First name vs. Surname

Jun 22nd 2009

In my last post, "Sharing the Choice," I talked about the value of parents sharing and compromising in baby name decisions. Among the examples of non-sharing I mentioned was this occasional refrain:

“I figure he gets the surname so I should get the first name, it’s only fair.”

Not surprisingly, some of you called me on it. Isn't it "only fair"? In the words of one reader:

"You gloss over the fact that the last name is still a 'solo domain.' Very few children (especially of married parents) have the mother's birth surname as their last name. Even if the mother has a beautiful, easy to spell surname, the children inevitably get the father's name, even if it's harsh-sounding and impossible to spell. When is there going to be a discussion about women being automatically cut out of that naming picture?"

So let me clarify.

I don't think giving up first-name rights because you "get" the surname is a natural tradeoff, because I consider first and last name decisions fundamentally different. The choice of a surname is about relationships, roles, traditions, and power. The choice of a first name is about individual identity.

In my years in the name business I have never, ever heard a parent say something like, "We're totally stuck on surnames. He wants Picard after Captain Picard, and I want Bronte after Charlotte Bronte." I've never seen an expectant mom's face light up in delight as she describes why she chose the surname Fenstermacher for her baby. And I've never heard a dad worry that if they name the baby Jessica, people will think she's not his child.

Sure, you can decide to trade first name rights for surname rights. You can also trade name rights for, say, the right to choose your next car, or responsibility for 4 AM feedings. Personally, though, I wouldn't do it. A first name is a unique bridge between you and your child, and between your child and the world. Nothing else really compares. Plus both parents are going to be saying this name countless times every day, so they'd both better like it.

Now, about those surnames. In my personal circle of friends and acquaintances I've seen an incredible variety of responses to the surname challenge:

- The woman took the man's surname after marriage.

- The man took the woman's surname after marriage.

- The woman hypenated her surname after marriage, the man didn't.

- Both of them hyphenated their surnames after marriage.

- Both of them changed to a whole new surname, created out of parts of the two original names.

- Both of them changed to a different family surname that would have otherwise died out.

- Both kept their own surnames, and the kids were given the dad's name.

- Both kept their own surnames, and the kids were given hyphenated names.

- Both kept their own surnames, and the kids were given a new surname created from the two parents' surnames.

- Both kept their own surnames and the sons got dad's surname, daughters mom's surname.

Doubtless there are even more creative permutations that I haven't encountered. (Please do share!) The right choice for an individual family depends on how you weigh many competing values. But whatever your approach to surnames, I'd suggest trying to work out the family identity before it's time to start shaping your kids' individual identities. It's better to have two shared decisions than two offsetting resentments.



By Melanie 1 (not verified)
June 22, 2009 9:24 AM

I like the idea of separating the first name and surname decision as the child's individual identity versus the family's identity. It is a very different discussion and I agree that it should be discussed separately. I come from a pretty traditional cultural background (I wasn't given a middle name because it was assumed that my maiden name would become my middle name when I married)and my maiden name is not very easy to spell or pronounce so I never really considered not changing it when I got married even thought my husband would have been okay with that idea. When the time came to change my name, however, I did feel more sentimental attachment to that part of my identity than I had expected so I can completely understand someone else wanting to pass that part of them on. I just don't think that picking the first name would be an adequate substitute for not feeling like I had a part in shaping my child's family identity.

June 22, 2009 10:00 AM

Does anyone else feel that part of the ln issue is also sound? I have family with the last name that is pronounced hoo-ner-waddle and I always felt that with a name like that as the option I'd probably keep my own name. It also would sound sort of silly with a hyphenation, so I wouldn't do that either. Luckily that's not my name, but my actual LN doesn't sound good with many names either though I do like it.

Melanie 1- That's an interesting phenomenon, my aunt who was born in 1943 was not given a mn and kept her maiden-name as a mn when she got married (she kept both of those when she got divorced I should add). My mom who was born in 1950 was named after a grandmother and was given a mn to begin with. I don't know whether that was because they were giving her the grandmother's full name or if they just felt differently about naming after 7 years. I assume however that my aunt was expected to do just what she did.

By hillary (not verified)
June 22, 2009 10:59 AM

Parents in intercultural marriages do worry that a first name might not sound like their child. I think that's especially the case if the child is getting the father's surname and a first name from the father's language/culture.

By hyz
June 22, 2009 11:33 AM

Hillary--very good point. That's the case with me (anglo) and my DH (Korean)--he felt strongly that her first name be Korean, and that she have his surname as well, and although I (mostly) embrace his family's culture and am genuinely proud that our daughter will share his heritage, I started feeling a little cut out of the picture. After all, I have a rich (if mixed) heritage myself, and our child isn't *just* Korean. Our compromise this time around was to give her an English middle name, and that's what we call her every day. Her Korean relatives and strangers (such as the doctor's office, etc.) use her Korean first name.

I do like the idea of giving the child both parents' surnames, with one being a(n extra) middle, but in our case it just doesn't sound good, and I didn't want to stick our daughter with a clumsy name for the sake of principle.

June 22, 2009 11:22 AM

"Parents in intercultural marriages do worry that a first name might not sound like their child. I think that's especially the case if the child is getting the father's surname and a first name from the father's language/culture."

Good point. For instance, one family I know gave their kids dad's English surname and a Japanese first name because mom was Japanese. The parents figured that kind of name would "match" the kids' appearance and forstall a lot of questions. But those decisions were still made jointly, not as a quid-pro-quo for sacrifices.

By Jake (not verified)
June 22, 2009 12:15 PM

“I figure he gets the surname so I should get the first name, it’s only fair.”

But he doesn't really get to CHOOSE the surname either (at least in the most common, traditional naming schemes). He just passes on his surname. So it's not really a choice at all, unless you want to take one of the more radical choices listed above.

By Ellie Matheson (not verified)
June 22, 2009 12:32 PM

I was Elizabeth O'Neill and he was Vaughn Eamonn. We decided to both switch our surnames to something completely different. We are now Vaughn and Corinne Matheson, with our daughters Violet and Gemma.
Matheson was simply a last name we wanted our family to have. We didn't want my name because of the apostrophe, we didn't want to keep his name because he's encountered a lot of pronunciation issues in his life, and we didn't want to hyphenate because we didn't want any punctuation in their names. We also wanted our family to share a surname.

Our family took a little while to get used to it, but it was definitely the right decision for us. We also only got married at age 20, so we were young enough that we have adjusted properly (it's been 12 years).

By Melanie 1 (not verified)
June 22, 2009 12:53 PM

I have a friend that is Japanese married to an American. They named their children with an American first name and Japanese middle name and the father's very English surname (think like Smith or Jones). I remember her discussing whether she was going to call her new daughter by her first or her middle name. She decided to call both her children by their Japanese middle names so that that side of their heritage could be reflected since a Suzy Smith wouldn't represent that very well. Both my husband and I are similar ethnic background so that isn't an issue, but because we have been using family names for our children, there is the issue of making sure both sides of the family are being represented. I have to admit we have on or two lines that seem to have all the good names and I've worried about other grandparents feeling left out.

By Cindy Zawalich (not verified)
June 22, 2009 1:06 PM

My niece and her husband, each of whom uses their own surname, decided to create an entirely different surname for their kids. Not only a new surname, but one that sounds as if it came from a completely different ethnic background! It has the suffix "-son" attached to a variant of the husband's first name. Their kids are all boys, which is lucky, since otherwise they'd have to deal with giving a daughter the "-son" suffix, or adding a fourth last name to their family group! No one else in the family is wild about this idea -- my husband says that sending a Christmas card to the family is like addressing one to a law firm.

By Amy3
June 22, 2009 1:09 PM

I have friends who each kept their own surnames. The first son is FN-MN-dad's surname-mom's surname. The second son is FN-MN-mom's surname-dad's surname. (And although I've hyphenated here, the names aren't hyphenated IRL. One boy uses mom's surname; the other uses dad's.) I'm not sure if they would have kept alternating b/c they stopped with two kids.

And I agree with Jake (#8, 12:15p), unless you're either hyphenating or creating a new name, neither mom nor dad is "choosing" the surname; they're only choosing which one to bestow. The name itself is already determined, which makes it potentially much different than first and middle name choices.

When my husband and I got married, I did change my name (as I mentioned in the previous thread). A huge reason I did this was the overwhelming similarity between our names. Neither keeping mine nor hyphenating felt like a good choice. However, another piece of the puzzle was that I personally wanted all of us--parents and kids--to share a surname. That's meaningful to me, but I understand it may not resonate with others.

By Amy3
June 22, 2009 1:11 PM

Cindy, I know people who did that too! They both kept their surnames and created a new one for their son (from pieces of their surnames). I think the created name sounds vaguely Japanese, but the kid is as anglo as can be. It's also annoying (to me) that his surname rhymes with a common nn for his given name (although I only knew him to go by the full name).

June 22, 2009 1:31 PM

As I mentioned in the previous thread, I changed my name, partly because I liked my husband's name better, partly because it would have made me the only person among our friends/extended family to NOT change my name, and I didn't want to be that person...but also (as Amy3 mentions) I wanted us to all have the same name as a family.

At the time it didn't bother me at all, and I still don't mind the fact that I changed my name, but it is a little weird to me to think about my kids not having a name connection to my parents and siblings. So we're leaning toward familial first and middle names. I've thought about having my maiden name as a second middle name for my kids, but it seems a little strange to give it to them since I didn't keep it myself.

June 22, 2009 1:33 PM

I am Asian (mixed race) and my husband is Anglo.
I never thought I'd have a problem taking my husband's name, but when I actually got married, it was a very difficult decision. Since my first name is quite Western, I felt like having a German last name not only changed my identity, but also robbed me of my cultural heritage. (Imagine an Asian "Heidi Muller"--not my name, but similar). I thought about hyphenating or keeping my maiden name, but in the end decided that I wanted to have a family "unit" name. If we ever needed to be sorted by our last name, I didn't want to be separated from my husband. (We did not consider my husband taking my name for similar reasons of identity, but mostly because his parents are quite conservative. I believe they would have been hurt if I had chosen not to take their name. It was just not a battle we wanted to fight.)

We, furthermore, did not feel like hyphenating is necessarily a sustainable cultural practice. What will our daughter do when she gets married? Add a third name? Drop one name so she can take another--if so, which name? We also did not want to combine our names or take a new name entirely because both of us like the idea of being connected to previous generations and like the idea of having a genealogy that can be traced.

So I kept my maiden name as a second middle name (my mother's maiden name is my first middle name. I think I was supposed to drop it when I kept my own maiden name but it is a name I really love) and took my husband's surname. When I write my name, I include my maiden name with my surname--just not hyphenated, so when names are sorted surname first, I am LN, FN maiden name (For example: Muller, Heidi Lin).

We decided to give my daughter my maiden name as her second middle name, as per my mother's culture. We opted not to give her a Chinese or Filipino first name as Chinese names are not as easy to use in the West and Filipino names are mostly cultural hybrids. We named her a very simple name that we consider quite international and will just give her an additional Chinese name should she end up wanting one. She has my husband's surname as will the rest of our family.

(We also opted to give her my mom's maiden name as her first middle name, so essentially she shares both middle names with me. My husband and I liked the fact that we chose her first name together because it is a name we love, and the rest of her names pay tribute to both of us as individuals as well as our families.)

June 22, 2009 1:35 PM

My husband and I both hyphenated when we married, which was an easy decision for us - both our surnames are only 5 letters, mine 1-syllable and his 2. We'll be using our "new" surname for our child(ren). It did cause some issues with his side of the family (his grandmother insists on addressing cards to us as: Mr and Mrs McKay*, not Dr and Mr Grant-McKay*). I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that his family will call our daughter by just "their" surname, rather that the "joint" name we've chosen for all of us.

The hyphenated decision also meant that we had to jettison our idea of incorporating "lost" family surnames as our children's middle names: three surnames in a row started to sound like the above-mentioned law firm.

By Aybee (not verified)
June 22, 2009 1:38 PM

My husband is Irish, and I am not. As any future children will have his (Irish) last name I won't use choices I'd otherwise like-- particularly Eamon (funny that this name came up earlier in this thread) because I think that would be ignoring the other parts of future-child's heritage.

By hyz
June 22, 2009 1:48 PM

I disagree that using the father's name isn't "choosing" the name. Just because it's a choice between a potentially limited set of options doesn't mean that it's not a choice. If you go to a bar that only serves 5 kinds of beer and 3 kinds of food, you are still "choosing" what to order--it may not be the range of selections you'd prefer, but there you are and it's late and you're hungry, so you have to pick something. I only raise this point because saying that it's "not really a choice," to me, gets back to the mindset of making that choice invisible, default, and unexamined. I also like the comment from the last thread that we need to have "honest" conversations with our partners about why we're choosing the last name that we do--for ourselves and for our kids. Hopefully, an open and equal exchange on this topic will be good for the relationship and the family.

As for the question that was raised towards the end of the last thread, about how prevalent these "alternative" naming options are--I'd say they are relatively common in my circle, but not as much as I'd expect. That is, I'm usually surprised when one of my friends gets married and announces that she's taking her husband's name (this is the case with one of the most outspoken feminists and gender activists I know, who is getting married soon and plans to change her name from an attractive and easily spelled occupation surname--think Carter or Archer--to something along the lines of Gaznak--I was literally shocked). But I've known more than a few hyphenated people, men who've changed their last name to their wive's, parents who use alternate naming schemes for their kids, etc. I really appreciate when people do this, making it more "normal" in the eyes of others, so that more people can feel comfortabl/brave enough to follow their principles and/or at least have a serious conversation about it with their partner.

By LL (not verified)
June 22, 2009 2:02 PM

I took my husband's short, extremely common last name in the interest of family unity and a lingering childhood fear of friends' moms who'd get annoyed when wrongly addressed as Mrs. So-and-so. ("Actually, it's Dr. Blah, thank you very much.")

However, husband's surname could not possibly sound worse paired with my first name and I am filled with remorse. An alternate pronunciation of my first name is exactly the same as my last name (think Joan Jones.) Strangers frequently point out how hilariously terrible it is, like maybe I wouldn't have noticed.

But I want all of us (including our 1-year-old daughter) to have the same surname, darn it! You think it's too late to come up with a new, wacky portmanteau surname and change all our names?

By Rosemary (not verified)
June 22, 2009 2:09 PM

My husband and I each kept our own names when we married.

Our sons have his last name for a middle name, and my last name for their last name. So they are commonly known by Firstname Mylastname.

So far it has not been an issue at all for us. My husband has traveled with the two of them without me, and there were no issues. I am aware his family thinks we are weird, but they thought I was weird anyway, so why not live up to expectations.

We have never encountered anyone in our social circle who has done anything like this. In fact, nearly every married woman changed her last name to her husband's, so the childrens' surnames are a non-issue for almost everyone.

P.S. one of my captcha words is "tainty" !?!?!?

By Guest (not verified)
June 22, 2009 2:15 PM

i have one of those 'law firm' families and i have to say that it isn't that much of a problem. the receptionist at the dr's office is permanently perplexed about how we're all related (sibs and parents with different names with step parents to boot) which is kind of comical, but really in the big picture it isn't that big of a deal. it took some reminders when the kids were first babies (my MIL wanting to know if cutting my kids hyphenated last names in half was 'close enough' etc) but all in all it hasn't been much of an issue. just like saying no to nicknames, once you get your families used to the idea it's not that complicated. i'm sure if you have cultural issues tied to your naming convention it's a bit of a different story, but i think these days no one bats an eye at changing or hyphenating names, different surnames, etc. it's a different world now, and people don't necessarily assume families even have the same last name to begin with.

the only thing i would do differently is that my first two kids have a double last name with no hyphen which seemed simpler to me but in practice is more of a pain. i always have to say "smith space-not-a-hyphen jones" when giving their names.

By Holly (not verified)
June 22, 2009 2:17 PM

My husband and I did a slightly different variant from those you've listed. I kept my maiden name as a second middle name, and took my husband's last name. My husband also took my last name as a second middle name. So now we are both firstname middlename mylastname hislastname. I was very pleased with this solution - I really like that my husband took part of my name, but that we didn't have to deal with hyphenating. We decided not to give our children a second middle name though, so they are just firstname middlename hislastname.

By Amy3
June 22, 2009 2:47 PM

'saying that it's "not really a choice," to me, gets back to the mindset of making that choice invisible, default, and unexamined'

hyz, I see your point and even agree with it to the extent that I believe parents should have open, honest conversations about all the names that will be used for their children (first, multiple or single middle, and last). My husband and I definitely did, and I have no regrets because of that.

However, I do think a very circumscribed choice when it comes to surname is somehow different--at least to me--than the wide-ranging exploration that can take place when "choosing" first and middle names. It's a fine line, right?, but I think it's still there.

By pyewacket (not verified)
June 22, 2009 2:49 PM

Hm. I don't know. I kept my last name, but I agreed any kids could have my husband's last name, because it mattered a lot to him. Since he also very much wanted to give his children his father and brother's name for his middle name, I agreed to that. Now, maybe the first name represents "individual" identity versus family identity; that's probably fair. But there were decisions to be made about the last and middle name, and it's unrealistic to presume that there was no give-and-take over those decisions. In both cases, I chose to give in to his preference. That was my decision and I don't think he "owes" me anything because of it. But I also don't think it's quite tit-for-tat for me to get a little more leverage over the first name. If we could come to a name we both loved equally, that would be ideal, but so far none has emerged. So one of us will be settling a little, and I don't think it's fair to characterize our mutual choice to let me have the final say (in part because he had the final say in the other aspects of the child's naming) to be "offsetting resentments." That's a rather dramatic way of describing a reasonable approach to naming, both first and last names - a discussion in which each party gives a little on their preferences, coming to decisions that are acceptable to both.

So it looks like I will choose the first name for our boy, and that name will connect to my family, while the middle and last name have connections to his family. That's another consideration as well - a first name chosen after a parent, grandparent or other family member can represent significant "family identity," without being a last name, shared or otherwise. Finding a mutually acceptable way to make those connections to both sides might indeed involve choices about both first and last names.

Very different, I think, from what seems to be the process you're envisioning - a woman saying that "the child will be a Smith like you, so I'm naming him Xavier, and you don't get to complain."

By pyewacket (not verified)
June 22, 2009 2:51 PM

D'oh. Just the one kid (the upcoming one) getting the middle name. My typing gets worse with each passing year...

By k8sky (not verified)
June 22, 2009 3:08 PM

Hi all! I've been loving this blog for a long time, but have never posted. Now that I'm two weeks away from the birth of our first child, I'd love to get your opinions.

We don't yet know the sex of the child, but my husband and I have come up with first names we like. For the middle names, we'd like some sort of a family connection.

For a girl, we like the name Genevieve-- nn Evie.
What do you think of:
Genevieve Esther (gma's name)
Genevieve Kate (my first name is Katie)
Genevieve James (my dad's name)
Genevieve Sky (a truncation of my maiden name)

And for a boy, we are going with Miles-- nn Milo.
How about:
Miles Jacobus (my gpa's name, his gpa's nn is Bus)
Miles Patrick (husband's middle name)
Miles Dixon (play on gma's nn Dixie)

Our last name is S@v@ge. I'd love to hear your opinions, or some suggestions if you have other ideas.

June 22, 2009 3:08 PM

Pyewacket -- it sounds to me like you and your husband really have shared the decisions and come up with a compromise. I have nothing against "tradeoffs" in principle. It's when the tradeoff replaces an honest attempt at sharing and compromise, or when it feels like payback for being wronged, that warning bells should go off IMO.

By hyz
June 22, 2009 3:19 PM

Amy3--I definitely agree that it's not generally the same *kind* of choice (because most people take the choice to be circumscribed to a very limited set of options--although that, too, is a choice--some people do choose to change their last names althogether to a random word of their liking)--I just wanted to emphasize that I think it very much IS a choice.

And to Laura's point that she never hears of a family being stuck on surnames--I know at least one family that, for reasons unknown to me, changed the surname of the entire family from something like Smith to Peacock. The family (including the 5 year old twin daighters) got together and brainstormed on what they wanted it to be, and somehow that was the consensus they reached. Not that this is common--again--just that it's a choice that some make, and that anyone *could* make. And I've heard lots of people saying that they and their partners were stuck on last names--he wanted his and she wanted hers, or something to that effect, and it was every bit as much a negotiating process as the first names (this was the case with my DH and I). Regarding the point of people not waxing rhapsodic over their choice of Fenstermacher, etc.--I think that might not happen *not* because people aren't passionate about the surname issue, but because people generally apply different selection criteria to surname selection (not "how pretty does it sound," but "how does it connect me to my child, and my child to her past?").

I also agree with Pyewacket's well-articulated points about the give-and-take aspect of surname decisionmaking. It definitely sounds similar to the process in our house.

June 22, 2009 3:25 PM

Hyz-I have heard that NOT making a choice is essentially making a choice. I think that's where I fall. I never thought twice about NOT changing my name. I also never batted an eye about the fact that my children would take on dad's LN. I am a tiny bit saddened by the loss of my maiden LN but taking both didn't cross my mind at the time and incidently would've sounded horrible. So I guess I will keep up with researching my family genealogy and pass THAT along.

And I do agree with the several posters that have stated its a whole different ballgame with a mixed heritage family.

By Peony (not verified)
June 22, 2009 3:32 PM

In response to this:

“'I figure he gets the surname so I should get the first name, it’s only fair.'”

Jake said:

"But he doesn't really get to CHOOSE the surname either (at least in the most common, traditional naming schemes). He just passes on his surname. So it's not really a choice at all, unless you want to take one of the more radical choices listed above."

That's true, Jake, men don't get to choose the last name they are given...but there's still privilege in the world generally expecting that you as a man will *keep your name* throughout your life. In the Western world, it is generally assumed the married woman will subsume her identity and heritage (and sense of self, in some cases) under her husband's by taking his last name. For some or many women, as we've seen, there is a lot of discomfort in that--it really can be painful to give up your name. Don't think just because you didn't *choose* your last name that there isn't privilege/power in the expectation that you will keep your name throughout your life.

Which is why I'm all about people choosing whatever last name(s) works for them and their family. It's a tough issue.

I for one felt negated and erased and belittled when I took my husband's name. I did it because I'd hated my maiden name all my life and was glad to be rid of it. But once I took my husband's last name, I regretted it. So I ended up taking my mother's maiden name, which was about to die out, and hyphenated it with my married name. Not a perfect solution, but it affirms the female line in an interesting way, and feels more balanced. I've always been very, very glad I made that change (even if my husband chose not to hyphenate with me!).

By hyz
June 22, 2009 3:39 PM

Whoops, I posted that before seeing Laura's reply to Pyewacket. So just to clarify--I would totally agree that *any* trade-off in a relationship that is treated as payback for a wrong, etc., is usually not a great thing, especially when it's over an important issue like the name of your mutual child. But I think it makes a lot of sense to do some "trading" over naming rights (i.e. you got the LN you wanted, so I get more say in the FN, etc.), because all of it *does* (or at least may) go to how connected you feel to your child. I think Eo touched on this in the last thread when talking about children having their father's last name creating an additional bond between fathers and children. I agree with this as a "pro" for giving kids the dad's LN. After all, mom carries the baby, often nurses the baby, often does much of the baby's initial care, and all of this can lead to a child obviously preferring the mother early in life. Dad can understandably feel alienated/saddened by this, and if having the same LN as the child gives him one more reason to think to himself with pride, "that's MY kid", who could complain? On the other hand, when the doctor's office staff (or whomever) reads my daughter's name off a chart, and it comes across as 100% Asian, and she has a fairly strong Asian appearance, then people may have a tendency to wonder who this pale, blue-eyed white lady is standing next to her. Already in my daughter's young life, I've been asked if I adopted her (by people who saw me heavily pregnant with her MULTIPLE times! But that just goes to show how strong of an assumption the name+looks thing can create). I admit to feeling a little hurt/miffed by this. I also admit to feeling a little left out and alone when visiting my in-laws, and they (and my DH) call her by a name I don't regularly use, and speak to each other in a language I mostly can't understand.

Anyway, long story short, I wouldn't fault anyone for saying "he got the LN, so I get the FN," as long as it was said and done without rancor.

By Peony (not verified)
June 22, 2009 3:37 PM

I forgot to mention--our children will have the hyphenated last name. Whatever they choose to do with it if/when they get married is their choice.

June 22, 2009 3:41 PM

k8sky-Just on the flow of the first names I picked Genevieve Sky and Miles Patrick. Then I saw your LN and rethought my decision. I think for flow with the LN that Genevieve Esther works well and still like the Miles Patrick for a boy.
Genevieve James sounds strange to me.
Miles Jacobus has to many S sounds on its own and then to top it off with an S LN doesn't work imho.

By Bue (not verified)
June 22, 2009 3:41 PM

I agree with both Hyz and Amy3 on the surname being a choice - albeit a different one. Laura listed 10 various permutations of surnames in the post - that is absolutely a choice! I also like pyewacket's remark about making sure the choice doesn't become a resentment-filled 'trade-off' between the first and last, though - I don't think any of us want that.

In my circle it's pretty usual for women to keep their last names, but like Hyz, I am amazed that today there's not more creativity in the kids' names. My own mum kept her name but like most kids with that situation, I was given my dad's. As I get older I find myself wanting more of a connection to her - I wish I had her surname as a second middle. So for me that is the non-negotiable thing when I have kids - I am open to all sorts of permutations, but my surname's gotta be in there somewhere, even if it's relatively 'silent'.

On the topic of names that incorporate both parents' heritage, one of my best friends has a Chinese father and a Welsh mother. She was given a fairly out-there Welsh name to go with her typical Chinese surname and the combination is preposterous but absolutely fabulous (think Olwen Chong) - it is who she is.

By Guest (not verified)
June 22, 2009 3:46 PM

Wow I must say I'm blown away. I have not heard of this trend of people making up new surnames for their families. I don't consider myself a very traditional person in many aspects of my life, but I can't imagine doing this. What about family history? Doesn't that mean anything? I find it so interesting to trace my ancestors, will this be lost eventually? Very interesting topic....

By Bue (not verified)
June 22, 2009 3:53 PM

Oh, I just saw Peony's post in response to Jake. I wanted to say that I thought it was beautifully expressed. And well done for finding a solution for yourself that made you and your family happy.

June 22, 2009 3:57 PM

This is really interesting to read about! I'm not married or close to it, but a cousin is dating a girl with the same fn, nn AND mn (although spelled diff) as me so if she chooses to take his name when they get married she gets MY exact name! Well plus her maiden name if she keeps it. So I was discussing with another cousin who said well if you change your name when you marry the other one isn't yours anymore... and that didn't seem right. So it got me thinking that I'd like to use both names, not hyphenated. So FN MN Katz Orens (not the names, but as an example with a similar feel). But I'd like them both to be my last name, not one be relegated to the mn status. Several people have mentioned how they deal with this, but I wanted to solicit more feedback. Is the double-ln possible without the hyphen?

By KimB
June 22, 2009 4:00 PM

I took my husband's ln after some discussion. My ln with my short fn sounded very abrupt and much colder than I think my personality is. Plus, my maiden ln was always misspelled and mispronounced and I was looking forward to the days that that might be gone. Of course, my new ln still has the same trouble (who knew?!) but I don't regret it. Both my maiden and my new ln are German and so I still feel that they represent me culturally. (Plus, I did want all of our immediate family to have the same ln and I had always assumed, until a few years before I met my husband when I was in grad school, that I would change my name. I think that helped.)

I must say, however, that I struggled with how to "use" my maiden name, the name on my PhD and the one that ppl would have to know if they wanted to check out my degree. I just make sure it's listed like a mn (although I kept my original mn) on my resume/vita and that's it. For a long time after I got married I kept both ln's on my signature at work, to help ease the confusion.

I also want to add that the whole name change process, legally, emotionally, and just daily living-wise was not easy. I remember many times telling my husband that I was glad he recognized the amount of effort it took to become his wife - or other such somewhat sarcastic and somewhat realistic comments. We laughed about it knowing that we/I did make the choice that fit us individually and together best.

k8sky - I really like Miles Dixon and Miles nn Milo! I don't ahve any strong reactions (+ or -) for the girls mns.

June 22, 2009 4:00 PM

Genevieve Esther S@v@ge- Lovely
Genevieve Kate S@v@ge- I really like Genevieve Kate, paired with your ln is fine too.
Genevieve James S@v@ge- I actually really like the flow of this, but I'm not crazy about James as a mn for a girl, it just feels odd. What about Jane?

Miles Patrick S@v@ge- Excellent sounding
Miles Dixon S@v@ge- I also like this and love the Dixon play on the nn Dixie, very cute

June 22, 2009 4:02 PM

Hyz's comment about her relatives speaking another language got me to thinking. Much forgiveness if this bothers anyone, I will do the best I can. My question is this, do deaf people (both parents deaf) choose a name because of the sound of it? I'm sure they go through the process just like others do with flow, meaning, family heritage and other important details. However, because they won't actually be hearing the sounds, is it more important to have the name flow in sign language or in speech to others ears? I suppose this is sort of like the "tree in the forest" question. Do deaf people really have an idea of the sounds of the names? Do blind people care how the name looks on paper? Or are these just non-issues for obvious reasons.

By KimB
June 22, 2009 4:47 PM

I believe the deaf/signing ppl I know would choose a name for the flow of it just like hearing ppl do - but their flow would be in the language that they sign.

I know one "joke" with some signers is that Shakespeare is signed like shaking a spear (over the head) and that this is actually beneficial so that signers don't have to fingerspell the whole thing. But, to novice signers, to ppl who aren't familiar with Shakespeare, or to ppl learning a new language, this is quite confusing. I can see this translating into naming issues/considerations.

June 22, 2009 4:49 PM

I just can't resist sharing the story of a married couple I know through acquaintances, who both go by her maiden name as their surname. The woman had always assumed she would take her husband's name when she got married one day (since it was the norm among her family and friends), then she met him and his surname was Lovecock. He was determined that he would be the one to change his surname, and she readily agreed! Not only did she not want to have the surname Lovecock, she also foresaw a lifetime of teasing for her children if they had the surname Lovecock.

I also know a woman who was always determined that she would keep her maiden name when she married, but then she married someone with a fancy long French surname which strongly appealed to her, and she eagerly gave up her common one-syllable English maiden name - after years of saying that women shouldn't change their surname as it is part of your identity and who you are!

And last but not least, I know a man who told his future wife that he would be happy to hyphenate his name with hers except that it would make him look weak to his friends and family, so he just wouldn't do it. He had initially said that his family name was important to him, but then when she insisted that hers was too, he confessed his real reason for not wanting to change.

As these real examples illustrate, the choice of surname can come down to asthetics and/or image just as much as the choice of first name can, although of course we all love to cite history and tradition, or feminist theory, when it comes to justifying our choice of surnames. Maybe many of us are far more fickle than we would like to admit! I have to be honest here and admit that one of the reasons I didn't want to change to my husband's surname is that it is a simple, one-syllable surname that doesn't go with my first name, whereas my maiden name is a long, unusual surname that I get lots of compliments on! (Oh the shame of admitting this!! Please don't judge me, LOL!!)

June 22, 2009 4:58 PM

zoerhenne: I'm not Deaf, so I can't answer your thoughtful question with the same knowledge that a Deaf poster might, but have I have done work (both personal and professional) with the Deaf community and it's my guess that this would be pretty much the same as it is amongst hearing people: people who care about names care about sound and people who don't, don't. (How many hearing people have chosen completely dissonant names for their children that just make you wonder if they ever said it out loud before they filled out the birth certificate?) Deaf NEs probably do consider how a name sounds, particularly if they know that their child will be hearing. In fact, if they still have some hearing and/or attempt to verbalize, they might be particularly attuned to the sound of a name, since some sounds are more difficult for people with hearing problems to pronounce. On the other hand, there are certainly some Deaf people who regard the verbalized sound of names the way that many Deaf people regard music: a non-issue, as you said.

One thing that I would say is a big deal is how a person's name is signed. One fantastic thing about being Deaf (especially if you're an NE) is that you basically get a second name. Instead of just always fingerspelling the letters of someone's name in ASL, you have a specific sign for your name that is unique to you and used by friends and family members. It might represent a specific interest or attribute of yours, it often incorporates the first letter of your name, and it can change throughout your lifetime (so the sign-name that signals that, as a baby, you really loved your teddy bear does not have to identify you as adult). How that sign-name is created and developed is unique to each person, and the way the name looks in ASL--its rhythm, its shape, its similarity to other words (or even its ASL puns)--is really important to the parents I have known.

June 22, 2009 5:13 PM

Jenny L3igh - yes a 2-name surname without a hyphen is definitely possible but, as Guest #19 pointed out above, it is the harder road to travel, as many people can't get their heads around it:

QUOTE: "the only thing i would do differently is that my first two kids have a double last name with no hyphen which seemed simpler to me but in practice is more of a pain. i always have to say "smith space-not-a-hyphen jones" when giving their names."

This is the very reason that I decided to put a hyphen between my surname and my husband's surname - I started off without the hyphen, and people were totally thrown by it. Most people assumed that my maiden name was actually my middle name, not part of my surname. Having the hyphen makes it SO much easier, although I don't like it aesthetically as much.

k8sky - I like your thought process with the baby names. Personally I love Genevieve Esther for a girl (I think it is the best match and has the best flow with your surname, plus both names are gorgeous) and for a boy I would go for Miles Dixon as I love the link to your grandmother's name, I love the names together, and I think it works well with your surname.

By knp (not verified)
June 22, 2009 5:20 PM

k8sky: I dislike Genevieve Esther or Kate, but have fallen in love with Genevieve James!

And for a boy, love the Miles-- nn Milo and my fave is Miles Dixon, with Miles Patrick a close second

June 22, 2009 5:25 PM

k8sky: I, on the other hand, like Genevieve Kate! I really love Miles Dixon though, it's a great combo!

June 22, 2009 5:30 PM

Funny how we all have different preferences with k8sky's names - guess it goes to show that you've gotta go with what YOU love, as there is often no "right" or "wrong" option - it's just personal taste. (Except for my Violet Leaf idea - thank GOD you guys talked me out of that one, LOL!)

By Lara Jane (not verified)
June 22, 2009 5:40 PM

I took my husband's name without a second thought, even though it is quite plain and common (one of the "color" surnames).

I didn't hesitate to give up my name because I don't feel like my identity was wrapped up in it. I am not my name!

It also might have a lot to do with the fact that I'd already been using a hyphenated name, Birthdad-Stepdad. We bought our house together (though I feel like I should clarify that we didn't live together, at the risk of offending some!) before we were married, and boy, were those mortgage papers a PITB to sign! I was ready to throw my name out the window at that point! :)

Something that hasn't been brought up, I don't think:

What about divorce? You hyphenate your names or create a new surname, but what happens with the family breaks apart, and then if you remarry?

By k8sky (not verified)
June 22, 2009 5:43 PM


I totally agree that sometimes the best way to make the decision on surnames is based on aesthetics-- even if it is a fickle reason. That's why I took my husband's last name.

Though I consider myself a feminist, I couldn't really understand why my keeping my father's last name is any more forward-thinking than taking my husband's. And while hyphenations and mergers work for some names, others would just sound ridiculous. (I would list examples, but there just seem to be too many!)

For me, the most important thing I wanted our name to reflect was our bond as a new family, so I knew I wanted our ln to be the same.

What I like about all of the unique ways people are making the decision is that couples are talking about it-- not just doing what has always been done. Sorry to all those uber-creative people who have to go through all the paperwork of the nontraditional name change, though. :)

By Canavi (not verified)
June 22, 2009 5:43 PM

Frankly, I completely disagree.

I could be with a guy who chooses the first name, and the kids could have my maiden name, but generally, the man is the one with the first choice.

He CHOOSES to keep his surname as the children, and won't hear of doing so with my name. That's HIS choice, so the first name should be my choice.

June 22, 2009 5:44 PM

Here's another vote for Miles Dixon. I love the idea of cross-gendered namesakes, particularly when they are as clever and charming as this one. Plus it just sounds great.

For the same reason, I like Genevieve James. Plus, the masculine James balances out the hyper-femininity of Genevieve. This sense of balance also makes me like Genevieve Kate. Genevieve is long and frilly and Kate, while fully feminine, has a real punch to it.

June 22, 2009 6:00 PM

Also, just so folks know, the only states where equal name change options are available to both partners after marriage (without one, usually a male partner, having to file a court order, pay substantial feels, etc.) are currently California, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, and North Dakota.

Let's hear it for the few places that do make options not just available but convenient!