A debate about surnames ensues among the female Karagöz puppets


M’Lady donned a scarf when visiting the mosque today, another traditional gesture that irked her progressive husband yet again

Recently, the Karagöz puppets have been reading the Hurriyet Daily News, which some of you may know to be one of the English language newspapers in Turkey. Why, you may ask, are they reading in English when they can full well speak both Turkish and Ottoman Turkish? Well, it all started with Esma, the hippie puppet, who decided she wanted to gain perspective on M’Lady by reading the news from a yabancı (foreigner) perspective.

As it turns out, she decided to randomly open a page and read whatever was there – and wound up reading a column by a female columnist named Melis Alphan, who reported on an interesting court case involving a woman named Dürin Ababay. I’ll let Esma explain…

“Striving to overthrow the patriarchy, one Istanbul woman filed suit to change her surname to her maiden name from her husband’s name -”

“Well just wait one minute, you feminist you,” Kenne the queen of manners retorted in her usual interrupting manner, “I see it very differently. One Istanbul woman sought to gain personal notoriety through a court case about a trivial matter she shouldn’t have bothered with. Don’t we all take our husband’s names, after all? Isn’t there some honor in that?”

Esma sighed, mustering up the chutzpah to tango with Kenne, because that’s what it always is with her. Esma’s female puppet fan club (consisting mostly of former cengi dancers rescued from semi-sexual slavery in the Ottoman court) cheered her on. “Is it an honor to be forced to take on a man’s name upon marriage? What about losing your own identity? Is that honorable?” “Huzzah!” cried the lady fan club, in unison.

Scoffing in disgust, Kenne responded “all that matters is the honor one receives when one starts a new life – the real life – as a married woman.” At this point, Kenne decided that the matter was resolved, and stormed off with all of her traditional headscarf-wearing lady followers (her fan club) in tow.

Esma took this as a chance to continue the story. “So after a lot of twists and turns of the legal nature, this woman was able to regain her maiden name (although the judge wasn’t fully comfortable with the idea), but get this, only with her husband’s permission! Eee gads what a backwards country.”

And after a moment of silence and reflection, Esma slapped her forehead as she remembered that M’Lady herself took somewhat of a traditional route with her own name – much to the chagrin of her own progressive husband who wanted her to keep her maiden name. “How did this come to be, M’Lady, when you are such an ardent feminist,” she asked, puzzled. 

And as the conversation spun along, she learned that in fact, M’Lady and her husband had quite an epic argument on this matter, which only resolved when the husband said he respected whatever she wanted to do – which was to keep her maiden name professionally and use her hyphenated married name in (especially Turkish) social situations.

“So,” M’Lady said to Esma, “how did reading the yabancı news work vis-a-vis gaining better insight into yours truly?”

“Honestly,” she responded, “I’m more confused than ever, but I suppose that the important thing is for women to have the right to choose how to handle their name, whatever way that is.”

And it is the hope that this legal case, along with two other similar cases in Turkey, will function as sparks in the process of allowing for name choice in Turkey.

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This entry was posted in A Karagöz puppet battle, Gendered moments, Turkish Controversies, Visits from the Karagöz puppets and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A debate about surnames ensues among the female Karagöz puppets

  1. Iris says:

    A nice essay. When I married in 1953 I was annoyed at having to take my husband’s name but it occurred to me that I inherited my maiden (how sexist to be labeled a “maid,” i.e. unmarried, virgin) name from another man, my father. I liked my husband more than I liked my father, so I went along with custom. However, I refused to identify myself and sign my name as Mrs. Husband’s Surname and Name. I used my surname and his name. People told me everyone would assume I was a widow but that didn’t happen, or if it did, who cares. By the 1970s, some women were using both names hyphenated but I hadn’t published before marriage, so didn’t bother with that.

    I am obviously of European ancestry, acquired an Indian name, my two children have Hindu surnames and our third child, sort-of adopted, is Indian with a Muslim surname. Makes things interesting. In Turkey no one would pick up on that, but in India people do.

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