Thursday, June 19, 2008

Changing Your Name

Lisa Belkin at the NY Times writes on her blog:
One surprise while writing this article [about equally shared parenting] was how most of the women had taken their husband’s last name. While that is clearly the norm in the country as a whole, I would have guessed that this subgroup, which had made equal sharing their priority, would be more likely to keep the name they were born with or create something hyphenated with their spouse.

I also found this to be true of many of the couples I interviewed for my book about reverse-traditional families--in many of them, the breadwinning mom changed her name.

I never asked why, but perhaps I should have. I suspect for many of the couples there's no "why" about it; they just did what was traditional. The fact that they later embraced a reverse-traditional arrangement as parents speaks volumes about the degree to which new gender roles are more of a response to changing social conditions than the product of a left-wing pinko conspiracy.

My wife and I gave our son an awkwardly hyphenated name--his full name is Liko Wai-Kaniela Smith-Doo. Many people consider it noteworthy that we stuck her name at the very end, and I had the impression it was important to my wife, but I just thought "Smith-Doo" sounded marginally better than "Doo-Smith." Neither of us even considered just giving him my name. We married a year after he was born (that's us, below, getting hitched) and decided to just keep our separate names. "Jeremy Adam Smith-Doo" just didn't do it for me.

One interesting nuance in this discussion: I've encountered many lesbian couples (OK, three lesbian couples) who gave the name of the non-biological mom to the child, as a way of establishing the parental relationship. This makes sense and casts a new light on the tradition of giving the father's name to a child--since the child wasn't born of his body, perhaps it's culturally important to provide a personal and social link between the two of them.

So I'm curious: How did your family come up with its last names, and why?


Anonymous said...

There is a country that keeps both of their last names. Like in Korean, when couples marry. The woman still gets to keep her last name without getting any from her husband. Not really sure how it works for the kids but that's the way they are. In another country, this I am not sure; the man carries the woman's name---this has something to do with keeping the name of the family because of the business. Now, I really think that I should do a little more research about it.

Interestingly enough, I once joked to my hubby, how about you try carrying my last name? Lol. :)

Bottomline is, what I like about how things works now is that couples have the freedom to choose which is comfortable to them. I think it's cool to have your last names combined. Chinese does that too. (example Gongsitan = derived from the families Gong, Si and Tan):D

Anonymous said...

My wife and I kept our last names at marriage.

Our names were too long to hyphenate without cringing. So we went with First Name, Mom's Name as Middle Name, Dad's Name.

We thought about switching the order with each child, but we thought it might confuse them and also confuse others. I can't honestly say how we picked mine as the last name. I was open to alternatives, but my wife made the call. In any case, it is my last name for daily use, but hers really sticks out when saying or reading the formal name.

Anonymous said...

Long-time reader, first-time commenter. I enjoy your thoughtful blog very much, Jeremy - thanks for writing! As to the name issue, we knew we wanted children when we got married. Our priorities in the choosing of a name were two: the entire family would share one name, and the choosing of it would be independent of gender. We considered a couple options, but ultimately hyphenated. Like you, we decided which name came first based on how they sounded together. Mine ended up the one we are alphabetized under, and his ended up the very last name. So far, we are happy with our solution, and our kids (7 and 9) haven't had any trouble with the 14 letters they have to write. If/when they get married, it'll be up to them what they want to do with the name. Maybe the next generation will come up with a better solution?

Anonymous said...

I've spoken to my fair share of wives who have picked up the "double name." They almost always complain of the same thing: it's not worth the irritation. People assume the husband's name applies to everyone; people don't program all of the data record systems with hyphens or the ability to capture more than one last name. My wife hyphenated her name, and she regrets it to this day.

Earth Muffin said...

We did the traditional thing: I took my husband's name when we got married and we gave both of our sons that last name. However, I have a dear friend who has done the hyphenated thing. She has a son from a previous relationship, but she was never married to his father. The son has her last name. She remarried a few years ago and hyphenated her maiden name and her husband's last name. Her current husband has adopted the son, so they've chosen to hyphenate the son's name as well. They now have a daughter together, but she only has the new husband's last name. She works as a teaching assistant in a preschool and so at work she just goes by Mrs. Husband's Name, because with the hyphen her last name is awfully difficult for preschoolers to say. Confusing when you try to send them a holiday card...but it works for them!

Anonymous said...

Another first-time commenter.

I kept my last name when we married. For our daughter, we ended up with

Firstname Middlename Hislastname Mylastname

with Hislastname considered a second middle name. It has the unfortunate effect that since many forms only have room for one middle name, Hislastname is often omitted, but we liked the Firstname Middlename combination too much to skip Middlename.

We chose this possibility over Firstname Middlename Mylastname Hislastname by -- absolutely seriously -- flipping a coin. Our families thought we were nuts. (Ok, my husband thought I was a little nuts too.) But I felt strongly that I didn't want cultural pressure swaying things one direction or the other, and the coin flip was the elegant way out of it.

If there is ever a second child, we'd do Firstname Middlename Mylastname Hislastname -- we don't mind siblings not sharing a last name any more than we mind ourselves not sharing a last name.

caromalinia said...

My wife and I (both women) decided that we wanted everyone in our future family to have the same last name (partially because of perceptions of a lesbian family as not really family) and that hyphenating when we married was too cumbersome and not sustainable (would our kids marry another hyphenated kid and become quadruply hyphenated?).

So we combined our two names into one name made up of parts of both. We won't care what our kids do with it when they become heads of new nuclear families--it just serves to make our family come off as one unified family unit while we are still each other's primary nuclear family.

Anonymous said...

My wife kept her last name when we got married. We didn't discuss the last name of our daughter before we were pregnant, but after we found out and started talking about names for the child, I simply asked, "What last name are we going to use?" And my wife said, "Yours." That's all there was to it. Our daughter is now four-and-a-half months old and nobody has ever questioned her name, or the different last names of mom and dad.

Jessica, Jackie and Ezra said...

I'm not sure if we were one of your three lesbian couples, but we chose to give Ezra my last name because he got everything else form Jackie. The breadwinning thing just turned out as it did, that she stayed home and I work. She was nursing and healing, and I was not.

The tricky thing will be if we have another. I would carry and birth that one, but it would seem awkward to give the child a different last name from Ezra. So that one would get genes and a name from me. Maybe Jackie will get final say on the first name.

Anonymous said...

Great post and very interesting comments. It's amazing what a person can learn.

When we were getting married, my wife asked me what I thought about the last name thing and I said that she ought to change it: for me, it creates a greater sense of family. She agreed, and that's how it's been.

In terms of women feeling more liberated, I think that everyone can choose their way of expressing it. I never have and never will question my wife's decision to continue being a teacher; it's something she enjoys and I believe it's health for our relationship, too.

We didn't hyphenate because Chmielewski-Jablonski would have been a horrible thing to do to the children.

One more thing: I speak Spanish and it that culture the women never change their last names and they always have two, first one from the mother and the second from the father.

For example,

Juan Gomez Fernandez married Maria Valez Marquez

Their children would it turn be named, for example, Pepe Gomez Valdez. The first name of the surname of each parent, with the father's first.

Clever, isn't it?

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

jessica, jackie and ezra said..."I'm not sure if we were one of your three lesbian couples, but we chose to give Ezra my last name because he got everything else form Jackie. The breadwinning thing just turned out as it did"

[Note to readers: Jackie and Jessica are friends in real life, and, yes, I was in part thinking of them.]

I should make it crystal clear that I am not in any way, shape, or form equating fathering with breadwinning; definitely not saying that a breadwinner/caregiver roles arise naturally from who gives birth and who doesn't; and I'm really and truly not saying that the breadwinner is entitled to indicate ownership over the family through the last name. Virtually everything I write about parenting in this blog and elsewhere is intended to fight against those notions.

I mean what I say in the entry and nothing more: the giving the last name of the non-biological parent or of the biological father appears to be a way of reinforcing to the world and in the mind of both parent and child that there is a parental link between them. I think Jessica gets to that nicely when she writes, "we chose to give Ezra my last name because he got everything else form Jackie."

What's interesting to me about this is the prospect of last-name traditions (at least with regard to fathers and children) surviving the death of patriarchy, should that ever come to pass.

Kverulantinnen said...

Another longtime reader/lurker here. My husband and I (female) married at 36 after our careers were well established, so I never even considered taking his last name. When our son was born soon after we went with a name that could work in either of our home countries. We ended up going with mine as our sons official last name because my husband's last name includes a vowel that is not in most alphabets as well as a rather intimidating series of consonants. So our son is Firstname Fatherslastname-as-a-middlename Motherslastname-as-a-lastname. As a way of creating connections to both families and both cultures, we chose a first name that is traditional in my husband's country, but that starts with the same letter as many generations of members of my paternal lineage.

ED said...

My DH has a hyphenated last name, and I took his father's name (or meant to, never got around to changing it legally but use it socially).

- I knew we might switch traditional roles, and wanted people to know I didn't have anything against tradition, nor was I afraid of some kind of "male patriarchy" in marraige.
- A shared name symbolically connects a family.
- I didn't want my children to have my family's last name, due to dislike for my biological father.
- I chose my husband's father's name partly because I could keep my initials - the last name starts with the same letter as my maiden name.

My DH kind up wanted me to keep my maiden name and to make up last names for the kids, different from either of us. I vetoed that on the grounds of wanting less papaerwork from schools, doctors, etc. A name is a quick way to demonstrate a connection with a child (at least probably), and I've seen it be handy in emergencies at other times in my life. Different names raise suspicions about actual relationships. Plus, the symbollic connection thing - I like the feeling of unity that a shared name gives us.

Unknown said...

Hi Annett here, I think one should take the name that sounds best. Iwas born in Birlin and my last name is Rackushan, not a very nice name. my husband is from England and has a Scotish name from his fathers side, Barr we both agreed that Barr sounds a lot better and we are proud to be a part of the Barr clan that also have ther own tarten colour´s my hasband looks great in a kilt. You do have Great website blog with cool topic´s Keep up the good work. Our Tipp: If you find time You Must take a look at this New Amazing Home Business Pre Launch it has a 3x6 fast filling Matrix, its a Solid Company with MLM leaders giving MASSIVE Spillover. You can Join for free and watch your downline grow Ca:100 members a day. You can also Earn up to $1,618 PER MONTH without sponsoring a single person. or All the best Annett. Feel free to sign our gestbook on our dream business blog page".

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Regarding that previous comment: An interesting combination of legitimate comment and stupid spam. I decided to let it through.

Anonymous said...

My parnter and I live in California and will celebrate nine years this coming July. To commemorate this event, we plan to wed. I never thought this would happen in my lifetime, but that is an entirely different topic. Many of our family and friends have asked if we plan to hyphenate our names as we have done for our son. The answer is no...we have the same first name, and I think it would create too much confusion. Besides, I just turned 40, and have had my last name for, well, 40 years. I quite like it.

I do, however, like the premise that children take the father's name creating a link. I suspect the actual reason may be historical whereby the male figure had to lay claim to what belonged to him.

Olli said...

I'm Jeremy's wife. I wanted to create a new last name for the whole family to share. I thought that doing this would be fun and would avoid the hyphenation thing as well as discussions and complications over which of our names...blah, blah, blah. However, it turned out (somewhat to my surprise) that it was important to Jeremy for our child to have his name. I don't feel strongly about my own name (obviously - I was willing to give it up for a self-styled one), but Smith? Forget it. As I remember it, we never finished the name discussion. Liko was born a bit early, we weren't prepared, and Smith-Doo is what we somehow ended up with.