9 Parents On How They Chose Their Babies’ Last Names
Choosing A Last Name For Your Child As A Deeply Personal Experience
Choosing a baby’s name can be tough, but the decision can feel ever harder when the parents have different last names.
I took my husband’s last name when I got married, but this wasn’t the case for many of my friends. I was surprised to learn that when they added children to their families, nearly all of their kids ended up with the dad’s last name—not the mom’s. While more women keep their last names in marriage, it’s still very common among white, Western, heterosexual couples to pass the father’s name on to the child.
And with millions of children growing up with LGBT parents, many couples are working without a map as they face these decisions. Talking about names brings out all kinds of issues of what family and identity mean.
For one couple, a certain family name may be a link to beloved traditions—or a painful reminder of a difficult relationship. And just like with first names, last names may be tricky to pronounce or spell, or feel out of place in particular cultural contexts.
Here are nine ways families have navigated this complex decision:
A brand-new name
For Ellen, the birth of a child was the chance to create something brand-new—a last name that combined elements of her name and her husband’s.
“Other people asked if we were even allowed to do what we did,” Ellen said.
While Ellen’s choice may have surprised her friends, parents in most states have wide latitude in selecting not just a first name but the last name for their child. Only a handful of states have laws on the books that specify what the child’s last name must be. But this freedom can be part of what can make it a challenge to pick the right name.
Highlighting family connections
Deciding on a last name was “a bit tricky” for Sarah and her partner.
“As a queer couple, we were nervous about to what extent our kid would be seen as ‘really’ connected to both of us,” Sarah explained.
“Whereas my partner and her mom are the only ones in the family who have their last name, my last name is shared by my parents, all my siblings, and a modestly sized extended family.”
In the end, the couple chose Sarah’s last name for their child, in part as a way to recognize the child’s bond to Sarah as the non-biological parent.
“A nice balance”
Barbara and her husband, Brian, considered their daughter’s first name and last name as a package deal and took it as an opportunity to highlight the mix of traditions in their family. In the end, the child was given an Italian first name to reflect Brian’s Italian-American roots, and Barbara’s last name to reflect her Jewish heritage.
“I think we found a nice balance,” Brian said, adding, “She is very much a ‘pizza bagel’ in terms of her heritage, and I like that her name reflects that.”
“He was both of ours”
For Mo, the idea of choosing just one last name didn’t feel right.
“It was really important to us that the child have both our last names, so that everyone knew they were both of ours (we are a same-sex couple),” Mo said.
And as untraditional as their choice may have been, it was actually in line with the rest of their families, Mo explained. “All of our parents have the last names they were born with and it didn’t occur to us to change ours.”
Making things easier
For Cindy, the decision was partially aesthetic and partially practical.
“We chose that because my last name is French and gets butchered by Americans constantly,” she explained, adding, “Also, we hadn’t gotten our green cards yet when he was born, so we thought it would be easier since everything is in my husband’s name first.”
“A shared name linking us together”
For Julie, the available options all felt imperfect.
“Choosing a new name felt like breaking links with our families, which I in particular was unwilling to do, since I feel a very strong connection with family history and have researched and done interviews and written about it since I was a teenager,” Julie said.
In the end, Julie and her husband chose to give their children hyphenated last names. “I used to feel some occasional sadness that my husband and I didn’t have a shared name linking us together, but since we’ve had kids I feel like they are that link, since they have both of our names,” she said.
“It sounded much better”
Barbara said she recalls choosing a last name as “a fairly easy choice” and one that took a back seat to other, more important considerations.
“My son took my wife’s last name (neither she nor I changed our names when we got married),” Barbara said, adding, “It sounded much better.”
“I didn’t feel a big ego attachment to my son having my last name,” Barbara explained. “For me personally, it was overwhelmingly more important that I was [his] legal parent, and that I attained that right, than that we shared a last name.”
Breaking with tradition
Sometimes, a name can also reflect what a parent doesn’t want. Miranda chose not to pass on her own last name to her child, in part because it held negative connotations for her.
“I really don’t like my last name and got teased about it at school,” she said, adding, “I also don’t get on very well with my dad, and don’t feel that I need to carry on his family name.”
And couples with larger families can choose more than one “take” on the question of a last name.
Nora said she and her husband agreed that their two children would have different last names: his and hers.
“It worked out to be that the same gender shares the last name (son has my husband’s but my daughter has mine), but if our second child had been a boy, he still would have had my last name,” Nora said.
Their agreement, Nora said, is “an imperfect solution,” but it has its advantages.
“While I felt strongly about keeping my own name, I also felt strongly that this should not mean that I did not get to share a last name with any of my children,” she said, adding, “It feels wrong to me that the woman is almost always the odd one out in a family, everyone else sharing a last name except her.”
Choosing names is a deeply personal experience that can reflect a lot about ourselves, our families, and what’s important to us. If you chose a last name for your baby, we’d love to hear how you picked one out—whether you honored a family tradition or forged a new path.
Emily F. Popek is a freelance writer and communications specialist who lives in upstate New York with her family. Find her on Twitter.