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Surnames: His, Hers or Both?

By sandymaple |

baby surnames

Whose last name does your child have?

Parents give lots of thought to what to name their children. And with good reason!  Pick the wrong one and your kid could end up with loose morals, leading a life of crime.  Pick a good one and your child will fit right in with the upper crust.  Or so they say.

But surnames are a different story.  For many families, children are born with built-in last names:  the same one mom and dad share.  But these days, it is increasingly common for mom and dad to not share a last name.  They get married, she keeps her name, he keeps his, and it’s all good.

Until babies come along, that is.  At that point, a decision must be made about what surname to put on the birth certificates.

For one mom, the solution to that problem was to spread the names around.  One child got mom’s last name, the other got dad’s.  At the time, Amy Graff says she and her husband felt good about the arrangement and embraced the notion that they were “breaking tradition.”

But as her children got older, she says the confusion began. When traveling alone with one of her kids, she says she was required to show a birth certificate to an airline employee to prove her relationship. At school and camp, she says many people are unaware that her kids are even siblings.

After growing tired of explaining to people that both kids really did come from her tummy, she eventually began avoiding using their last names when referring to them.  As a result, she says her 6-year-old wasn’t even aware he had a last name until he started school and was asked to write it (he couldn’t.)

Needless to say, she regrets giving her kids different last names and is considering a legal name change.  I see no reason not to go ahead and fix what she sees as a problem, but am really surprised that it is a problem. These days, there are so many blended families that I can’t imagine anyone being confused when a parent and child, or siblings, have different last names.

But perhaps that’s the problem? Graff’s is not a blended family and maybe she dislikes the fact that her kids having different last names gives that impression.

When I divorced my first husband, I went back to the surname I was given at birth.  My daughter kept his name.  It was never a problem and nobody seemed confused about our relationship.  But then, I only had the one child – not two with different last names.

Do your kids all share the same last name?  If not, is it a problem?

Image: kaatjevervoort/Flickr

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0 thoughts on “Surnames: His, Hers or Both?

  1. Fuzzlizard says:

    We actually ending up combining our last names into a completely new name — no hyphens, under 12 characters to fit into a bubble-in sheet on the SATs. Worked out great! :) (My father-in-law may have been less than thrilled, but my husband is a feminist and was psyched to do this.)

  2. Steph says:

    my kid (and the one on the way will also follow suit) has my name as a middle name and her father’s as her surname. my reasoning, considering both of us were very anti hyphens – that gets out of control very quickly!, was that wrong or not as a mother “people” are so much less likely to assume that they’re not mine but more likely to assume they’re not their father’s with a different name. Well, we needed to find a solution as neither of us wanted to change our last names. I would like for us to have the same name but I’m adamant in keeping mine. My husband briefly considered changing his.

  3. Jen says:

    Both my children have my husband’s name as their middle name and mine as their last name. Hevalready has three children from a previous marriage with his last name. My family has no one to carry on our name, so we decided to do it this way.

  4. La Rêveuse says:

    When we married, I took my husband’s last name as mine but kept mine as a second middle name, and he adopted mine as a second middle name as well. (For him it’s not legal–we haven’t ponied up the $ to officially change it, but he publishes this way, which also differentiates him from another scientist with his first, middle initial and last name.) Our girls both have his last as a last and mine as a middle as well. My dad’s wife was worried they would have trouble spelling it or with “all those names!” but I told her my kids would be smart enough to handle it. ;-) Added benefit–I’ve moved to the front of the alphabet. Woot!

  5. PKA says:

    My daughter has my last name as her middle name, and my husband’s last name as her last name. In our family, this actually seems normal — on my dad’s side for several generations back, the kids’ middle names are their mother’s maiden names. I like the sense of family connection that it gives.

  6. Kate says:

    My kids and I all have different last names. I kept mine, my daughter has her father’s (he was my first husband), and my son has his father’s (my second husband’s). So that means in a family of four we’re sporting three separate surnames. I honestly never feel it’s a problem except (very rarely) when we all travel together — about a quarter of the time it comes up as an issue when we travel. And then when I see one of those family-name doormats in a catalog. Sometimes I think, wow, it would be cool to have one of those. So out of my total hours and days of life, it bums me out approximately an hour a year. The rest of the time I feel good about the choices we made, and my kids both have great names (they each bear a family name on my side as a middle).

  7. Michelle says:

    My son’s father and I are not married, for various reasons, and when he was born I gave him his father’s last name since his dad has 3 children from a previous marriage and I wanted him to have the same name as his siblings. Although I have sometimes wished I had given him my last name, I’m overall happy with the decision. The only confusion was when he was little and I was filling out medical paperwork, since I gave him my last name as his middle name, I would always get asked if it was supposed to be hyphenated. Other than being occasionally called Ms. Father’s Last Name instead of my name I don’t have any confusion as to whether or not I’m his mother. And I have traveled with him on an airplane and didn’t get any questions there either. I say if it bothers you you can change it, but I wouldn’t want to do it after they entered school.

  8. lindsey says:

    My mom wasn’t married when I was born, so I have her last name. She eventually got married to my step-dad, changed her last name, and gave my step-dad’s last name to my sister. Growing up with a different last name from everyone in my family made me feel like the black sheep. To this day, I have to explain how I’m related to my family. It gets aggravating.

  9. Amanda says:

    My mom kept her name after marrying my dad. When I was born I had both names but usually just used my dad’s. I liked having both. When I got married I hyphenated my dad’s last name and my husband’s last name. With our kids we just gave them my husband’s name for simplicity, now sometimes I wish we had given them both of our names. I compromised because my husband (until he was adopted by his stepfather as a teen) had a different last name than his mom and brothers and sisters which really bothered him. Every family has to do what is right for them!

  10. Gina says:

    My name confusion stems not from my children’s names, but from my own. When I was in fifth grade my insane mother had all of our last names changed to a name she picked out of the phone book. A few years later she had her first name changed to the very same last name she had forced on me earlier. As a result, for the rest of my life (so far, and I’m forty at this point) there has been confusion on every single bit of paperwork. Before I married and changed the name, anything I filled out that required my mother’s name involved a receptionist asking me to correct the mistake I obviously made when I listed my mother’s first name as my last name. And then I had to explain. And explain and explain and explain. Now that I go by my married name, all paperwork involving my amended birth certificate or a listing of all of the last names I’ve used involves a ton of hassle. When I had my own children I gave them their father’s last name, and I left it that way even though I would have preferred that they have my own. I would never let my own problems with a person or my own preferences or ideas about what our names should be result in my kids having to go through what I’ve gone through. Thirty years after my childhood name change, it is still a huge pain in the ass.

  11. Mamabear says:

    We gave my daughter my last name as her middle name and my husband’s name as her last. I was surprised at how common this is. So my name will be on all her official documents and we skip the hyphen. Works for us.

  12. Elaine says:

    I grew up with my father’s last name and my mother had her own, different last name. Every now and then there was some confusion but not enough for any of us to worry about it and think we needed to change our names.

    Now, I have my name, my husband has his, and our soon-to-be adopted son will be keeping his birth mother’s last name.

    These situations are common in places where people don’t take sitcoms so seriously. Hello! The white hetero nuclear biological family isn’t THE one and only kind of family. There are LOTS of us who differ from that, and our differences ought to be accepted and celebrated!

  13. Voice of Reason says:

    My last name is really common and my partner’s last name is almost dying out, so our children each have my last name as their (second) middle name and daddy’s last name as their last name.

    Perhaps I am naive, but I’m surprised by how many people assume that our children got their dad’s surname because he is the man.

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