What's in a name? Should I allow my son's surname to be changed?
February 19, 2012 6:02 PM Subscribe
Should I allow my son’s mother to change his surname?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (66 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My son is four and a half. His mother and I split up some two years ago and for the most part we are able to deal with one another reasonably amicably. We swap dates, go to parents’ evening together and even mange the occasional day out together. Our relationship was pretty fraught and so it’s unlikely that we’ll ever really be ‘friends’, much less get back together, but for the most part we do about as good a job as might be hoped of separated parents.
We do however have an apparently insoluble issue which we don’t seem to be able to get past. When our child was born, the intention was that we would get married and accordingly my surname when on the birth certificate. Our relationship was rocky from that point and the prospect of marriage quickly faded from view.
Since we have split up, my former partner has pushed hard to first have my son's surname changed to her surname and lately to some hybrid of form of my hyphenated surname and hers.
Her originally stated rationale is that she wanted to have further children and wanted them to have the same name. For what little it is worth, she’s 42 this year and there appears to be little prospect of her having further children.
In any event, she’s changed tack slightly saying that it’s inconvenient when she travels with our son (although she concedes that having his birth certificate largely removes this problem and I have offered to provide a notarized letter of consent for her to travel).
I perceive that she is embarrassed by her child not sharing her surname and this is something I can empathise with. I am struggling however to agree to what she wants for a number of reasons and I would be glad if people could offer a critique of my reasoning below and their perspective on this thorny problem more generally. I am pretty clear in my own mind that I am being rational and not emotional in refusing to grant her request but this community is nothing if not forthright and I would be grateful for your clarity.
My reasons for saying no are as follows:
First, my son sees me 4 days in 14. He’s already lost a very great deal of a parent who adores him and wants to play as big a part in his life as possible. Our sharing the same name is a powerful sign to him that there is a meaningful link between the two of us and that we are part of each other’s lives forever.
Second, and tied to this is the importance of strong male role models to young boys. As he gets older the connection between us will be pivotal in determining his developing character and our sharing a name powerfully demonstrates our connection. I am loath to allow this to be watered down.
Third, he’s self aware enough to know his own name and there’s a strong sense of self-identity in his declaration of his name, i.e. when he tells you it. I am seriously scared by what he will consciously or unconsciously think about his name being changed. It seems inevitable that he will perceive it to be some kind of rejection and I cannot allow the consequences to flow from that which I fear. Suffice it to say that I think that changing his name will be traumatic for him and I’m not prepared to do this to the poor mite.
Fourth, my former partner feels strongly about this but appears to be unable to articulate a case about why this is in our son’s interest. She has plenty of reasons why she wants this to happen but none of her reasons relate to any benefit for our son. In the absence of this, I struggle to engage with this demand.
Finally, our separation was acrimonious and there is a great deal of mistrust on both sides. I am reluctant to allow my son’s name to become hyphenated from (for example) SMITH-JONES to SMITH-WILSON as part of hyphenated names are frequently dropped. I am concerned that, in the example above, my son’s name would be changed to SMITH-WILSON and that he’d be ‘known as’ Wilson, in short order.
Do please offer your thoughts one way or the other as I’d really like to keep us out of court on this but this feels like a fairly binary issue to me and in the absence of a compromise, I can foresee my former partner returning to lawyers later this year.
Thank you for reading a far too long question.