honestly thought would’ve been overjoyed to have such a steadfast champion for the family bloodline. 

“It’s disrespectful to Miguel.” 

I asked permission. He said it’s a good idea so it doesn’t mess up my google search algorithm, I joked.

“Maybe. But I’m sure you disappointed your in-laws. You could have at least hyphenated,” my Mom insisted.

Several friends contended that changing my last name is an important demonstration of my commitment to “give up my single identity”, in order to focus on building a new life with my husband. 

Others were just bothered by the impracticality of it— that it’s “confusing for the public and my future children.” I see their point. Every time I enter a Mano Amiga classroom, I now hear four variations of the mandatory class greeting: Good Morning Ms. Pinugu/ Mrs. Pinugu/ Mrs. Bermundo/ Mrs. Pinugu-Bermundo.

My more progressive friends cheered on the decision to keep my last name, of course. They all assumed I did it to rebel against the patriarchy. “Unless Miguel plans on being a Pinugu Bermundo, you shouldn’t feel pressured into being a Bermundo or a Pinugu-Bermundo either.” 

The truth is, I didn’t do it for feminism’s sake. I have come to love the idea of being betrothed to someone, and I think that for those who choose to do so, changing one’s last name is a beautiful declaration of the covenant a couple enters into. I do believe however, that name-changing shouldn’t be an automatic expectation solely imposed on women, but born out of a joint decision as to whose, or which name to take.

Today, I’ve decided to settle the question once and for all. I’m putting into paper the three main reasons why I kept my last name. 

It reminds me where I came from.

I live in an oligarchic country where you could easily tell a person’s stature based on their last name. Pinugu is a dead giveaway that I wasn’t born into the same social class as my peers —many of which, have their last name on a building in at least one of our 7,107 islands. 

More than once in the past, I felt insecure about my last name because a person had scoffed at my lack of impressive pedigree. It was tough on my early 20s’ fragile ego, and served as an unhealthy motivation to succeed.

As I came into my own however, I began to see that there are also advantages about not being from the same mould as the people in my circle. I was free to chart my own course. I had the rare opportunity of starting from a blank canvas, devoid of other people’s expectations and pre-selected paths.

It’s liberating not to have to prove myself to anyone. Since I didn’t come from a moneyed or well-connected family, people know everything I have is something I worked hard for, without any shortcuts or the comfort of a safety net.

It keeps my integrity in check.

“You can always earn money, but you could never buy back your integrity.” This is something we always heard from my Dad. Construction is a corrupt industry, and my Dad would often regale us with stories of how he had turned down millions worth of contract bribes, because he values leading a morally upright life over any worldly comfort.

Growing up with just enough, my Parents made sure that our personal happiness was never defined by what we had or lacked. Our humble beginnings enriched us in many ways: a sense of wonder and gratitude for the simplest of joys, wicked humour to poke fun of our family’s plebeian tastes, an ambitious spirit fuelled by a voracious desire to address day-to-day injustices that are often invisible to the upper 1%. As our life grew more comfortable, my Parents constantly impressed upon us the social responsibility that comes with having more, specially because we know what it’s like not to have a lot.

Integrity is my parents’ legacy. Carrying my Dad’s last name helps keep me grounded in the face of heightened expectations. It’s a firm reminder to take care of the name that my parents had carefully built, and to strive for a virtuous path, over what’s fast and seductively easy.

It reminds me of what it took to be whole.

Valuing my last name and everything it stood for didn’t happen overnight. I had relationships in the past where I completely dissolved into my partner’s identity because I didn’t have the courage yet to embrace my own. Holding on to my last name is important to me because it is no longer just a legal distinguishing feature of who I am and who I’m married to, but an enduring monument of my long journey to feel whole and complete, without needing a relationship or any other form of external validation to know my self-worth.

Pinugu is a unique and incredibly funny-sounding last name. I wear it proudly.