Advice for same-sex last name choice for baby?


I have long been a lurker on this excellent forum and am now excited to be in actual need of your advice! My wife and I are expecting our first, and we are unsure what to do about a last name (let alone a first!). We both have three-syllable last names that absolutely wouldn't work hyphenated. Hers is very, very New England anglo-saxon and mine is very, very Eastern European Jewish. In case it's relevant, we're planning to raise the kids Jewish. One option would be to combine them to make up some sort of new last name, but she's a historian and I'm sort of a traditionalist and I think we both enjoy last names as ties to history and ancestry.

So we will probably either A) Name the first kid with her last name (because I am pregnant this time around, and we like the reverse symmetry of it) and the second (hopefully to exist, hopefully to be carried by her) kid my last name. But what do you all think about having siblings with different last names (especially last names that sound like they're from completely different types of families, ethnically)? I am not wild about this part of the plan because I worry people will assume these kids came from previous relationships or are stepsiblings. Or does this not really matter?

Or B), obviously, we could just pick one of our last names and name both kids that, and maybe give the other as a middle.

Any opinions? Other options we haven't considered? All thoughts are appreciated!


By mph9
September 2, 2016 2:27 PM

Great questions, and no good answers!

My best friend and her wife chose to use two last names, no hyphen, for the entire family.  It is a total of four syllables, so I understand your concern with a long last name.

I like the idea of using the same middle name and last names for both kids.  That way, everyone in the family has the same middle & last and you could also choose to use middle & last for more than just important documents.  Would you & your wife consider changing her name, too?  Then everyone has the same names.

Would the Anglo-Saxon name make a nice first name?  Just a thought... it's all the rage right now, and maybe could work?  Jackson, Lincoln, Kennedy, Bowen, etc.?

I think it makes things easiest if siblings (and often parents) can be easily identified with the same last name.  Alternatively, I know a family who "made up" a new last name by combining elements of both names.  A "Bradgelina" name if you will (even though no one would ever know).

Also consider (for the adults) if you like your last name... there's the option to have one on official documents, but use your maiden name(s) socially.  Plenty of friends haven't changed their names on Facebook, email, etc. even though it officially has been changed.

For the kids:  if you decided to keep only one of the parents' names for the last name, agree on the ethnic origins for the first name.  For example, if you use the Anglo-Saxon last name, then the kids' first names' should all have Eastern European Jewish roots.  I don't think this is unreasonable, and also helps you focus on the first name search.  For example, my husband and I decided to use Scandanavian-ish names for first names.  It narrowed down our list!

A conundrum!  Do what feels best for your family and involves everyone!

September 3, 2016 12:56 PM

I know one couple who went with "mom's name for girls, dad's for boys", and another who used the model you describe of "non-gestational mom's name". I also have several relatives where Mom didn't change her name at marriage and thus has a different surname than her husband and children. They all report that modern society has little trouble adjusting to a female parent having a different name than her offspring, but that things get a little more, um, assumption-filled if there's a male with a different name than his offspring, or if siblings have different names: people will take for granted that the lack of matching name means lack of matching parentage. It's up to you whether or how much this bothers you.

On a different track, I do wonder about the specifics of your surnames. Perhaps there is some middle ground between them -- something that's related to both or a combination of them (or their derivations/etymologies) that's an established surname? Many "Easter European Jewish" surnames are actually German surnames or placenames, and English has quite a bit in common with German... Or perhaps there's a name in common in your family trees, or a maternal ancestral name that has died out? Reviving a name like that to use as your new family name seems like an excellent way to both reduce confusion and to connect to your history.

September 5, 2016 12:25 PM

I actually like your solution and find it very elegant with the reverse symmetry. I would give my own kids alternating surnames if the country where I live didn't have rules about that, grrr.

I did know a family growing up with three sons, the first and third with dad's surname and the middle with mom's. They were in high school by the time I met them, and just explained it to anyone who asked. Strangely all the kids strongly took after the parent whose name they had.

My sisters and I think that kids should get the surname that is most interesting. For two of us, that means our partners' surnames, but we've nominated our youngest sister to carry on the family name, as her partner's surname is Wood (not sure he's been told this yet though)!

By EVie
September 5, 2016 9:55 PM

I will happily defer to the other same-sex couple parents on the forum if I am in any way off base, but my initial instinct is that when the children of the family don't all share the same genetic heritage and gestational mothers, it would be most important to me to make sure the surname clearly identifies all the children as one family. Personally speaking, I would absolutely rule out any solution that gives different names to the kids of different gestational mothers--being perceived by the rest of the world as a whole family, and the kids as full siblings (even if they are genetically not), is much more important than passing on the name of one or the other branch of the family. (I usually hate the use of hashtags, but I feel compelled to add: #heteroprivilege).

It sounds like you aren't too keen on making up a new surname, and I totally understand that, so I think the best imperfect solution is to pick one of your surnames, and use the other as a middle or second middle for all kids. Pick the name that is easiest to spell, or the name that matches better with the type of first names you like, or the name that belongs to the one of you that cares more. Yeah, it's unfortunate for whichever one of you will be giving up the surname, but hey--at least it's your choice and there are no patriarchal forces at work pushing you toward one or the other!

Another option would be to dig around in your family trees and pick a new surname for your family from there, instead of doing a mash-up or something made up. That way you are still passing on the family history and keeping to tradition, but it feels like more of an active choice you are making together, rather than defaulting to a birth surname. 

Finally, you could revisit the hyphenation option, possibly with some tweaks. It's hard to judge without a better sense of what the names are, but I don't think 3 + 3 hyphenation is absolutely unmanageable. I'm imagining something like Rutherford-Zakovsky, which is long, but really quite attractive. You could also consider trimming down one of the names while keeping the other intact, which still favors one spouse, but at least keeps the other represented in the surname--something like Ruther-Zakovsky or Rutherford-Zakov. This used to be a common practice for immigrants, anyway. In my husband's family, which is also Eastern European Jewish, this was done several times--one was a ----erson that contracted to a ---son (middle syllable removed), and the other was a Jewish name that was completely changed to a white bread Anglo-Saxon name. There was of course a lot of anti-Semitism driving these changes, so I would understand if you are reluctant to do something similar.  I don't think the kids being raised Jewish comes in to play at all, *unless* that was a compromise you won from your wife, in which case, maybe it's fair to use her surname. 

September 6, 2016 2:13 AM

Congratulations!! This is your sister's best friend's sister's wife! The internet, so anonymous!

You know what options our household took with names already, but I am going to offer some advice on your scenarios with an eye to my experience in a two-mom household where the moms took turns gestating the kids.

One point worth mentioning is that the world will sort of innately try to divide your family into "your kid" and "her kid" rather than "your (plural) kids". This is the sort of thing that drives me deeply crazy, and we do a lot of actively trying to correct that, from who holds holds whom in the holiday card photo to who signs paperwork and who answers chitchat about the baby with random strangers.

The other point worth mentioning is that if you use the same donor for both your kids (as we did) your kids will be genetic half siblings, and may not resemble each other as much as other sibling sets. We might be a more pronounced example than some... but our kids already field some nosy intrusive questions about whether they're really siblings, and I am happy for them to have a surname in common reinforcing their sibling ties, along with assorted matching outfits and "big/little sibling" shirts that explicitly label the situation. If you don't use the same donor for both kids, you have the option of picking a donor that resembles the nongenetic parent in each case, so maybe the resemblence situation will more closely approximate a traditional hetero family where both kids look like both parents, but then due to 0% genetic overlap between the siblings perhaps a shared surname will be even more important for cementing a sibling identity.

I guess what this all boils down to is that a more unusual family make up means that the kids will already be fielding lots of questions, and that I'm happy that in our case we all have the same surname, which sort of forces people to consider us a unit (best example so far has been in customs when travelling) and which doesn't lead to even more questions.

I guess in each of your options you'll be either emphasizing the siblingness or emphasizing the connectedness to the nongenetic parent. I would say that option B is the more expected one that leads to fewer explanations, since the "one (especially female) parent doesn't have same surname as the kids" model is a fairly common one in heterosexual family land... but in hetero families it usually doesn't go along with a lack of genetic resemblence, and whoo boy, can people pick up on that lack of resemblence and feel free to comment on it all the live long day. I found this was most problematic with our eldest, and I was also the most annoyed by it at that point, so perhaps that is a point in favor of chosing her surname now since you're gestating the first child.

Another thought: we picked the surname based on specialness of the two surnames we were chosing from: one was very very rare and the other very very common, so it seemed more important to carry on the former to the next generation. (While we have both names, hers as a middle name, we didn't give the same middle name to the kids, by her request.) That might be a tiebreaker between your surnames, too.

I think what I might also consider in option B land is what kinds of first names you're considering. If you are chosing very Anglo first names, then I might give a little more weight to your surname being the one borne by the kids. If on the other hand you are using very strongly Jewish choices, that would make me consider her surname as the better choice.

If hyphenating seems too unwieldy (and I'd take a look at whether it really is: I would have happily done a 5-syllable hyphenation if the Spouse hadn't been so against her surname being passed on), you could perhaps also consider the option of two surnames without a hyphen. The absence of a hyphen seems to mean in the experience of people that I've known that the entire thing is not considered a block as often, so either might get used.

I'm now looking forward to reading the other responses!

September 6, 2016 12:38 PM

Thank you all so much for your comments--you've given me a lot to think about! I appreciate the additional votes for the importance of giving the kids the same last name as each other, so I might prioritize that. And you've made me double-think my stance against hyphenation. Certainly it will be a clunky last name, there's no doubt about that, but in the absence of any ideal solution maybe this one should still be on the table. Aesthetically it is the least appealing, but it has the benefit of presserving both sides of our heritage and making it clear that these kids are one family.

Lucubratrix, thanks for the congrats, and yes, gotta love the internet! I really apprecaite your advice about how the world will try to figure out which kid belongs to which mother--ugh! Not surprising, but still very annoying. I can see how having the last name clearly attest to our joint parentage might be helpful. I will float some of these ideas by the spouse and update the board. In the meantime, please keep the opinions and advice coming!

September 6, 2016 1:13 PM

Also wanted to add, if it's helpful, here's an approximation of our names that gives you an idea of their flavor:



Ours have a few more letters but sound like those, so certainly if we hyphenated, the ending might get cut off when we fill out some forms, but there are worse things in the world, right?

I also like the suggestion of combing through our family trees for more possibilities, so I will look into that!

And to answer another earlier question, we are planning to use the same donor, and we both have similar coloring so I don't think it'll be a huge issue that they look very different, but of course you really never know in advance :)

September 6, 2016 3:10 PM

On the topic of kids looking alike (or not): I know fraternal twin brothers who could easily deny being related in any way, they look so dissimilar. Of course, the other extreme occurs, too: I know sisters who are like a set of triplets who've somehow managed to be born several years apart. And then there's the family with an adopted daughter of a totally different racial mix than the parents, who nevertheless gets frequent comments about some perceived family resemblance or other. People see what they want or expect to see, really.

On the topic of the surnames: I'm having a hard time tracking down authoritative answers to the etymology of either name, beyond the semi-obvious that they're both placenames. I found one source (Behindthename's surname site) that guesses M. to be a form of Mowbray, which comes from a placename in France, and may mean something like 'mud hill'. Hořovice is a town and castle in the Czech Republic, and Horovitz is a German form of its name, but the only etymology I've found for the placename is someone's genealogy that says it's from a Czech word for 'hill'. Any interest in the surname Hill?

September 7, 2016 4:12 PM

I don't really have any advice that hasn't already been said but I wanted to chime in to say I actually really like the sound of Maybury-Horowitz as a hyphenated name, I have come across far more clunky hyphenations that didn't seem to bother the people whose names they were, so I would totally vote for that as the soloution.

The only thing I would say is would you and your wife both be ok if in the future your children decided to drop one of the surnames in their day-to-day life? My brother in law has a double-barrel surname but 95% of the time he just uses one of his names.

September 6, 2016 2:27 PM

I think the situation of one mom out with a single kid who doesn't look like her who isn't sharing her surname is going to lead to some assumptions that she's the nanny/babysitter... but I can happily promise you that the rate of that goes substantially down if she's got two kids with her, one of whom does look like her and both of whom kind of look like one another. (I can report that it happens not at all when there's four of them because now people are more likely to focus on things like "holy cow, lady, that's a lot of kids, and can I load those groceries into your car for you?")

At any frequency, though, it's an annoyance borne more by the parent. I'd rather be the one honing glib responses rather than shifting the question-answering to the kids, as I think the siblings with different names would do.

I really like EVie's suggestions for hyphenation options (which don't seem like they would require you to change your names), and also the suggestion of picking a name from the family tree, particularly if you the parents would also be game for changing your name to that new name.

September 6, 2016 4:18 PM

But when you're out with your kid(s), who really knows your last name(s)? In my experience, we've been Kidsname and Mommy, and absolutely nobody knows that we don't share a last name. Not to mention that, despite the fact that her features are very much like mine, the fact that her colouring is nothing like mine leads many people to say that she doesn't look like me. Of course, where I live, mothers typically don't share surnames with their kids, since we don't change our names upon marriage, but still.

I do agree with the general concensus that all kids sharing a surname is the most important thing, in this scenario. Having the same label can only serve to strengthen the notion that they're a unit, regardless of genetics.

I'm going to offer one more thing to think about. I have no idea where you live or and what kind of community you live in, but if you're planning on raising your kids to be Jewish (a notion I whole-heartedly support :),) then I will speak from experience and say that this is not an irrelevant fact. Your kids will already be from a non-traditional household and will be fielding questions about their parents, whether they're "really" siblings, etc. Although I very much hope that they don't, there are already details that may make them feel different from their peers. If they're being raised in a Jewish community, having a name like Maybury may also lead to questions about belonging and origins. Sure, a quick explanation will clear it all up, and there is certainly a wide range of names borne by Jewish kids, but having their Jewishness evident in their names can only help to reduce the number of questions and increase their feelings of belonging. Hyphenating would accomplish that, too. Yes, it's unwieldy, but sometimes the best solution isn't the most elegant.

September 6, 2016 5:02 PM

re Jewishness:  Since Jews are matrilineal, and since mixed marriages/relationships have grown much more common over the past number of decades, it is far from uncommon for young Jews to have all sorts of surnames inherited from their non-Jewish fathers..  I still read the newsletters from the Jewish community I grew up in, and I see even rabbis with Irish or Italian or whatever surnames.  It is also not uncommon for people named Cohen or Levy to be not-Jewish.  Once I think that would have been an issue, but not anymore.

And who are these people who make rude personal comments and ask prying personal questions anyway?  My grandson is African-American, and the rest of us are not.  When he was little, people kept asking, "Were is he from?" "Las Vegas."  "But where did you get him from?"  I wanted to say "Costco, Aisle 7."  Why is this the business of randoms in the supermarket?

I have though begun to worry about "concerned" citizens calling the authorities because parents and son don't look alike.  This summer Elliott got angry with his father about something while they were at the beach.  Elliott, who can give Usain Bolt a run for his money, darted up off the beach and toward the traffic, and my son, who cannot even dream of giving Usain Bolt a race, went huffing and puffing after him, finally caught up with him, and grabbed him, kicking and screaming, out of the traffic,  Some "concerned" citizen might have reported this as a kidnapping, while it was just Dad making sure angry kid didn't get run over.  I suggested that he get a laminated copy of the adoption papers and keep it to hand.  BTW Elliott wrote a very dignified little note, explaining what had angered him and apologizing for his behavior.

September 8, 2016 3:15 PM

While I know what you say to be true, I still maintain that anything to emphasize belonging has to help (or at least can't hurt).

I cannot believe how tactless and thoughtless people can be. "Where did you get him from?" Seriously?

September 8, 2016 7:21 PM

Absolutely seriously.  I even got him a t-shirt that said something like "made in Las Vegas."

September 7, 2016 1:32 PM

Update: I showed my wife this wonderful thread and believe it or not, we are both now strongly leaning toward hyphenating! This is kind of amazing because looking back at my original post, I wrote hyphenation was "absolutely" impossible. Ha! Just goes to show how useful getting some outside feedback can be. 

We still want to sit on the decision for a while, and I'll keep track to see if more comments come in. Meanwhile, we can now begin the first name decision process! Baby is due in February and we won't find out the sex in advance. So once we have shortlists I'll post another thread to gather opinions. Also, if we do go with hyphenation that's already a lot of name for the baby. Do you think there's still room for a middle name?

Thank you again for your excellent advice!

September 7, 2016 4:28 PM

I definitely think there's still room for a middle even with a long surname. I don't know how official forms work in the US but here (I'm in the UK) on forms middle names either go in the same space as the first name or have a space of their own. And in day to day life while they are children people will not be using all the names, in fact most of the time they will only be using their first name so I don't think it matters at all that baby's full name is perhaps longer than average. 

Plus middle names are nice for giving you more space to fit in the names you love or perhaps to honour someone who means a lot to you, adding to nicknames if you're nickname people, and useful when you need to let your child know they're in trouble. ;) 

By EVie
September 7, 2016 6:55 PM

Hooray for feeling better about hyphenation! For what it's worth, I think Maybury-Horowitz is lovely. I think you can definitely still include a middle, though I may be inclinded to be a bit more length-conscious with the first name. That doesn't mean only one-syllable names need apply, but I would probably avoid choices like Alexandrina or Cassiopeia ;)

September 8, 2016 2:56 PM

I agree with all this. Save choices like Alexandrina or Cassiopeia into the middle name spot where they will disappear into an initial most of the time, only to come out when you need to really emphasize how much trouble your child is in.

I look forward to hearing future updates, ClaraM!

September 8, 2016 2:50 PM

Our surname has a hyphen in it, and it's a source of endless frustration. Having a middle name sometimes helps: it means that people can't erroneously file the stuff before the hyphen as "just the middle name". It doesn't always work, but it's helpful often enough for me to strongly encourage you: if you're going to inflict the hyphen, also bestow a middle name.

September 8, 2016 4:36 PM

Ah, I hadn't thought of that! Good point. Though we will certainly steer clear of Alexandrina et al. (I can't nix Cassiopeia completely as I am an astronomy person! But that probably would be best for the middle spot if anything.)

September 19, 2016 9:41 PM

I just want to chime in as a very happy hyphenate. I know that some people experience frustration with it (as HungarianNameGeek attests to above), but my partner and I both hypenated when we were married 8 years ago and have had zero trouble with it. (We do both have middle names, so maybe that helps.) So, though it's anecdotal, I wanted to say that the hyphen has proven to be an easy and elegant soution for our family. 

It's also proved to eventually soften people who were initially resistant to it. Although he never said anything directly to me (bless him), my dad was a bit taken aback about me not just automatically taking partner's last name. When our small person was born, he also asked if he would be a hyphenate too. (Which, given that we are both of us hypenated seemed obvious to me.) But now Dad's so delighted that the small carries Dad's own surname as part of his name, and it's very charming. 

May 16, 2017 10:03 PM

I've always been grateful that my parents didn't hyphenate my last name. Instead, I have two middle names; the second is my mother's maiden name. Hyphenated surnames bother me because they're unsustainable. What happens when two hyphenated-surname people get married? Plus, they're just a mouthful.

That said, if your concern is that your two surnames don't go together well, I don't think that's a problem. It just makes it more colorful. And given that this will be a biological child for only one of you, I can understand wanting to make it as explicit as possible, via the surname, that you are BOTH the parents.

October 16, 2016 12:20 AM

A middle name is mandatory if there's a hyphen involved.

I have a hyphenated first name without a middle name and most of the time my name gets butchered into strange chunks. My HMO currently has my name as Mary Lynn Lynn, as I discovered on an ultrasound screen. I'm afraid to ask which Lynn is the "middle" or if they both are. After 30-some years I'm resigned to it, if not used to it.