I guess we have all thought about the importance of the name to our identity. Name is something that we want to hold on to or something that we want change as a part of identity or status transforming process. Usually the issue of changing the name comes up during the marriage negotiations and it only concerns the last name. And it is for ourselves to decide.
In the villages of Dungarpur, there is a tradition of tattooing ones own name, friend’s or husband’s name on one’s arm. Tattooing in general has been more popular before but on young girls I have only seen tattoos with their own name on it. Boys have tattoos too but I feel that the names tattooed on the arms are mostly common among the girls. Somehow I found it curious that one would want to get a tattoo with one’s own name on it.
Just while ago I heard for the first time about another tradition according to which in addition to the last name, the women are given new first names by their in-laws when they get married. In general it seems to be a tradition that people are a little bit ashamed of. When asked people claim that is not done here, not in this village or even in this part of Rajasthan. However, I have met a couple of young ladies who told me that they had been given new names after marriage.
In marriage, a woman moves to her husband’s family and adopts their manners and behavior appropriate to a daughter-in-law. Changing name seems like a finishing touch to the separation of the woman from her natal home and the process of transforming her from a daughter into a wife and daughter-in-law. Changing a name feels so radical.I was just wondering if there might be a connection between the name giving tradition and tattooing the name on the arm. As if to confirm that this is my new name. But I doubt it, just crossed my mind. And anyways, many unmarried girls have tattoos too. You never know what kind of meanings and purposes people have for their tattoos whether cultural, social or personal. And by now I know that, in this area, the relations to the natal family are by no means cut after the marriage.
Having writing tattooed on one's hand seems like a curious tradition considering that in Dungarpur so many women don't even know how to write their own names. Just last week I asked about a tattoo on one young lady's arm. It was in latin alphabets and said Namesa. So I asked if her name was Namesa. The lady along with her friends started laughing and told me that her name was Sunita. My further questions received more nervous laughter in response. Maybe it was her friend's name. Or maybe it was a classic mistake by the tattooist: You ask for a leopard and walk out with a donkey tattooed on your back. Unfortunately, many young people being illiterate, there is no guarantee that they will get their own names tattooed on their hand...