About three years ago, my friend and a senior editor at Yahoo asked me if I could write why I’d taken my wife’s surname. I laughed and said it would be the shortest column ever written because there really was no reason except that I wanted to. My wife, also a journalist like me, thought differently and wrote this. For most part, I’ve stayed away from discussing my name change business in public. This is largely because I continue to believe what I told my friend at Yahoo back then.
The answer to why I took my wife’s name can be summed up in half a sentence—because I wanted to. But here’s what happened in the three years that followed: the name change thing became something of a cause. Content websites that pretend to be news organisations seemed to advocate the idea of men taking their partners’ names after marriage. I was flooded with calls and comments, mostly congratulating me and at other times calling me names. It was, for the want of a better word, strange. Through it all, it made sense for me to not comment or entertain reporters which can be tricky when most of the reporters calling for comment are your friends.
So why is it that I’m speaking out now? Mostly to laugh at the trolls but also to contest the suggestion that, somehow, taking your wife’s name is some sort of a goal-setting enterprise. I must confess it embarrasses me a little, especially when I know of at least half a dozen men who’ve done things with their lives that make you want go ‘hashtag goals’. Whether it’s a male boss who taught me the value of empathy or that male superior who’s always carried himself with dignity when everyone else around him was showing none or indeed this young man I’ve had the privilege to call my friend who’s such a hopeless romantic he made this video for his future girlfriend he’s yet to meet
And these are just the men I’ve had the honour of knowing and working with. The Instagram handle @ontheground.99 has been documenting stories of people bringing about a change in their immediate circles. There’s a man who pushes a cart of bananas offering them to passers-by for free, a doctor who treats every single patient who comes to his doorstep, two engineers who’ve made a water filter of natural materials… the list goes on.
All of these men have two things in common. First, they’re all incredibly decent men bringing about a change in small, almost easy-to-miss ways. And second, not a single one of them has taken his wife’s name. The point is, we often tend to get carried away by symbolic gestures like someone taking his wife’s name, forgetting to celebrate the everyday heroes around us. The three colleagues I mentioned earlier have taught me more about life, just by being themselves. I don’t imagine it must be easy for them to be that way all the time—empathetic, dignified and romantic—especially in the face of insurmountable odds.
If there’s one thing we need today more than ever is male role models; men who can tell us it’s okay to not be cutthroat or not get into the muck even though everyone around you is doing the same. And, most importantly, that it is okay to be an utterly hopeless romantic. Just as I’ve been fortunate to have been surrounded by strong women, I’m thankful to have these rare, incredible men around me too. It’s important to celebrate what they stand for. And for a day, just for a day, ignore their self-effacing nature and thank them for being themselves.