Deliberate Family Name Selection – Marriage and Children

It’s not surprising to me that a woman is more likely to keep her own name after she gets married if she has an advanced degree, marries later in life, and has her first child later in life, but it is really shocking to me that of these mothers who either keep their name or hyphenate, 72.6% give their kids their husband’s last name!  (See Goldin, C. and Shim, M. (2004).  Making a name: Women’s surnames at marriage and beyond.  The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 18 (143), 158–59; Emens, E.F. (2007).  Changing name changing: Framing rules and the future of marital names.  The University of Chicago Law Review, 74 (3), FN 199.)

The selection of family name is so fraught with historical significance and ownership implications that I find it really challenging to decide what to do.  So many systems are based on the assumption that I will abandon my family name because I am a woman.  For over three decades, I have had the same family name – it connects me to my immediate family and the myriad of nicknames involving my last name that I have had for the last three decades.  I like my last name and I am loath to give it up.  This wouldn’t be a problem, regardless of whether my partner and I were going to get married (we’re not) because we could both just keep our own names.  When it becomes an issue that needs to be addressed is when we have kids.  While neither of us have particularly strong feelings about what family name our kids have, we will have to give them a last name, so ponder the options with me.

1. Take his last name.
Definitely not.  This, I feel strongly about.  I will (hopefully) be the one housing a baby for 9 months and pushing it out.  No way Josephina.

2. Take my last name.
Possibly, but this doesn’t feel entirely right.  It’s not like he’s not contributing at all.  Plus, the antidote to a misogynistic tradition isn’t a misandrist one.

3. Make one of our last names a middle name.
Eh.  This doesn’t seem very fair either because hardly any one uses their middle name.

4. Every other.
A couple of my friends literally flipped a coin to decide the last name of their first child.  Dad won.  They planned to give their second child mom’s last name, but I think they are starting to consider all having the same last name.  I don’t like this option because I think we’d psychologically feels like we had different responsibility for the kids based on their last name (my kid, your kid).  Plus, what do you do if you have an odd number of kids?

5. Hyphenation.
Possibly.  I like this because it clearly shows that two sides of our families came together to create this little being and new family.  This feels, however, like a short-term solution; what would our kids do when they partnered up?  This seems like a cop out, although maybe I should stop thinking about the long term implications of everything I do!  Maybe this is one of those times when I should just go with the solution that works for right now.

6. Smoosh.
This would be my preference if our family names didn’t sound so ridiculous together.  We still might opt for this, but it isn’t without at least some hesitation.  Also, all the celebrity name smooshing makes me want to vomit and being associated with that makes me a little sad.

7. Entirely new name
This isn’t a terrible option, but it completely separates this new family name from our own family histories and that seems to defeat the purpose of family names in the first place.  We might as well all just have one name like Madonna!

Then there’s the other issue; do we all take on this new family name since we will after all be a family or do my partner and I keep our different family names and our kids have different last names from us?  I’m leaning toward all taking the same name if we go with option 5, 6, or 7.  I do, however, like the idea of not having to change my name at all because it seems like a pain!

Also, there’s a very real possibility that we will adopt kids some day.  What family name do they get?  I wouldn’t want them to be completely disconnected from their birth family, but I would also want them to feel like a part of our family.  I will put those ponderings off for another day.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and creative alternatives.


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