Deciding on a Baby's First Name Is Easy, It's the Last Name That's Hard

baby nameYou know that debate that rages -- sometimes within our very own selves, or between us and our partners -- about whether or not a woman should be expected to change her name when marrying? Well, that debate can lead to another dilemma -- sometimes within our very own selves, or between us and our partners -- when children enter the picture. When the moment comes to fill out your child's birth certificate form, yesterday's easy solution (two names) can seem a little more complex (two names? Which one do you hand down? And who will be the odd man out?).

Tessa Blake writes compellingly, in The Huffington Post, about her misgivings about saddling her daughter with a hyphenated last name, including, presumably, both her husband's last name and Blake's own. Giving her daughter a "long, law-firm-ish name," as she calls it, didn't seem like a great solution, but it seemed like the best option they had.


Me? When my son was born, I (who, like Blake, had not changed my name when I married) took a different tack. In the months leading up to our baby's birth, after only a few minutes of discussion, my husband and I agreed to give our first child my husband's last name. Honestly, maybe it was because I'm still bound by the chains of our patriarchal society, and have grown so comfortable with those chains as to cease to notice them, but it just seemed like a no-brainer. Not necessarily the right thing to do, but not the wrong thing, either. I had decided to keep my name not because I loved it or even to make a strong political statement, but mostly because it was mine and I had grown used to it. There didn't seem a compelling reason not to follow the usual cultural protocol with a small person just making his debut.

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It was only after enduring about a gazillion hours of labor and a fairly complicated delivery that I began to have second thoughts about our initial choice.

I sat with the birth certificate on my hospital tray table for hours, contemplating how to fill it out. Though we had long since settled on our son's name (a first name we chose for the sound of it, a middle name that honored a beloved relative, and that last name that linked our son to his dad), leaving out my own name and putting down my husband's suddenly didn't feel so right after all. It felt like thoughtlessly snipping a connection -- and it had only been hours since my baby had been literally connected to me. I couldn't do it. With my husband's blessing (after what I'd gone through during that birth, I probably could have named our son Rumpelstiltskin and he would have been fine with it), I added another name between my son's middle name and last name: my own last name.

My son loves all four of his names. He proudly learned to spell and write each one, and when family members leave out his second middle name, the name he shares with me, he gently reminds them about their omission. And I do like the feeling of connection the shared name brings. But when it came time to name our daughter, born two and half years later, I left my name out and gave her a tidy three names -- one of which (the last one) she'd share with her father and brother, but not with me.

Four seemed like too many names. It was hard to fit them all on forms -- and my husband and my name are a real mouthful together. Plus, what if she, unlike me, decided to change her surname when and if she ever got married. Or decided to hyphenate? How many names would she be wrangling with then?

Though he carries my name (tucked in the middle) and she does not, I don't feel any less connected to my daughter than I do my son. I don't really mind when people call us the "[my husband's name] family" -- though I do prefer it when people include my name as well. Interestingly, at one point, I suggested to my son that he might want to drop my last name as a second middle name, and slim down to the original three names we'd planned for the months before his birth to give him. He flat-out dismissed the idea. But then our daughter piped up.

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"I think I might want to change my name," she said. She wanted to add a fourth name into the mix: mine, tucked as a second middle name, just like her brother's. At some point, if she still wants to, we'll help her make that happen.

Have you struggled with what last name to give your kid -- yours, your husband's, a hyphenate, a blend -- or the idea of your child having a different last name than yours?


Image via kaatjevervoort/Flickr

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