In Western society, there is the tradition of the wife assuming her husband’s last name upon marriage, but this is seeing a change now.  More women not only keep their own name after marriage, but even make a point about it. For example, in today’s (June 10, 2012) New York Times, the section that announces marriages had more than half a dozen entries that said one of the following:

  • “The bride, 31, is keeping her name.”
  • “Dr. Gray, 31, is keeping her name.”
  • “The bride will use her name professionally.”
  • “Ms.Ramirez, 34, will keep her name.”

Reflecting the new reality, one entry even had the following: ‘The bride, 29, will take her husband’s name,” as if that action had to be emphasized.

In any case, this made me think of the situation in our community. Although the wife would and could take the family name (or for that matter the husband, too, could take the family name of his wife), there never used to be a tradition of the wife taking her husband’s last name.  This could be because in our tradition the husband’s last name is not necessarily his family name.

But with wives now increasingly adopting the last name of her husband there is an impact in the naming tradition.  Traditionally, not just Tibetans, but communities along the Himalayas who share the broader Tibet-inspired culture, have a way of providing names to individuals that can almost safely enable one to know the gender, without seeing the person.

There are some names that are distinctly masculine or feminine irrespective of how they are used. This category includes my own first name, Bhuchung, Khedup, Tenpa, Topgyal, Gonpo, or Gyaltsen,  (all male names); Tsomo, Dolma, Dolkar, Chodon, Norzin, Tsamchoe, Wangmo, or Sangmo (all female names).

Then there are names that can signify a specific gender depending on whether they are the first name or the last name.  Pema used to be definitely female if it is the last name but can be both if it is the first name. Whereas, Wangdu used to be a male if it appears as the last name.  Having said that there are excepts: in the Tibetan region of Amdo males also have some “female names” like Dolma or Dolkar.

With closer interaction with other societies, particularly Western, wives in our society, too, are adopting the last names of their husbands. In the absence of no clear distinction between family names and last names, this development is slowly making it impossible for one to know the gender of the individual merely through the names.

Given this trend, I will not be too surprised if in the future, a woman responds to the name, “Bhuchung.”