World of Weibo

What’s in a name?

Live-stream celebrity stirs debate on feminism

American singer Barry Manilow (born Barry Alan Pincus) took his mother’s maiden name when he was 13. Actress Whoopi Goldberg (born Caryn Elaine Johnson) chose her mother’s surname when she got her start in Hollywood. Of course, most people in the US and Europe take their father’s family name. And while it is not unknown for people to use their mother’s surname in China – in some two-child families the older kid might share the father’s surname and the second-born take their mother’s – the norm is to use the father’s name.

So there was a surprising reaction online when social media sensation Papi Jiang said that she had chosen to give her newborn daughter her husband’s last name too.

In mid-May, the comedienne posted online that she had given birth to a baby girl and wanted to pay tribute to all the women who had gone through the excruciating pain of labour. “I recently came to realise that being a mother is the most tiring thing in this world,” she added. However, netizens were quick to notice that her daughter had taken her husband’s last name, Hu.

What’s the big deal? Many pointed out that Papi Jiang, whose real name is Jiang Yilei, has consistently poked fun at gender stereotypes in her short videos, and that many see her as a champion of strong, independent womanhood. For instance, Jiang once said that the most important people in a woman’s life were (in this order) herself, her spouse, her child and her parents. She claims that she and her husband are pretty independent of one another and that she has never visited her parents-in-law at their home either.

So the choice on naming seemed to jar with some of Jiang’s prior views. “She said she didn’t want a child. However, not long afterwards she got pregnant and now her child has the father’s surname,” a netizen noted.

“I thought she said she was an independent woman? She is bowing down to patriarchal power!” another thundered.

In another weibo post that went also viral, a woman was celebrated when she claimed that she had divorced her husband because he wouldn’t let their child have her last name. reckoned that the furore over the naming of Papi Jiang’s child reflects the hopes of many netizens – and their subsequent disappointment – that Jiang would defy her culture’s powerful patriarchal values. “Even though, according to law, a child can have the mother’s last name or the father’s, in many places, having the father’s last name is a tradition that is not even questioned. If a child takes the last name of his mother, other people may ask if she is a single parent, or mock the father for being useless, or ‘letting the woman wear the pants’… So a lot of people had hoped that a maverick like Jiang would break the social norms,” the newspaper surmised.

Others urged netizens to respect Jiang’s personal choice. “The baby is the child of two other people, what business does her last name have to do with you?” one wrote.

Some womens’ rights activists, too, reckon that the surname issue has been blown out of all proportion. “It is not necessary to require people who advocate feminism to be ‘feminist’ in everything they do,” Wei Tingting, a feminist and psychologist, told the South China Morning Post. “It is every woman’s choice and it should be respected. Denouncing womens’ choices is against the spirit of feminism.”

“Papi and her husband both have the right to discuss and make a free choice. Others should not be so picky and nosy, let alone force her to choose one way or the other. Nor should her baby’s surname be a criteria to judge whether she is ‘independent’ enough,” a commentator for the Global Times concurred.

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