Our child would surely bring honor to the Sparklejam name!
December 7, 2009 4:04 PM   Subscribe

So, the Mr. and I have different last names. I did not take his name upon marriage. Now we are discussing very hypothetical children and I'm looking for some good hive mind rumination on the proper course of action.

When we got married, the Mr. wanted me to take his name. I demurred for both personal and political reasons. Ultimately, because he is such a good guy, he didn't press the issue and we have gone about our happily married lives with two last names. This has rarely caused me any problems and none of our relatives seem to have gotten too twisted up about it.

However, once children (hypothetical! there are none in the works!) come along -- what's best to do? We have long joked about coming up with a new last name along the lines of Hollywood or Sparklejam but we seem too far gone in our established names to come up with a new name and there's nothing that appeals to us.

A hyphenate of our name was rejected at marriage because our two names together make up 6 syllables and 18 letters (19 if you count the space in between). They do not roll together.

He wants our (hypothetical) children to have his last name. That makes me feel left out. I suggested the first one takes his and the (very hypothetical) second takes mine. Or, to borrow from an Icelandic naming tradition, the girls take mine and the boys take his. But, that last one doesn't really appeal for a couple reasons. What if I only had boys? I'd still get left out.

So, questions -- what do you think about kids with different last names from each other or from a parent? What do you think about four names for a kid Firstname Middlename Mylastname Hislastname? I'm essentially still getting left out there in the long run but maybe I'm okay with that option.

I suppose this is a modern phenomena -- what have you seen out there that works? Is there an equitable way to balance this?
posted by amanda to Society & Culture (99 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'm getting married soon, we're having pretty much the same discussion. I'm a Firstname Momsnameasmiddlename Dadsname, and that's probably what we're going to do.
posted by Oktober at 4:12 PM on December 7, 2009

Also, when I was growing up (The 80's!), my mom would sometimes have trouble picking us kids up from school because her last name was different than ours. I know lesbian couples that ensure naming synchronization for precisely this reason.
posted by Oktober at 4:18 PM on December 7, 2009

Best answer: Give your kids a hybrid last name. Don't give the kids any sort of last name. Family names are sort of silly nowadays, anyway.

In my experience, women think about this a lot more than men, so discussions tend to be "Woman has lots of thought-out reasons and arguments and objections, while Man defaults to whatever his cultural tradition is." Basically you need to affirm that you respect his culture, even if it's your culture too :) but that it's important to you that your family name should be as valued as his family name is. Then give him some time to think about things and offer up his own suggestions to value your family name along side his.
posted by muddgirl at 4:18 PM on December 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

My brother and his wife chose to name give unique last names to each of their (two male) children. They used names that are meaningful to the rest of the family. For example, their oldest son's last name is Williams after our grandfather, William, who died the year the boy was born. The other son's last name is Lane, which is my brother's wife's grandfather's last name. They also gave the boys really obscure first names, which helped my family accept the non-traditional last names more easily.
The only complaint my father has about it is, "What if they're both really good at soccer and no one in their school knows they are brothers?" I know. Weird.
posted by deadcrow at 4:19 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know you indicated that you and your spouse don't want to change your last name now. I meant give just your kids a hybrid last name.
posted by muddgirl at 4:19 PM on December 7, 2009

My mother kept her maiden name. It didn't become my middle name. (Though in the third grade, taken with the idea of having two middle names, I briefly pretended that it was part of my name! Maybe this also explains my choice of usernames on this site.) But it was given to my younger sister as her middle name. As far as my mom is concerned, I think she feels it worked out nicely.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 4:23 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

My sister and several friends kept their names when they got married. All of them wound up giving their kids Dad's Name, with middle names falling into basically three categories: 1) Mom's Name (so all kids would get the same last name and middle name); 2) Other Name from Mom's Family (so it could vary among multiple children); 3) unique name important to Mom and Dad as a couple (for example, my eldest nephew's middle name commemorates the artist whose exhibition my sister and brother-in-law saw on one of their first dates).
posted by scody at 4:24 PM on December 7, 2009

Best answer: I like the four name idea. At least that way everyone can feel included.
It's silly, but when I was a kid I loved having a long name (firstname middlename momsname dadsname). Felt like I should challenge someone to a duel.
"My name is Inigo Montoya....."
posted by Iggley at 4:25 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just as a data point, there's nothing wrong with any of these options, but invented last names will still come off in many social contexts as a bit weird, in a funny rather than a terrible way. It's like people who get married and create portmanteau last names from both of their last names: there's nothing wrong with it, and by all means be different, but it hasn't yet reached anything like enough of a critical mass to avoid seeming eccentric.

On the other hand, giving your children your last name as their middle name is pretty widespread, and kids in the same family with two different last names — but with each last name represented among their parents — is pretty unremarkable these days too.

I'm not saying don't be innovative, but personally I'm glad that my parents, each of whom kept their last names, didn't use my last name as an opportunity to demonstrate their inventiveness and outside-the-box approach to life.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:26 PM on December 7, 2009 [5 favorites]

I kept my name when I married, too. And we had this conversation when Baby Zizzle was on his way. We toyed with the idea of Firstname Mylastname Husbandlastname, and decided it didn't really work. I preferred traditional names for middle names. I mentioned giving boys his last name and girls my last name in the long run, and he said that that's just asking to have three boys or three girls -- which Murphy's law would likely agree with if anything were codified for names.

Too, we thought about hyphenating our last names, but as we both have Irish and Scottish last names respectively that begin with "Mc" it sounded cumbersome and awkward.

In the end, we decided for simplicity's sake to give Baby Zizzle my husband's last name, and I'm okay with that. I realized during the course of my pregnancy that my particular Mc last name for my family isn't going anywhere any time soon ---- loads of aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Meanwhile, my husband and his brother are the last of their line. Baby Zizzle is the first baby in over 25 years in their family. So, it might be old-fashioned or patriarchal, and I'm sure my having a different last name will at some point pose problems (hasn't yet), but it was a decision that made the most sense for us.

As for what we might do for any other Zizzles who come along, I don't know --- but I'm inclined to giving siblings the same last name if they have the same two parents. To me it makes the most sense to do that rather than add further confusion.

And, too, once there is a non-hypothetical child in the mix, it might be you decide on something different for a last name after meeting him or her than you did beforehand. People do that with first and middle names all the time --- decide on one during pregnancy, meet the child and determine that that name just doesn't fit, and settle on a different one. I don't see any reason why this couldn't happen with a last name as well.
posted by zizzle at 4:26 PM on December 7, 2009

I suggest you wait until hypothetical becomes imminent reality before you worry about it. You might feel different about caring so much about the political reasons. All your kids will care about for many many years is a) does the name or initials spell or sound like something embarrassing? b) later - if they don't have the same last name as the person making airline reservations, etc. for them (or the surname on the credit card), 50/50 the reservations will get screwed up and create a hassle. They are really not going to be that interested in the mom vs. the patriarchy struggle.
posted by ctmf at 4:27 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hyphenated, I still wish I'd given my son my last name as his middle name. That gets my vote.
posted by lemniskate at 4:27 PM on December 7, 2009

Excuse me, you have already dismissed the option I was commenting about. Ignore me, thank you.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:27 PM on December 7, 2009

I know a couple where both husband and wife adopted a hyphenated-compound surname of 17 letters, 18 if you include the hyphen. It has been done.
posted by GuyZero at 4:28 PM on December 7, 2009

I'd probably go with the your-name-as-middle-name (or his-name-as-middle-name, if you prefer) option, personally. I think choosing an entirely new name is probably a bad plan (because then your kids don't have a connection to either of you in their names - of course, they'll be your kids whatever they're called and in the long run it won't matter that much, but I know I'd at least find it a bit weird).

The only option I would very definitely advise against is hyphenating, and fortunately you seem to be against that anyway. The only reason for that is that your kids are going to have this name for a very, very long time, so it's worth making it easy on them. Imagine trying to spell a double-barrelled last name in Plasticine on your first day at school...
posted by ZsigE at 4:28 PM on December 7, 2009

Can you craft a new name from your two existing ones?

Siggurdsveil-Heinrichson might be a mouthful, indeed, but could be they be Siggsons or Heinveils?
posted by rokusan at 4:29 PM on December 7, 2009

I like the approach taken in the spanish-speaking world's approach, with the child taking both parents last names. There's a wiki article on the topic which is interesting and perhaps helpful here.
posted by mullingitover at 4:30 PM on December 7, 2009

I know a couple where both husband and wife adopted a hyphenated-compound surname of 17 letters, 18 if you include the hyphen. It has been done.

That's a one-generation fix which simply pushes the issue aside for your kids to deal with.

I suggest either using one of your names as a middle name and the other as a last name.
posted by Justinian at 4:30 PM on December 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

Don't give them 2 middle names because in the event that your hypothetical daughter wants to take her hypothetical husband's last name (yes, it could happen) she may want to move her last name into a middle name slot, and then she'll have to make a wrenching decision about whether to drop one of the middle names while she's at the Social Security office finding out that is too many middle names to fit on a Social Security card.

I am a Firstname MomsLast DadsLast HusbandsLast now, and used to be a FirstName MomsLast DadsLast, and I'm so glad I didn't have another middle name to contend with while making this name happen.

Also, as a data point, many of my friends who grew up with hyphenated names have since dropped one of the names. If you would feel extremely hurt if the name dropped were yours, don't give your kid the temptation.

I'm probably going to name my kids FirstName MyLast HusbandsLast. I liked growing up with ties in my name to both families and I would like to pass that on.
posted by crinklebat at 4:32 PM on December 7, 2009

That you are having the debate in the first place shows you are basically wedded to bestowing patronymics and/or matronymics. For the sake of completeness, there is also the option of giving little Hypotheca a last name that is neither of your names. For example, Hypotheca Middlename Obama. If compromise is a solution that's equally unacceptable to both parties, that works. Rather than leaving out or giving priority to one or the other, leave both parents out of the name game. Both of you are equally "left out there"; it's the only way to "equitably balance this."

However, I'm not really advocating this, because it creates its own complications, like, "Why don't you have the same name as one of your parents?" (And the boy/girl solution you mention has the same issue: "Why don't you have the same name as your sister?") As a geezer who is into genealogy, my vote would be to go with tradition and give the kid his father's name. I suspect most people, no matter what their politics are, come to a similar conclusion.
posted by beagle at 4:33 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am not married, but I am vehemently against changing my name if/when I get married. I've been me for 31 years; why would I want to change that? Women changing their names to their husband's name when they get married is, while traditional, quite patriarchal. (Don't shoot me, mefites! I still respect my many girlfriends who changed their last names!) The same goes to kids getting the husband's last name.

In most of Latin America and in Spain, everyone has two last names: one from mom and one from dad. In this day and age, you can choose which one goes first and which one goes second (Example: Rosa Diaz Ortiz and Javier Hernandez Moreno would produce a kid who could be Kid Diaz Hernandez or Kid Ortiz Moreno, the first combination being the paternal last names from each individual and the second combo being the maternal last names from each individual).

Since the US isn't very accommodating of two last names (on forms, passports, etc.), you can opt with someone's last name as the middle name. You can also create a new last name, hybridizing the two (very thoughtful and nice) or you can say look, I'm pushing a bowling ball out of a pinhole, so I get to slap my last name on that kid. ;)

I wish I had my mom's last name as part of my name somewhere, even if it were my middle name. I know I could change it now, but I wish I had it from the get-go. I think it's nice, as CCODOD mentioned, to have a nod in that direction, as with her little sister's name.

I once nannied for a couple who did it the Icelandic way, but they ended up with twins, one boy and one girl, so it was especially fair. But all in all, I'm a big fan of both names somehow being associated with the munchkin: s/he will belong to both of you, and a hybrid creation might be where it's at.

Good luck. I'm glad that you're challenging the system. That's important.
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:34 PM on December 7, 2009

Response by poster: You might feel different about caring so much about the political reasons.

I seriously doubt it, ctmf.

They are really not going to be that interested in the mom vs. the patriarchy struggle.

Yeah, well, bollocks to them! I feel like blended families with different last names is almost just as common these days as not. So, it really feels like a wide open field but hard to know the right thing to do.

Appreciating the comments so far -- giving me some angles to think on.
posted by amanda at 4:35 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My wife and I both kept our names when we married. So did my parents, and my wife's two parents and two stepparents. So there are a whole lot of last names in our family. We've never had any problems having different names from our parents or children, except you'll occasionally have mail or phone calls for "Mr/Mrs Spouse'sName."

We went with the "girl gets mom's name, boy gets dad's name" rule. So that I wasn't completely "left out" when our daughter was born, her birth certificate actually says Firstname Middlename Dadsname Momsname, just as you suggested. The second and third names are both "middle names" but I won't mind if she doesn't use all four of them in practice.

I have several friends who actually did smoosh their names together, which is an interesting solution.
posted by mbrubeck at 4:38 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

mullingitover writes "I like the approach taken in the spanish-speaking world's approach"

As you can see, I work in the department of redundancy department.
posted by mullingitover at 4:38 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I suppose this is a modern phenomena -- what have you seen out there that works? Is there an equitable way to balance this?

I suppose the cause is modern, but not the problem of including maternal lastnames. I have a whole set of great great great aunts and uncles whose firstnames were maternal line lastnames that had been "lost" through marriage. They were called things like Greenwood Tyler, Jones Tyler, Rowson Tyler, and so on. Very unique names, and probably not always workable. But it was the closest thing to naming equality in the 1800s, and it's another idea in the hat.
posted by Sova at 4:42 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My wife kept her name (i.e. no changes at all) when we were married. It meant a lot to her to keep her name, and being a modern dude it didn't bother me at all.

But I'm not as modern as all that -- it was important to me that my kids have my last name. Through the vagaries of life, I've ended up with lots of aunties (who, not being modern aunties all took the names of their husbands) and no uncles, and as far as my family name goes I'm about all that's left. For better or worse, rational or not, I wanted someone else to have my name. It was important to me.

And that was OK with the wife, who has a gagillion relatives with her name.

My point is: sound your dude out. This is one of those strange situations where something's got to give. You can't, by definition, have two surnames. Multiple middle names sounds like a great compromise, and not all that uncommon. In my situation, my wife picked the middle name (a new one -- she didn't even want to use her name) and the kids got my last name.
posted by lex mercatoria at 4:43 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

What about splitting the Icelandic option with the "your name as middle name" option? If it's a boy, it's Firstname Yourname Hisname, and if it's a girl, it's Firstname Hisname Yourname. That way your name will get in there no matter what, but there's also continuity with both families and both parents no matter what.

Do not under any circumstances smoosh your names together to create a new name unless it sounds elegant and natural. Irrespective of your perfectly understandable intent, it'll come off as a novelty unless the name is totally seamless.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:44 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

My last name is hyphenated, and while I love it and wouldn't trade it for the world, it definitely brings up the what-about-the-children question. This is what my sister and I are going with, unless we find something better:

Every child gets a hyphenated last name. A girl child gets the maiden names of her two grandmothers (one from each side) and a boy child gets the names of his two grandfathers (again, one from each side).

So for instance, lets say Maddox Jolie-Pitt was marrying Suri (Holmes)-Cruise. Any female children would be Holmes-Jolie and any male children would be Cruise-Pitt.

This works out especially well for people who are already hyphenated, as everybody shares part of their name with someone else. On the down side, children of different genders don't share any part of their name with their sibling. We're open to other suggestions.

Of course, you're not hyphenated yourselves (and it's a shame your names don't hyphenate well so you can't foist this off on the next generation) but you could consider adding your own mothers' maiden names to yours, at least informally, if you want to share more of your name with your children.

Just my 2 cents.
posted by shaun uh at 4:44 PM on December 7, 2009

I just spent a couple months working on a research project for a book that involved tracking down scores of folks who had written letters that had wound up in the National Archives. Unsurprisingly, I frequently needed to locate next-of-kin.

So my only piece of advice is this: don't make genealogical research harder than it already is. Your heirs will be pleased when they pick up the phone and learn for the first time of some old letter you wrote. Or when they learn they've inherited some odd mineral rights in Oklahoma. They might never get the call if their surname is a bizarre portmanteau of their parents'!
posted by thejoshu at 4:45 PM on December 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

I seriously doubt it, ctmf.

Fair enough. I have nothing against that, really. My wife kept her last name. We kind of decided though, that our kids (which we've since decided against, so it's kind of moot) would just get one or the other, for simplicity for the kids. It wouldn't bother me if it was hers.

Just in the number of times people have put my name on her documents, though, would make me wary of doing anything unusual. It's wearisome having to go through the whole "are you sure you got the names right? Please read them back to me" spiel every time, since I can't trust people to not screw it up.
posted by ctmf at 4:49 PM on December 7, 2009

Let me advise against coming up with a combination name or hyphenating. Some of my cousins (both male) have a hyphenated name (MomsLastName-DadsLastName). They've both married lovely girls, neither of whom took their names. Cousin #1's kids have a made up last name - a combination of all 3 parent's names. It sounds made up and sounds funny. Everyone else in the family gets a huge laugh out the name. Cousin #2's first kid is on its way, and they've decided on a new hyphenated name (HusbandsMomsLastName-WifesLastName).

Another set of cousins (also male) also have hyphenated names. One of them is engaged right now, and the couple is currently discussing (and sound pretty sure of themselves) both taking a new name upon marriage ("Fin" of all things).

My mom kept her last name on marriage (and divorce, hah!). I have my dad's last name.

It was a bit confusing growing up - when she'd try to pick us up from school functions and not have the same last name. Also caused one hilarious incident while trying to play hookey. At the time, my high school required student's parent's to call them in sick, else when a student was marked absent, an automated call was placed to the house in the evening (to alert the parents). Some friends and I skipped out after first period, and I had a female in the group call in pretending to be my mother. Unfortunately, she got the receptionist that new my mom.

girl: calling ish__ smith in absent today
receptionist: who is this
girl: carolyn smith
receptionist: oh ok.....

Receptionist then called my mom at work and asked if she'd called me in. Which she hadn't. Busted cold that evening.

So my recommendation - give them hubby's last name. Go with Name MomsLastName DadsLastName or give them 4 names (I always wanted to be the special snowflake growing up, this is a pretty painless way to do it). Sure its the traditional thing, but its the easy and straightforward and is least likely to cause more questions like this for them later on.
posted by ish__ at 4:58 PM on December 7, 2009

Alternate, if that's what you wish to do. I would also give each child a second middle name - the other person's last name. Then the mark is there.

In the Plinth family case, Mrs. Plinth did a logical shift left of her name with my last name in the carry. In other words, Josephine Eleanor Hanover became Eleanor Hanover Plinth. Our kids are Plinths. Her sister kept her last name, but her kids have her husband's name. My brother's spouse kept her name, the kids got his name, but she asserted strong naming influence on their kids.

In other words, the best solution is the one that you are both most comfortable with.
posted by plinth at 5:02 PM on December 7, 2009

I like the approach taken in the spanish-speaking world's approach, with the child taking both parents last names.

To be really accurate, it's not really the last names of each parent, it's the last names of each parent's father. So it's still patronymic, though from one generation further back. The child doesn't carry their grandmother's name at all: they have the names of their two grandfathers.

In other words, the mothers' names are still "lost", the way they are in traditional name-changing American marriages, but they're lost one generation later.

Granted, still a bit better, I guess.
posted by rokusan at 5:14 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Giving them both names in sequence also gives them future flexibility. I know three different people who chose later in life to start using their "other" surrname.

If you alternate, you'll be faced with a heart-hurting drama at some point where a kid complains that the other one got "the good" name. Not good for your ego.
posted by rokusan at 5:18 PM on December 7, 2009

lex mercatoria and rocusan...It's traditionally supposed to be the last names of each parent's father, but individuals in Latin America and Spain are challenging that, and are mixing that up. Good friends of mine in Spain, in fact, gave their child the maternal surname from the wife and the paternal surname from the husband, in that order, and now the kid's primary surname is a maternal one.
posted by cachondeo45 at 5:23 PM on December 7, 2009

Best answer: I have friends whose parents handled it this way: they chose the name that was easiest to say/spell as the last name, and the other name was the middle name. In this case, the mom's last name was the easy one. For instance, Firstborn Dadsname Momsname, Secondborn Dadsname Momsname. I've always found this to be a brilliant solution.
posted by chez shoes at 5:30 PM on December 7, 2009

If you don't need all your kids to have the same last name, I would suggest you give the kids one last name as a middle name and the other last name as a last name then you switch the order of the last names for each subsequent kid.

So the first kid would be Firstname Hislastname Yourlastname. The second one is Firstname Yourlastname Hislastname and third is back to Firstname Hislastname Yourlastname. This should regardless of sex so if you had three boys, two would have Hislastname Yourlastname and one would be Yourlastname Hislastname.
posted by nooneyouknow at 5:32 PM on December 7, 2009

One more option: I am a Firstname Mom's-Middle-Name Dad's-Last-Name. I like it because it keeps the continuity and I don't have to go through life with a middle name like "Willingham."
posted by hishtafel at 5:36 PM on December 7, 2009

We went with hisname greatgrandpa'sfirstnameasmiddlename herlastnameassecondmiddlename mylastname.
posted by umbú at 5:43 PM on December 7, 2009

He wants our (hypothetical) children to have his last name. That makes me feel left out. I suggested the first one takes his and the (very hypothetical) second takes mine. Or, to borrow from an Icelandic naming tradition, the girls take mine and the boys take his. But, that last one doesn't really appeal for a couple reasons. What if I only had boys? I'd still get left out.

I've kept my name, and I have always (since I was like, 9) planned to do it this way. If you only have boys, that's pretty much the luck of the draw--but it's a "fair" method that doesn't favor either side unfairly. I mean, what if you only have girls? He'd deal, right?

(You could always do it BabyBoy YourLastName HisLastName and BabyGirl HisLastName YourLastName if you want representation in naming regardless of the sex.)

I wouldn't smoosh names unless it's particularly mellifluous. Awkwardly smooshed names just make me think of the Dragonriders of Pern.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:46 PM on December 7, 2009

Best answer: I kept my last name and our three kids have my name not my husband's. We chose to do it that way because we're strong feminists and because my husband's family name was continued with multiple nephews whereas mine would have ended with me in our immediate family. At the time our first child was born there was much sturm and drang - even more than when we got married and I kept my name. Now - 20 years later - everyone is used to it and it's no big deal. Our kids have grown up sharing our politics and thus far don't seem traumatized in the slightest.
posted by leslies at 5:50 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I say just throw a ton of names on the birth certificate. You'll end up calling 'em something and they'll end up calling themselves something and everybody will be happy. A ton of names. Like 15. At least. Ask for an extra sheet of paper.
posted by maniactown at 5:50 PM on December 7, 2009 [8 favorites]

So my only piece of advice is this: don't make genealogical research harder than it already is.

I sympathize, but this rationale ultimately isn't compelling for me. I'm the one living this life now, and am not going to compromise something that's important to me personally because my great-great-grandniece might find it inconvenient.
posted by desuetude at 5:53 PM on December 7, 2009 [5 favorites]

I know a couple where both husband and wife adopted a hyphenated-compound surname of 17 letters, 18 if you include the hyphen. It has been done.

Have we met? And were you the guy who sold me the shoes at Nordstrom the other day who found this so fascinating? Sorry about the sarcastic hand gestures when I told you we were "craaaaazy!".

We only have 14 letters. Whoever said it's just a punt to the next generation of kids doesn't understand my unique and poignant pain is totally right, but also misses some of the pluses:

Web forms don't always accept hyphen
Sometimes you have to talk people into not writing out h-y-p-h-e-n in the middle of your name
Our kids will have to make some decisions about what to do (I find myself not caring all that much, actually)

Neither my rare last name nor husband's rare last name are lost to the ages (we're each the only our-last-name-having procreators in each of our generations)
We get to have the same last name as one another
We each get to pass on our last name to our kids, whatever they wind up doing with those names.

In Summary
Everyone-hyphenates is a good solution if your names aren't too long, if you are fairly patient, and if you are exactly attached enoguh to your name to care if you keep it, but not enough to care if your kids do.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:54 PM on December 7, 2009

Best answer: My mother (who I lived with) remarried when I was fairly young and took my stepfather's, and it wasn't really that big a deal at all that we had different names. I can't imagine it would be that big a deal if my siblings and I had different names (certainly, my step-siblings and I do, and that's no biggie). There's no particular reason why these things wouldn't be normal. There might be some obscure moment every few years, or some raging traditionalist every so often, that makes you have to think about it for a half-second, but ultimately, so what? Come up with an entire name that sounds nice and give that to your (hypothetical) kid.
posted by Casuistry at 5:55 PM on December 7, 2009

You're getting lots of suggestions, but just to add to the cacophony: I'm Ms. BlahLaLa. Married to Mr. DifferentName. Our son is Boy BlahLaLah DifferentName. No hyphen.

I like it because it's easy -- Boy DifferentName is what he generally goes by, but my name is in there, too, and he knows it's important and that he got that name from me and my side of his family.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:11 PM on December 7, 2009

My only sticking point is that I think siblings should have the same last name.
Maybe I'm a stick in the mud, but I think that. I do.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:15 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

One option I don't think I've seen in this thread: at birth, name the child something that seems fitting to you, but then also plan, at some point when the child is more developed, to allow them to decide what their name will be.

This is really unconventional, and I'm sure there are downsides associated with it, as there are with everything. However, as someone who has had her name changed several times throughout her life, I can say that it gave me no lasting damage. By the time I was 18, I had a pretty good understanding of what I saw as my family's name and what name I thought was best suited for me. My name is now something that is special and important to me, something that I fought for and care about.
posted by Ms. Saint at 6:25 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mrs. L is actually Ms. H and our kids are First Middle H L, like you are suggesting. The kids are now high school/college age and they have liked having the 4 name thing and understand how it ties them to two families that have joined by marriage.
posted by Edward L at 6:29 PM on December 7, 2009

SLC Mom - I agree that siblings should share a name.

Giving me my mom's name and my sister my dad's name would ignore the fact that my sister and I have a completely unique bond of family. It seems as though the acknowledging the sibling relationship trumps claiming one kid or the other with a family name.
posted by 26.2 at 6:42 PM on December 7, 2009

Best answer: I suggested the first one takes his and the (very hypothetical) second takes mine. Or, to borrow from an Icelandic naming tradition, the girls take mine and the boys take his. But, that last one doesn't really appeal for a couple reasons. What if I only had boys? I'd still get left out.

Well, the compromise with that is: if you have all girls, he's left out. Fair enough.

I best like the suggestion of giving the other spouses' last name for their middle name, and their gender deciding who gets the offical "last name slot."

Girl HisName YourName: aka "Girl Yourname"
Boy YourName Hisname: aka "Boy Hisname"

Just in case you have all boys or all girls, there's still a little representation in there. Really, though, they're going to be their own people not Ambassadors from the Nation of *Family Name Here!*, and odds are it's going to get removed or changed or not passed on somewhere down the line, so don't agonize over it. If it's about having your name represented fairly, cool, I still think the above solution makes the most sense.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:43 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

You could also go old school scandinavian and do
amandasdaughter or husbandsson
amandasson or husbandsdaughter
for their last names
posted by Redmond Cooper at 6:51 PM on December 7, 2009

Our solution for our two children was firstname secondname* partnerslastname mylastname.

We chose my last name because it is less common and I was the end of the line. To complicate things slightly we are a lesbian couple and each of us carried one of the children.

* each of the children have a second name borrowed from the opposite side of the family - i.e. the side that they are not genetically related to.
posted by Cuke at 6:52 PM on December 7, 2009

Best answer: My mother kept her last name. My sister and I have her last name (I have my dad's last name in my middle name but never really use it) and my brother has my dad's. There were a few awkward moments growing up, when people didn't realize we were siblings, but really, who cares? It didn't matter at all to us, we still felt like a family, there were never issues with my dad having to prove that he was our father because of last names, and I would do the same for my (future, hypothetical) children.
posted by OLechat at 7:09 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I kept my last name (it's awesome), but I'm totally fine with our future child (due in January!) having his last name. We've talked about doing First Middle Mine His or First Middle Mine-His, & at one point I was gung ho about all three of us sharing the last name "Panda," but ultimately that seemed to be more trouble than it's worth. He's the one who really wants to include my last name somewhere in there. The name-changing was an issue for me politically & b/c I got married in my late twenties & saw absolutely no reason to step away from the name I've had all my life, but the kiddo isn't tied to one name or another so I don't mind if it's easier to just pick one.

One of my close friends has a different last name from both of his parents -- his parents each kept their own names, & then they gave my friend & his sister a last name of their own. I thought that was kind of cool, but my husband wasn't really into it.
posted by oh really at 7:24 PM on December 7, 2009

Hyphens are good. I am Smith, spouse is Jones, sons are Jones-Smith. It was a practical decision so that in issues of administrivia, there was never any question that parents and children were a matched set. We've never had any problems beyond relatives assuming the boys have (merely) my surname.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:24 PM on December 7, 2009

I already favorited the answer that I like best (first mom's dad's for ♂, first dad's mom's for ♀), but I wanted to chime in about another consideration that has popped up in this thread.

I'd like to suggest that the idea of a name "dying out" or "ending" seems quaint and old-fashioned to me. As long as they're your kid and you love them like family, does surviving the family name mean anything? I mean, if adoption is cool (garsh, my genetic material won't get passed on!), is a name worth fretting about? No more Smiths in the world? Would that really be a big loss?
posted by msittig at 7:29 PM on December 7, 2009

My parents simply gave the first born of our family my mom's last name as her middle and my father's last name as her last. As someone who delves in genealogy, I want to make the same argument as thejoshu, but ultimately, you shouldn't feel like you're being held hostage to someone who's grandparent isn't even born yet. (Besides, just keep awesome family records now and they'll love you no matter what name changes occur so long as they can easily track the changes).

What is the situation on name passage in your respective families? With regard to myself, I'm one of the last men of the branch of the family, so I really hope I'll have a son or two to pass my name on. For as much as names appear from this thread to have become individualized, for generations one's family name was an important identifier. It speaks of your family history, be it location, ethnicity, or even perhaps the trade that some distant ancestor participated in. Rather than make something up, I would instead choose a method of naming that helps preserve both your lineages.
posted by Atreides at 7:42 PM on December 7, 2009

No more Smiths in the world? Would that really be a big loss?

I can see how people would feel a little sad about it. I mean, "smith" is a pretty non-notable, common name. If you're the last of the noble "Gargleblunths" it'd be different, perhaps.

Especially if you're really aware of your ancestry. "Great Grandfather^x John Gargleblunth came over on the Mayflower, and Great Grandfather^x Joe Gargleblunth and his wife Mary Gargleblunth were pioneers on the frontier and..."

There's something cool about that and I can understand people caring about it. No, it doesn't really matter, but neither do names.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:43 PM on December 7, 2009

Best answer: I kept my name at marriage (couldn't convince hubby to take mine even though it would have sounded awesome. Interestingly enough, my last name is the same as my fathers but different than any grandparents (yep, it appears it was made up in the thirties). Our children have survived with hyphenated names for ten years. I would have preferred they had just my last name as I am their primary caregiver and in contact with their teachers and friends but I think not having his name included would have felt emasculating to him. If I had given in and just given them his name I would still be resentful. The number of single mothers I know also leans me towards a matronymic tradition.

I am very close to my birth family and my children interact more with their cousins on my side of the family. They like the connection they have with their names (my sister choose the same option of hyphenated names). No, it isn't perfect but I can't think of any system that is fair until we all embrace one unique name per person.
posted by saucysault at 7:45 PM on December 7, 2009

Best answer: I'm married and we have two kids. The first (a girl) has my last name; the second (a boy) has my husband's. It worked out this way because we planned to give our first baby my last name, but when we did, his parents were horrified/hurt/embarrassed etc. (they are from a different culture where evidently the patronym is king), so we compromised and told them if we had a second baby, that baby would have their last name. Hah, I thought -- the joke's on them, because I'll never have another baby, ever!!! But 3.5 years later we ended up having to keep our promise. If I had to do it over again, knowing I'd have two kids, and knowing I'd have a girl and boy in that order, I'd have given the girl my husband's last name and the boy mine.

For what it's worth, I wrote about this in my first book, and when that chapter was excerpted in a magazine, it garnered more hate mail than you'd think was even possible. This was like 7 years ago or so, but still. It really surprised me that anybody had any kind of reaction at all, as the subject of my kids' last names seemed pretty innocuous and totally personal (it wasn't like I was slagging on anyone for *not* giving their kids different last names or anything, just sharing our experience).

Anyway, we've lived with the "mom and daughter have one last name, son and dad have the other" scenario for a decade now, and other than freaky parenting magazine readers (and the in-laws, at first), no one has given us a problem about it.
posted by mothershock at 7:52 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

My grandparents, in ultraconservative 1950s Taiwan, had two girls and two boys. My older aunt and my dad got my grandmother's maiden name, and his identical twin brother and my younger aunt got my grandfather's last name. I've never heard that it caused any confusion, but perhaps this is because everyone back then understood my grandmother was an only child and was obligated to pass on her family name somehow. Everyone still counts themselves as part of my grandfather's family, it's just that this odd branch I'm on has a different last name.

(ok well, it's lots of fun putting my dad and uncle next to each other at family reunions and watching all the small kids go O_o)
posted by casarkos at 8:02 PM on December 7, 2009

Things may be changing, but there's still a chance that you will run into problems if your kid doesn't have the same last name as you or his/her siblings. I know people who've had this problem when visiting foreign countries.

Here's a data point about middle names. I have an interest in family genealogy, and I ran into a bunch of relatives with the same uncommon middle name. It turns out that it was one female ancestor's surname back in the 1820s. So don't dismiss middle names; they are surprisingly robust.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:04 PM on December 7, 2009

Just settle it at birth with a coin flip.

On a more serious note, I am divorced, and I no longer share a surname with my son. It gets old having to explain "yes, I am the parent" at various social functions, school functions, airports, etc. but ultimately, we make it work.

Two thoughts:
1) I know a couple who got married, then combined their names (creatively) into a name that they both liked.
2) I know another couple that didn't like their last name, and decided to change it to the name of an author they both liked.

If this situation ever becomes non-hypothetical, you might consider choosing a name that you both like, that you can all share. If, however, you end up with a different name than your children, it's worth knowing that tons of divorced women deal with this, it's becoming more common, and it's not that big of a deal.
posted by eleyna at 8:18 PM on December 7, 2009

You may also want to consider which name is AWESOMER. Which one is more fun/interesting/yet easy to pronounce and spell? If the two of you can't agree on which name is better, you could always crowdsource it--take a poll and ask people (and by people, I of course mean The Internet) which last name they'd rather have. I find that there is a surprising amount of consensus about what last names are awesome.
posted by ethorson at 8:25 PM on December 7, 2009

I always thought I'd want to keep my last name when I got married, but then I realized that all I'd be doing is keeping something that replaced my mom's last name, so really patronymic society would win regardless. I elected to change my name upon marriage, but in the spirit of etherson's answer above, it was mainly because it sounded awesome. It was also a better teacher name. I vote for the Icelandic thing (which if followed consistently seems fairest overall) with the other last name as middle name. Like so many above, I'd also vote against hyphenating. It just seems so short sighted (as it's really only a one generational solution, as previously mentioned). Plus, in my experience as a teacher kids with hyphenated last names (and there are a whole wack of them at my school) tend to favour one name over another, or sign everything "John T-M" (for example), which seems to diminish both names.
posted by Go Banana at 8:35 PM on December 7, 2009

I know a family who hyphenated their kids' last names, and it comes off as pretentious. To me. It also seems a little selfish- mom and dad got to keep their names as they were, and the kids through no fault of their own, got stuck with different and out of the ordinary names. Mom and dad got their way, at the expense of the kids.

It also seems un-family-like. Not in a family values conservative way, just in a "we all share a name because we are all a family" kind of way. It adds a sense of belonging. If you are going to hyphenate, mom and dad should do it too (and see how they like it...).

My solution would be: classically, go with one surname as middle name, the other as the last name. Flip a coin for the order. Not four names, because that's confusing. Just Terry Kennedy Matsushita, or Chris Matsushita Kennedy.

Or rename the whole family.

Mom, Dad, Junior and Kit Awesomefamily
posted by gjc at 8:48 PM on December 7, 2009

Data point: I grew up with a hyphenated last name. It's 14 characters long, including the hyphen. It's really unwieldy and no one can spell it. Most of the computer systems I've been in only have 13 spaces for a last name, always cutting off the last letter. Bubble sheets on standardized tests usually have even less space; they also generally don't have hyphens on it. This is, I assume, because the College Board is full of patriarchal fascists.

I got my maternal grandmother's maiden name, since I'm the last person in that family line, as my middle name. (I am also the last person in my mother and father's last names, which I think influenced the decision to give me both names.) I've started using that name-- Reed-- in any context where I don't need to use the name that's on my actual driver's license, 'cause I'm sick and tired of explaining how to spell the whole name to people. (Since a lot of people now think that is my last name, though, I have to include it on everything as well, making me stuck being Nora Reed Momsname-Dadsname on the internet everywhere.)
posted by NoraReed at 8:49 PM on December 7, 2009

My parents had this dilemma. Since my father has a patronym instead of a family name, the kids ended up with the paternal great-grandad's name as a surname. And mom got to pick the first names. End result: everyone has a different surname.

Dad's name: Dad Grandad (occasionally Dad Grandad Great-grandad)
Mom's name: Mom Familyname
Me: Xere Great-grandad

It worked out okay with the teachers, because my father uses his 3-part name in some documents. Also, this is what the "Also known as:" field is for, on school documents and what not.

I like having a different name. It's different. It's (kind of) mine. But if I had the choice of keeping things simple, and not having to constantly explain my backstory to people ... I would have liked to have both my dad and mom's surnames. That would have made my name superlong (Xere Middlename MomSurname DadSurname), but as a kid, I thought it was cool to have the longest name in the classroom.
posted by Xere at 9:06 PM on December 7, 2009

Response by poster: So my only piece of advice is this: don't make genealogical research harder than it already is.

My grandfather was really into genealogy and he had the darndest time tracking down the women in some of the farther branches of the family tree because they had been recorded as Mrs. John Smith or some such variant. So, I feel like our Western naming convention is very good for tracking paternal lines, it's does diddly for the women. Am I wrong on that?

I recall hearing that the Icelandic people had amazing genealogical records due in part to their naming convention but I don't quite get how that works out either. You'd have paternal lines and maternal lines going in parallel. If my daughter is Amandadottir and my son is Husbandson then how is it clear we're connected?

Anyway, I may not be the last of my line but it's looking like a distinct possibility that I might. My father had a brother who is gay with no children. His father was estranged from his only brother, we have no idea whether he had any family or even lived beyond his 20s. I have a confirmed bachelor for an older brother thus far and a younger brother who is still too young for these things but, who knows? My husband's father, on the other hand, had 3 brothers who have all passed down the name to some boys and even a grandkid. But, I'm not that concerned about continuity of the family name, necessarily. I won't feel sad if my brothers never pass down "the name." And, just cause people mentioned it, I'm adopted as well. And, frankly, that has something to do with my personal reasons for keeping my name on marriage.
posted by amanda at 10:30 PM on December 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My german friend claims to have the most common german last name on the planet, and didn't care for it at all, so when he married his wife kept her name, and now, both the kids have her name. He said that he does tend to keep a notarized copy of their birth certificates in his wallet in case anyone asks, but for the most part, there are no troubles.

Of course each of the kids looks like little a blond teutonic mini-me of him, so he really doesn't have any problems when he registers them for school, etc.
posted by anitanita at 11:11 PM on December 7, 2009

Best answer: I am a First Name Momslastnameasmiddle Dadslastname person. They did it for both their kids because they thought hyphenation would be messy. It's been OK. Momslastname is dying out on this line (her only brother isn't having kids), so if my partner and I have kids, I will probably foist that name in there (more so than my very common last name).

Sometimes I wish I had a "real middlename". (I get weird looks when I say my middle name.) I think I will probably give the kids two names and they'll resent me for it, but oh well.
posted by kendrak at 12:06 AM on December 8, 2009

GuyZero: I know a couple where both husband and wife adopted a hyphenated-compound surname of 17 letters, 18 if you include the hyphen. It has been done.

Justinian: That's a one-generation fix which simply pushes the issue aside for your kids to deal with.

The problem of both parents wanting their name to be the child's last name might not be an issue for the new generation. In particular, if the new generation grows up with an unwieldy name, that would obviously effect their views on the pragmatism/convenience vs. antipatriarchy/personal identity.

I've got this friend whose name is double-hyphenated, and this long: Eeeeee Dddddddd Hhhhhhh-Cccccccc-Bbbbbbb. He goes by Bbbbbbb for most purposes, and after a life of incorrect forms, too-short address labels, and "I'm sorry, the name on your ID doesn't match the name on our records" he places much less importance on 'keeping the family name alive' than did his parents.

So go for a huge hyphenated name and the problem will solve itself!
posted by Mike1024 at 12:58 AM on December 8, 2009

We did this on the basis of what was best for the child; she has a complicated, sort of fussy first name, so she got her dad's simple last name. My last name is long and ethnic. If we'd given her a simple, one syllable first name, she'd have gotten mine.

So I'd say -- depends on the first name, and think more about the person who's going to carry around the name than yourselves as parents or 'society' or anything.

Worked for us, anyway. Nobody thinks its weird at the doctors or anything, they ask me my daughter's name and I give them the full name, first and last. They figure it out.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:29 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I kept my last name when I got married, and baby anachronism has that as one of her middle names. It works because all the names are two syllables or less, simple to spell and say, and it is something she'll share with her siblings as well - she's baby middlename myname hisname and her siblings will be sister middlename myname hisname.

For us there was the fact that I'm attached to my name as my name, but my husband is attached to his name as his family name. For him, our daughter having his family name was important as it was part of her being part of his wider family. For him it was pretty much either she has his name, or we all change our names to create our own family identity separate from our existing families (which rather defeated my desire to stay geek anachronism). He despises hyphenation and vetoed all portmanteaus, made up names or adopted names as well - but he would have changed his name to mine if it had been important to me that our daughter had my family name. It just didn't feel that important to me.

It also makes sense since he'll be the primary carer once she's a bit older and sharing a family name can make it easier. It really shouldn't, but it does.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:37 AM on December 8, 2009

You may also want to consider which name is AWESOMER. Which one is more fun/interesting/yet easy to pronounce and spell? If the two of you can't agree on which name is better, you could always crowdsource it--take a poll and ask people (and by people, I of course mean The Internet) which last name they'd rather have. I find that there is a surprising amount of consensus about what last names are awesome.

This is a good idea.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:39 AM on December 8, 2009

Best answer: Our society is so crammed full of stepchildren and half-siblings and "I live with my daddy and my brothers half the time and my mommy and my other brother half the time" that I feel fairly comfortable in saying this:

Anyone who gets confused because two members of a family have different last names is being disingenuous. No adult hasn't encountered this. Kids of the current generation don't even see it as an issue. If anything, hyphenization and dual last names seem (to me, at least) to be kind of silly at this point. If you're Amanda Shackelford and he's Robert Rasmussen, it will not be a problem to say, "Hi, I'm Amanda, Billy Rasmussen's mom." Or for him to say, "Hi, I'm Robert, Billy Shackelford's dad." Yes, people will assume that you're Amanda Rasmussen or he's Robert Shackleford. So correct them once and move on. Anyone who "doesn't get it" is being a douche.

Flip a coin. Promise to alternate (and frankly, as the woman, you get to make the call on how many you have). Just don't saddle the kid with something weird. That will cause way, way more psychic damage than the occasional "No, my mom is Amanda Shackelford."
posted by Etrigan at 4:37 AM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

At any rate, my kids have their father's/my first husband's surname, and no trace of my surname, and speaking only from my perspective, I've never, ever had the slightest misgiving about this. My experience has been that my investment/involvement in shaping who they are is so much more important than the name they use. (Also, I picked their of-course-awesome given names, so that's my little "stamp" on their future driver's licenses.)

Not having the same surname has never been a problem in the sense of making life more complicated, and it's not been a problem in the emotional sense because I chose not to think of it that way.

In my case, this also means that mine is the last generation to bear the DrLith surname until you go quite a ways out (2nd cousins, I think), since my sister took her husband's name and my brother will not have kids, and my dad was also the only son. This also does not bother me.

My point here is that regardless of how you go, you have a great deal of control over how you frame things, emotionally.

One thing that may help you figure out your perspective is to think about how you feel in connection to preceding generations and last names. Do you feel any less connected to your mother/mother's side of the family because you don't have the same surname? In my case, my mom has a surname that connects her to a handful of modestly important figures in U.S. history--which is awesome, and I can share the feeling of that historical connection, even though I don't have the same surname.

There are likewise some cool facts about my father's ancestors and their relatively obscure, very Anglo Saxon surname, and I hope my kids will one day have an appreciation for that little slice of history as well!

There's nothing wrong with using one of your surnames as a middle name (either the only middle name, or as a 2-middle-name combo), but do keep in mind that middle names are generally known by (a) the immediate family; (b) completely anonymous processors of official forms, and everyone else in between will be blissfully unaware of whatever statement you may be attempting to make. Also, if you go with Firstname Onelastname Otherlastname, the Firstname better be doubly awesome, because you've eliminated your offspring's option of going by F. Middlename Lastname as an adult if s/he decides s/he hates the Firstname you pick for him/her.
posted by drlith at 6:22 AM on December 8, 2009

Best answer: I just wanted to chime in and say that everything that drlith said could apply just as equally to your husband, if the children were given your surname. It seems odd to me that people often reiterate these things to the female partner (that you can have a different family name but still take pride in your family; that it's all in how you emotionally frame the situation), but rarely the male.

I think it's okay for this to be important to you, and okay for you to want your children to share your name.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:28 AM on December 8, 2009 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: There are really no "best" answers here but I'm trying to mark the ones that are seeming most helpful to me though everyone's comments have been illuminating. I lean away from the Firstname Momsnamemiddlename Dadsname because my surname is *such* a last name, it's not like a Murphy or a Jackson which could suitably hang out as a middle name without too much consternation. I'll keep that on the plate if little Hypothetica (love that!) should ever come along -- maybe it will roll off the tongue with whatever first name we choose.

I kind of wish the naming tradition was to come up with a new family name at marriage. I mean, these names started with people just making them up, right? Along those lines, I think Dragonriders of Pern is a new front-runner for a made up family last name. Thanks, PhoBWanKenobi!
posted by amanda at 7:37 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I kind of wish the naming tradition was to come up with a new family name at marriage.

It will never become a tradition if people don't start, you know, doing it.
posted by muddgirl at 7:48 AM on December 8, 2009

Best answer: I work with a lot of new Canadians so I am used to all the variable non-WASP last name options out here (you think 18 letters is long? You must not know a lot of Sri Lankans). Those last names work for those families because the family members have bought into that tradition.

Your husband, quite frankly, sounds like the problem. I know he wanted you to have his last name and he wants his children to have his last name but he is in a new family now and he needs to learn to compromise. What solutions has he proposed? You don't need to solve all of society's issue with last names, just in your personal family. Any solution you come up with will probably be rejected no matter how "fair" it is.

So have a conversation where you state that Hypothetica will not be named as if you are Mrs HusbandsLastname and this is the fifties in America, so what options is he comfortable with? Don't make any suggestions. Make him do the leg-work and really understand what a conundrum it is. I suspect a lot of men drag their feet about this issue and make the female partner devote a lot of energy to the issue in the hope of wearing them down. It takes no energy to shoot down other people's ideas. Any time he falls back on the plea "but it's tradition" remind him that is HIS tradition, not yours and you quite validly want an inclusive tradition in your family.

If you decide to all change your last names then the birth of your first child is the perfect opportunity for the three of you. Since most last names represent employment or geographic location I expect to see future generations with family names like "Retail" or "Jersey". Although the Obama suggestion rocks.

Good Luck!
posted by saucysault at 8:06 AM on December 8, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I best like the suggestion of giving the other spouses' last name for their middle name, and their gender deciding who gets the offical "last name slot."

That's what Mr. Corpse and I have done. Even though it looks complicated, it hasn't caused any problems at all. For daily use, we all use just our first names and last names.

Our kids have different last names from each other, but there's nothing unusual about that these days -- and it will help the daughter avoid all the "Oh, are you so-and-so's little sister?" that Mr. Corpse and I both got when we were growing up.

When I was little we called our friends' parents Mr. and Mrs. Lastname. Now, my kids' friends all call my by my first name (or as Son's or Daughter's Mom). Outside of paperwork, last names just don't get used that much.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:59 AM on December 8, 2009

my surname is *such* a last name, it's not like a Murphy or a Jackson which could suitably hang out as a middle name without too much consternation

Yabbut who cares? How often do you say your middle name? Trust me, as someone who is deep in the parenting trenches -- this is a really common approach.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:01 AM on December 8, 2009

Just another perspective here.

My wife is the type that you expect to want to keep her original surname. However, she chose not to, solely because she wanted the names of our eventual children to match both of us, and not cause any records confusion. Her point of view was that she was sacrificing something that would be for the benefit of our children. She was thinking from the next generation's perspective, instead of her own. It was a big thing to do.

And, now that we have a child, I'd say it's worked out well. Or, at least smoothly.

(For the record, her choice about her last name was entirely hers, with no nudging or other coercion by me. Given her choice, any questions of children's last names were rendered moot.)
posted by Citrus at 10:19 AM on December 8, 2009

Our society is so crammed full of stepchildren and half-siblings and "I live with my daddy and my brothers half the time and my mommy and my other brother half the time" that I feel fairly comfortable in saying this:

Anyone who gets confused because two members of a family have different last names is being disingenuous.

I agree that it's not uncommon for two members of a family to have different last names - and as you say, we live in a society full of stepchildren and half-siblings and shared custody.

In my attempts to be understanding of this stuff, when I encounter families with different last names etc, I know there's a risk it's due to a parent's death or an acrimonious divorce, so I'm not inclined to ask about the details in case it's something they'd rather not talk about. And because I don't ask, the acrimonious divorce hypothesis never gets ruled out.

Of course, this is mostly only an issue for children; I consider it safe to assume that adults are able to talk about there parents' marital situation. But then, how often do you ask an adult about their parents' marital situation?
posted by Mike1024 at 10:37 AM on December 8, 2009

Best answer: My husband kept his name when we married. When our first baby came along, we discussed what to do about names, complete with asking the grandparents-to-be. Of everyone, the only person who really cared about her last name was my father-in-law; his other child took her husband's name upon marriage, and all her children have her married name.

What I cared about was having some kind of name relationship to my child, something that I could point to as evidence that I wasn't a total stranger to her. We accomplished that by giving her my last name as a second middle name. It's fundamentally unused, and that's fine by me; I just wanted it on her birth certificate and passport. Her full name is Lillian Elanor Mylast Hislast.

I'm her primary caregiver, and it has never once been a problem that she has a different last name than I do. I just say "My daughter and I have different last names" and everything's cool. She's three now.
posted by KathrynT at 11:01 AM on December 8, 2009

Best answer: Citrus, although you and your wife probably believe everything has worked smoothly after her name change; as someone that DIDN'T change her name I have had so many personal and professional benefits that I honestly can't imagine the benefits of name-changing outweighing them. I know my resume has gone to the top of the pile because my last name was recognised from decades old networking, pre-marriage friends are able to contact me by googling/facebooking my name, my degrees have the name of the person that earned them, the government can keep easier track of my vital statistics, I've kept my credit, my positive reputation has followed me my entire life etc. Women that have changed their name lost that but often can't notice the absence.

Just think how the tenor of mefi would change if usernames changed frequently - all the history with a username would be lost, both good and bad. I think as personal and professional lives continue to mesh and the digital record expands and remembers all, the branding of individuals will be more and more impotant. Passing on a male family so that members can have a sign outside their house announcing "We're the Reilly's"? I just don't see the benefit of all members of a family sharing the same last name unless they are appearing on Family Feud.

Who says last names anyway except school-children (admittedly I know many teachers that decided on their name after marriage based on what was easier for children to spell). Having a unique name is increased with the use of hypenation/making up names and uniqueness is becoming more and more valuable (unless you want to hide from the google).
posted by saucysault at 11:31 AM on December 8, 2009 [6 favorites]

addendum... I meant who says last names in a family context anyway. The few times my children's last names have been commented on by outsiders it has been to point out the shared family name on the maternal side since the paternal name has no geographic or school-related context.
posted by saucysault at 11:43 AM on December 8, 2009

IM conversation with amanda just now:

thomsplace: I am, after reading this thread, considering the cool factor of changing our last name to Hollywood. or something else.

amanda: dragonriders of pern?

thomsplace: LOL. perhaps. but does that satisfy your desire for the kid to have something that is yours?

thomsplace: I mean, I guess my question is this: what is your root desire?

thomsplace: to have it be your family name, or to have it be something that is YOU or something that is US?

amanda: good question

thomsplace: can I post?

amanda: sure, if you want.

thomsplace: and reveal our... "relationship"?

amanda: reveal!

amanda: yeah, I'll have to think on that. on what I want out of it.

amanda: because I don't actually like the thought of you getting left out of the name either.

I think amanda did a good job of representing my opinion on the matter, as she typically does. I don't like the idea of separate names for the kids, if only because I'd be pretty proud of our family unit. Amusing as deadcrow's comment about soccer fame is, I wear my family's name with pride.

I didn't grow up anywhere near any of my cousins (military brats, every one of us), and so family get-togethers were rare and something I really cherished. I have a cousin who lives in town, and I love the fact that when we do stuff together, people know we're family (and not just because of our scintillating wit and good looks).

Anyway. Fascinating conversation, and we really appreciate the stories and thoughts.
posted by thomsplace at 12:27 PM on December 8, 2009

I wouldn't consider giving a child my last name. No one can spell it; no one can pronounce it. It's been an albatross all my life.

If I had a child, I'd give him/her either my SO's last name, or just give them the last name "Smith" or something equally generic. I don't get the need to pass on (or worse, create anew) a family name.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:51 PM on December 8, 2009

My oldest son has my last name and my youngest son has my husband's last name. If it had been entirely my choice, both my children would have my last name, but after we'd had one my husband decided names did matter to him, and wanted our second child to have his last name.

We haven't had any problems at all with this arrangement. Although I've had a few people ask my how I arranged to have my oldest child have my last name. As in, legally arranged ("Are you allowed to do that? Did you have to get special permission?") I find these questions entertaining/annoying, depending on my mood.

But: it's fine. As others have said, it's not uncommon for kids/parents/families to have all sorts of name arrangement these days. As with so many things, no one will care about it as much as you do.
posted by Badmichelle at 12:52 PM on December 8, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah, but your cousin is a woman and if she gets married and decides to take her spouse's name then *blip* you just lost your cool last name connection. Just like if we have kids and if they all take your last name then *blip* I'm more removed which seems odd given that in all likelihood and barring great leaps in science, I'd be the one having them. Not taking your last name in marriage never bothered me because I don't feel like you own me. But, I guess I do feel some ownership of our future little Hypotheticas. Hmmm... your question – what is my root desire? – is very difficult to answer. I think if I had designed the system I wouldn't have designed it this way. ;p

Thanks again, all.
posted by amanda at 12:56 PM on December 8, 2009

Hee, I like the way that you guys are discussing this. It's adorkable.

I didn't grow up anywhere near any of my cousins (military brats, every one of us), and so family get-togethers were rare and something I really cherished. I have a cousin who lives in town, and I love the fact that when we do stuff together, people know we're family (and not just because of our scintillating wit and good looks).

As a counterpoint, I grew up much closer with my maternal cousins--a gaggle of Silverlights, Maxes, Norths, and Finebergs. And the family connection is much more present there than it is with my North relatives, on account of shared experiences. I'd keep in mind that your children will have shared experiences, and feelings of family are produced via those experiences, not necessarily shared names.

And of course, what kathrineg and your wife said. If that continuity of name/family is equally important to both of you, it might actually be best to make a new name that you all adopt, or smoosh, or even hyphenate, for all the problems it might cause. I get the feeling this is important to both of you, and in such a case, you might want to pick an equitable solution so that neither partner's feelings go unconsidered.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:04 PM on December 8, 2009

I know a Norwegian family where Mom and Dad kept their respective surnames, and out of fairness decided that the firstborn would determine all of the children's surnames. The firstborn ended up being a girl, so all three children got Mom's surname. If the firstborn had been a boy, all of the children would end up with Dad's surname. They ended up having three girls, but at least the plan was there from the beginning, and all three kids share a surname. They told me that it worked out fairly well in Norway, but when they lived in the US for several years it was sometimes an issue.
posted by koselig at 6:56 PM on December 8, 2009

What we need to do is assign each person a unique prime number. Then each child will be known by the product of his/her parents' numbers multiplied by their own number. Every name will reveal the owner's ancestry!

(*) Dibs on 2.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:11 PM on December 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

my surname is *such* a last name, it's not like a Murphy or a Jackson which could suitably hang out as a middle name without too much consternation

My last name is the same (think Butcher, or Smith) - I think baby anachronism's name sounds fine. It's very much my last name as a middle name, which is the whole point, so I don't see it as a problem. Feature, not a bug.
posted by geek anachronism at 12:05 AM on December 9, 2009

Best answer: Girls get mom's last name and boys get dad's. It works fine in our house. And no, there are no issues with picking up or even border entries if you have paperwork on hand or an established relationship with the school.
posted by RedEmma at 9:07 AM on December 9, 2009

Response by poster: Felt like following up on this... little Hypothetica is not so hypothetical these days and we are expecting his or her arrival in early December. Here's what I've decided: Babyname Mylastname Hislastname. No other middle name (mostly because finding one name is hard enough). I'm still not happy with it. It's a compromise to me that doesn't fit right -- I'm settling for this in no small part because of the social pressure to do so. It's what my husband wants. I know his family wants it, too, and would find it outlandish any other way. My family would find it appropriate as well though would probably be less upset than my husband's family since they didn't have too much problem with my keeping my name on marriage anyway. And, frankly, switching the names up feels weird, too. And we are just too far gone to combine our last names and who knows what kind of drama would follow that. There's nothing that feels "just right" to me. I'm the Goldilocks of baby naming.

However, what hubs doesn't know is that if we have a second kid, I'm thinking it gets my last name as its last name. I don't care how weird it is! Second kid is even more hypothetical as I think I'm happy with just having one. But, you never know.

Anyway, thanks again for all your thoughts on this!
posted by amanda at 8:18 AM on August 12, 2010

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