Have you seen this tweet?

A few days ago, a conversation started on Twitter about mothers giving children their maiden names, particularly if they’ve been estranged from the child’s father. 

This, of course, is to primarily make life easier for said mothers, particularly in situations where the approval of both parents would be needed for certain processes like specialised medical procedures and visa or passport applications for a minor.

This discourse led to debates on gender equality and women’s rights. Some people also claim it’s not unusual for women to retain their maiden names in certain Nigerian cultures, like the Igbo culture. 

But where does the Nigerian Law stand on this?

According to the Marriage Act and other legal frameworks in Nigeria, no Law requires or demands a woman to take up her husband’s last name. The issue of name-changing is solely based on traditional and customary practices in Nigeria. 

Also, the Nigerian Law makes provisions for the rights to personal dignity and freedom of thought and expression; as such, every woman has the freedom to decide whether or not she wants to keep her maiden name. 

Zikoko Citizen reached out to some women, and they shared their thoughts.

Here’s what they said:

Precious believes keeping your maiden name is the best option for any woman. According to her, having your husband’s last name is a “colonial influence,” which creates lots of stress with documentation updates and is “extremely stressful and unnecessary”.

On the other hand, Zainab has no issues with taking up her husband’s last name. For her, even though she’s fine with keeping her maiden name, her spouse’s feelings are a priority in making such a decision. “If he’s cool with it, I’d replace my middle name with my present last name; if he’s not, I’d gladly replace my last name with his,” she says.

Bisola also shares this sentiment, saying that although she hasn’t given it much thought, she doesn’t mind giving up her maiden name. 

But Bisola understands it might be difficult for women who have already established themselves using their maiden names, she says, “Couples should compromise to have a hyphenated last name to pass on to their children.”

A hyphenated last name is the combined name of two spouses, for instance, “Ojo-Hassan”. She also adds that this would give women a chance to carry on their father’s legacy, “Some families only have female children; imagine if they all went on to take on their husband’s last name? That would mean that if their father dies, the family name dies with him.” 

Also in support of hyphenation is Lisa; she thinks this would make the lives of women already successful in various fields easier, particularly in academia, where research papers have been published using their maiden names. 

Chioma, who’s a queer woman, also encourages hyphenated last names. She says, “Although my partner and I have agreed to keep our maiden names, we’ll be giving our children a hyphenated last name as we want them to have both our names”. For them, it allows and empowers them to build a “new” family unit.

Clearly, many Nigerian women think it’s time for everyone to let go of their beliefs about taking up or compulsorily giving children their partner’s last name. A significant amount of support is also needed from the government to make life easier for women who choose to do so. Women-centred NGOs like the Wevvo Foundation and Fatima Balaraba Foundation have started a petition to the Nigerian Immigration Service to implement its policy on accepting consent letters from mothers to process passports for minors. With this, we are optimistic about the level of choice everyone gets to enjoy with names, naming, and being named. 

You have the opportunity to add your voice to this fight by signing the petition.



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