Help me beanplate baby's last name
November 18, 2011 6:15 AM   Subscribe

We are considering giving our unborn baby its mother's last name as a last name and its father's last name as a middle name. How confusing will this be to strangers?

I am the the father, and I like this idea very much. My only lingering concern is with having to explain it to strangers on a regular basis. It seems that if the kid had a different last name from the mother, explaining would only be a minor annoyance, but a different last name from the father is a little more confusing because it is unusual, and even after explaining, people may assume that I am a step-father.

Am I overthinking something that's going to confuse people no matter what? (We are not open to hyphenation or a name change by one of us.)

Am I missing some other issue about people's perceptions?

We are in the U.S. if that matters, and we are likely to continue living near and socializing primarily with the kind of liberals who shop at farmer's markets and read the New Yorker cover to cover, though our kid will probably be in public schools.
posted by Sock Ray Blue to Human Relations (46 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
how often do strangers ask kids for their last names?

It probably won't come up that much- and tons of kids have different last names from their fathers- it's pretty common, though less so if you are married to the mother. You don't even need to explain it. "this is my daughter, her last name is spelled ...."
posted by Blisterlips at 6:22 AM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd imagine that no one will make a big deal of it, but that strangers will make the assumption that the child's father is someone else. If that matters to you, yes, you'll do some explaining over and over.
posted by tyllwin at 6:23 AM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I (the mom) kept my name, and we named our daughter Firstname Momslastname Dadslastname. It has never come up, even once, in the past 6 years that we have different last names. People are pretty used to this now, I think. You will have to explain it to the kid, though. It's also worth considering what you'll do if you have a second. Our 3-year-old is Firstname Middlename Dadslastname, and she has at times wondered why/made a fuss because she doesn't have Momslastname too.
posted by libraryhead at 6:26 AM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh my God, if anyone asks you about the kid's name, just stare at them and roll your eyes. It's 2011! This is a lovely idea and if it feels good, great. Right now, all kinds of naming stuff is going on, although people still feel free to ask all kinds of inappropriate questions based on name, race, appearance, all sorts of things. I was raised by someone with a different last name and I've always felt (along with Miss Manners) that anyone who asks about it deserves a nice long blank look or an "I can't imagine why you'd ask that."
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:28 AM on November 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

My friend did this and I don't know if anyone thinks it's weird. I assumed they weren't married when I met them, though. They weren't married when they had their first kid. They were married when their second kid and they gave that one the father's last name. I think that would be more of a problem that the two kids don't have the same last name, but since they were born seven or eight years apart, the two kids won't ever be in the same school anyway.

My kids go to school with lots of kids with different combinations of last names and no one cares. However, I have done a lot of volunteering at school where I'm the one collecting money for things. Write both of your names on everything. I can't give your kid his t shirt when your check only has your name on it. That is all.
posted by artychoke at 6:28 AM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Many cultures have multiple last names, I've seen it frequently enough. I believe it's common among Portuguese families (correct me if I'm wrong).

Just expect that most people assume the final name in the series is the "real" last name, and it will be what's reported as last name on official documents and the like.
posted by smitt at 6:28 AM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, I went to a small public school in a somewhat rural environment and I'm not sure anyone would have even batted an eye. Lots of kids had different names than some of their other family members, for a variety of reasons. The urban (Catholic) area I live in now...well, I didn't change my last name when I got married and people judge the hell out of me. Some of them don't even understand it after I explain it. ("So...I mean, you really changed your name, but you use your maiden name as like, a stage name?" "No. Chemists don't actually have stage names. I just kept my name. It's not illegal.")
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:30 AM on November 18, 2011 [12 favorites]

You'll probably be called Mr. Your Wife a bit, but I don't think that there will be much more weirdness than that. Some people might deliberately misunderstand, but assholes will be assholes.
posted by jeather at 6:32 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The whole naming situation is a lot different now than when we were young. Kids today have all sorts of names, and I bet this is just not going to be a problem. Go for it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:39 AM on November 18, 2011

If people are so bored as to spend time wondering about it, people will mostly assume you weren't married when the child was born and therefore kid got mom's last name.

Families with different last names has become so usual as to be hardly remarkable, however.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:43 AM on November 18, 2011

Strangers won't know or care. You might have to mention it to the teacher once he starts school. His friends might ask him about it. That's about it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:44 AM on November 18, 2011

We live in a small town near a university town. Our kids have my last name. Occasionally someone asks and occasionally my husband gets referred to by my last name. Not a big deal.
posted by leslies at 6:47 AM on November 18, 2011

Give the baby whatever last name you want. I doubt it will mean much one way or the other. There will be an occasional moment when a stranger who doesn't already know his or her last name and will just assume it's yours (and some people might do that intentionally), but the only people for whom a name is meaningful is you, your wife and the child his/herself and if that's what you want for whatever reason, then go for it, end of story.
posted by inturnaround at 6:49 AM on November 18, 2011

I am a woman. My kids have my last name even tho I was married to their father. He and I agreed on this. We are both artists and my last name is more poetic and his last name is also the name of an economy car and ramen noodles. I guess we saw the name of our kids as a kind of poetry we were creating.

Kids are adults now. After we explained it once to the grandparents, no one ever asked us about it again. Ever.
posted by cda at 6:51 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Am I missing some other issue about people's perceptions?

This is pretty common in (parts of?) Spain, although I think the father's surname is usually last. So unless you explained it to me, my first guess would be that part of your family was Spanish and that you'd decided to stick with tradition.
posted by metaBugs at 6:52 AM on November 18, 2011

My son's first name is the same as my last name (I'm the mom). Think "Jackson Smith" and "Susie Jackson." People are often unable to grok it and ask if his name is "Jackson Jackson." It's really not that complicated, but yes, even among liberals and New Yorker readers, people are thick (and rather rude, actually) about these things.

But I didn't name him to help other people identify him, I named him to give him an identity of his own, and he's pretty happy w/it. The questioning doesn't bother him at all (he's 17 now).

Really, the worst that's happened is that I am constantly called "Mrs. Smith." I can handle that. So if you don't mind being called "Mr. Momslastname" because you are "Junior SockRayBlue Momslastname's" dad, then go for it. Junior will be fine :)
posted by headnsouth at 7:07 AM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's no different than my kids having my husband's last name instead of mine.
posted by zizzle at 7:11 AM on November 18, 2011 [9 favorites]

My wife and I recently had a baby and gave her my wife's last name because it sounded better with her first name. No one has batted an eye, at least as far as we know.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:14 AM on November 18, 2011

Like Artychoke says, you may hit the occasional hassle with paperwork, but that should not really be a problem - most schools seem to document who can pick up kids and the kid will be your dependent on insurance so you won't have hospital problems.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:27 AM on November 18, 2011

I think it's 100% fine, of course, but metafilter people are not people off the street, not even the liberal street. I wouldn't underestimate the amount of "no, I am his/her BIOLOGICAL father, really, I promise" explanation you'll have to do. If you're cool with it, then it's fine! If it sounds like it could get old, well then. Things are changing but haven't changed THAT much yet.
posted by skbw at 7:31 AM on November 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

I grew up with a mother who kept her maiden name when my parents got married. I never felt stigmatized or ostracized because of it, but there was a definite assumption that my parents were divorced and a little "Oh, poor kid" vibe that went along with that. There was a little confusion at the beginning of each school year when the first permission slip came in bearing a different surname; I was an expert at rattling off "My mom uses her maiden name" long before I knew what that meant.
posted by weebil at 7:33 AM on November 18, 2011

Yes, I think there may be more hassle with paperwork and you needing to 'prove' you are his father/guardian when asked for ID.

My middle son's MIDDLE name is my wife's maiden name, though, and that's pretty cool. But it fits better than my last name would as a middle name.

But, anyway - I'd just worry about the ID/societal impacts in regards to paperwork, registering for things (permission slips, events, sports, etc). But, otherwise, sure.
posted by rich at 7:35 AM on November 18, 2011

Here is my previous answer on the subject of last names and how I don't see it being the standard anymore (that everyone in a family has the same last name).

Our kids have my last name, so my husband is in the situation you're describing. There has been the occasional assumption he's a stepfather, but once he corrects that perception, people accept he's their father and there's no further issue. And he hasn't ever had a problem, like, picking up the kids from a day camp, or anything like that.

When people have questioned it (it's actually not that often) he tells them, "Oh, no, when we got married, I kept my last name." Then they look a little confused. (He gets a kick out of doing this, but he's a bit of a shit-disturber - he likes to challenge these sorts of assumptions, and enjoys being a nonchalant example.)
posted by flex at 7:48 AM on November 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have two kids. First has my last name, second has his. Never been a problem in the past 12 years, other than BLOWING PEOPLE'S MINDS. Just kidding. It's really not such a big deal. Most people find it interesting, or at least fun to talk about when/if they notice. Some people probably think it's weird, but, on the other hand, I managed to fly across the country with the two of them yesterday and even made it through the TSA/airline security process without being hassled or even having the two kids/different last name thing remarked upon at all.
posted by mothershock at 7:50 AM on November 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

LittleTaff and ToddlerTaff both have my surname. I'm their mum. MrTaff has never had any problem.
posted by taff at 8:06 AM on November 18, 2011

The truth of the matter is that most people will probably not care about your child's name. at. all.

I no nothing about the origins of any of my friends names and could not care less how they got them.
posted by Shouraku at 8:18 AM on November 18, 2011

It's totally fine. I have posted this before. Our family mailbox basically read:

Sharon Smith
Bob Jones
Smith-Jones Inc.
Suzannah Jones-Smith
Sabrina Jones
Samantha Smith

We were all one family, nobody inside or outside was confused about that, we got all our mail, and nobody grew up with identity issues. And ours was, I will grant you, a really extreme example of this.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:25 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

*know (silly mistake)
posted by Shouraku at 8:54 AM on November 18, 2011

> I think it's 100% fine, of course, but metafilter people are not people off the street, not even the liberal street. I wouldn't underestimate the amount of "no, I am his/her BIOLOGICAL father, really, I promise" explanation you'll have to do.

This is absolutely right. I appreciate everyone's desire to be supportive, and sure, you should do whatever you want and there's nothing at all wrong with it, but you will have to explain it a lot (or ostentatiously refuse to explain), and in my opinion it's a disservice to pretend otherwise.
posted by languagehat at 9:17 AM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've cut and pasted this before, but here goes:
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 Robert Shackelford and the mom is Amanda Rasmussen, it will not be a problem to say, "Hi, I'm Robert, Billy Rasmussen's dad." Yes, people will assume that you're Robert Rasmussen. So correct them once and move on. Anyone who "doesn't get it" is being a douche.

My current family has five people and four last names. It's not a thing.
posted by Etrigan at 9:26 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it depends where you live. In Seattle, I have not once had to explain my five year old's last name (mine, with my husband's as a middle name), other than explaining to grandparents why she was getting which names. And when I was working in a school, I think there were a good five to ten percent of kids with their mom's last name. (It is possible a few of these were step-dads, but that was never my assumption, and I knew most of them well enough to know they weren't.) So if you live in a liberal place, you may not answer many questions.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:59 AM on November 18, 2011

I'll second languagehat here. This is certainly doable and you have every right to do it, but it is disingenuous to pretend that it won't have its tiresome aspects. My wife and I have different surnames (and no kids)--which you would think would be, in this day and age, completely painless. Nonetheless it's a pain when I call up about a utility that's in my wife's name and have to insist that yes, I am the accountholder's husband and yes, I do have a right to ask them to do whatever it is. Or when someone calls with important info for my wife which they'd be happy to give to "Mr. Wife'slastname" so I can pass it on to her but they balk at giving to "Mr. Mylastname" etc.

None of these rise to a level where we'd imagine changing either of our names, but they are a steady trickle of minor annoyance. I'm guessing the same will be true for you and your kid. How important that will be depends a lot on your personalities.
posted by yoink at 10:06 AM on November 18, 2011

Situations like yours are becoming more common, and I think you will find that the school system and teachers will probably deal with it just fine, but you will have to explain it a lot to everyone else.

Shared accounts are also a pain when you have different last names, as are medical records, so you will need to make sire that you and the mother are both on forms as responsible parties, people who can have access to records, and emergency contacts, etc

I am a big fan of doing whatever works for you and Mom, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes, with one caveat:

Please give some thought to the name from your future child's perspective, too.

If your last name is Johnson, and Mom's is Holder, well then...Actually, even switching the last and middle names wouldn't work there, would it?! Heh.

But I think you get what I mean. Spare the kid potential embarrassment if you can, that's all I'm saying.
posted by misha at 10:45 AM on November 18, 2011

I have a name that is my first name followed by my mother's first name and my father's first name. I've never had any problems either in India (where I come from) or the US because of this. I put down my last name as space < father's first name> -- absolutely no issues apart from a few databases removing the space. Most important ones don't do this and I've never had any issues of people not believing that's me. It's much less of a big deal than you'd think.
posted by peacheater at 12:14 PM on November 18, 2011

Assumptions are made based on the surname of who in the family the person meets first. If your wife books a hotel, you may well be referred to as Mr WifesLastName. Your parents next door neighbours may send you a Christmas Card addressed to "The SockRayBlue family". If people meet your kid first, you may be referred to as Mrs and Mrs KidsLastName.

In society today there are so many permuations of both naming and family composition - this may be a less unusual one but it really shouldn't raise any eyebrows.

The name you give your child is your child's name. The rest of the world can learn to deal with it.
posted by finding.perdita at 12:44 PM on November 18, 2011

Friends gave their baby the name Dad'slastname Mom'slastname. Think "Blaze Smith" or something like that -- Dad's last name is not an uncommon first name. Our kiddo has my last name (decided because it sounds better than his father's does with his first few names). No one has yet seemed to care.
posted by linettasky at 2:45 PM on November 18, 2011

"but you will have to explain it a lot (or ostentatiously refuse to explain), and in my opinion it's a disservice to pretend otherwise."

But ... I don't. I've been married almost 10 years with different last names, had kids for 2 1/2, and not only do we rarely have to explain it, nobody gets real snarky about it either.

I mean, unless you consider "explaining it constantly" to be you fill out the form at the doctor and they say, "And your relation to Andrew Smith is ...?" "My spouse." Which they ask everyone, really.

I introduce us as, "I'm Eyebrows McGee, and this is my husband, Andrew Smith." And everyone gets it immediately. Now and then I say "I'm Eyebrows McGee, and this is my Son, Smallpants Smith." These embed the name issue in the introduction by introducing by both full name and relationship. Sometimes I can tell someone is curious, so I'll add, "I kept my maiden name when I got married." But I have never yet had someone outright ask me (though partly that's because I live in the midwest, I assume.) Or I'll say, if someone seems curious, "My husband and I have different last names; the kids have his. I got the cats. This seems like an unfair trade-off." With a grin.

Also I am quite comfortable being called "Mrs. Smith," especially by children, especially by my kids' friends as they now start to have them. I also don't mind being called Mrs. Smith when I'm out socially as an adjunct to my husband. (He thinks it's hilarious when he gets called Mr. McGee when he's out socially as an adjunct to me, and doesn't correct people either.) It helps if you're not real wound up about it so that mistakes aren't a big deal. Sometimes someone will meet me as Mrs. Smith (kids' event, spouse's event) that I later have to deal with professionally and they'll say, "Mrs. Smith?" and I'll say, "It's Ms. McGee, actually," in a lightly apologetic tone. "Oh, I'm so sorry!" they say. "Oh, not at all, I go by Smith socially all the time, but I use McGee professionally," I reply.

If you consider it a normal sort of mistake for others to make and don't get wound up about it, it'll be just a bit of social discourse small-talk on the way to proper form-filling, and nothing else. Nobody thinks this is weird. 99% of people just want to make sure they call you what you want to be called.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:53 PM on November 18, 2011

I'm with Eyebrows, my husband and I kept our own names and our children have hyphenated names. It has been a decade and none of us had any problems, the whole "all members of a family MUST have the same last name" system seems almost quaint and exceptional now. My perception may be colored by the liberal area where same-sex and common-law marriage is common and a large number of new Canadians with their own naming traditions.
posted by saucysault at 3:42 PM on November 18, 2011

That's exactly what we did with one of my kids. It has caused no fuss, no problems, and -- as far as I've noticed -- no raised eyebrows. (We also read the New Yorker and our kids go to public schools, but farmers markets kind of bug me. I do like fancy cheese, though.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:46 PM on November 18, 2011

> you will have to explain it a lot (or ostentatiously refuse to explain)

This hasn't been my experience. I've never had to explain it, after we made it legal (my daughter went under an assumed name for the first few years of her life, due to parental absentmindedness). It's come up in conversation, but I'm a full-time mom and everything comes up in conversation during playdates.

I have a list here of my daughter's classmates and for each child one "guardian," which is mostly their fathers (a few of the names are women's, and some I can't tell; the one woman listed here who I know is a single parent). A third of the kids have names that are not the same as their guardians. And this is in a school that's decidedly not a New Yorker-reading, farmers-market-shopping crowd.

There's nothing at all freakish about a parent and a child having different last names.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:05 PM on November 18, 2011

My daughter took her mother's surname. In 21 years it has never been an issue, even here in Central Dumbfuckistan, VA.
posted by Wet Spot at 6:50 PM on November 18, 2011

That's what we did. In fact, first child has my last name, our youngest has my husband's last name. So we have children with different last names.

No one has ever asked about, though I have volunteered the info. And the kids have fun explaining it. It's fine.
posted by Badmichelle at 7:17 PM on November 18, 2011

My mom's (Mrs. Jones, nee Davis) divorce from my dad (Mr. Smith) and marriage to my stepdad (Mr. Jones) and my hyphenated name (Davis-Smith) have meant that:

I should be Miss Davis-Smith, but have been called:
Miss Jones
Miss Smith
Miss Davis
Miss Davis-Smith
Miss Smith-Davis
Miss Davis-Jones (I have no idea how this one managed to come about, and almost wanted to commend them on their creativity.)

And my mom (Mrs. Jones) has been called:
Mrs. Jones
Mrs. Davis-Smith
Mrs. Davis
Mrs. Smith

And my dad (Mr. Smith) been called:
Mr. Davis
Mr. Smith
Mr. Davis-Smith

And my stepdad (Mr. Jones) been called:
Mr. Davis
Mr. Smith
Mr. Jones
Mr. Davis-Smith

There is a reason that all of the siblings from each of my parents' second marriages have been given exactly one last name, which matched the legal name of both parents at the time of the birth. We always, always, always ALWAYS write things down the way they should be, without any variations. But this is what people do when they have partial information and it doesn't match the case they're primed to look for: they make stuff up to try to get it all to fit together.

It drives me bonkers, and every single time I am involved in a situation, everyone has to make at least two tries to find out what name they're listed under. You should see me at comic-book conventions, where you have to pick the letter your name is filed under, and I could be at any one of three desks, so I have to go to them all, and the whole flipping time my friends are like "why couldn't you just have one name."

By the way, I don't really have to explain anything. It's a matter of correcting people who screw things up, and dealing with the consequences. Sometimes repeatedly: the Girl Scouts of America and I had a seven year relationship and they got it wrong a different way each year. I basically never get printed congratulations certificates and ID badges and the like with my actual name on them.

My all time favorite was when I was publicly referred to as Miss Davis-Smith for over three years by everyone in a church office, and no one there had any written information about my parents, yet I still managed to find my picture with the name Miss Jones on the "meet everyone" bulletin board one day. Even the secretary couldn't figure out how that happened, and she'd typed the thing up: she swore she didn't know my mom or stepdad, and had no idea where the name came from.
posted by SMPA at 7:41 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow. I've kept thinking about this question and wondering why I still am thinking about it. OK. For me it's like this.

(This is not meant to say that the experience of many commentators to the contrary is not valid. I am speaking purely about my own experience and am not saying anything about theirs at all.)

I still have my biological father's last name, even though I haven't gotten along with him for most of my life, let alone my adult life. Now that my other relatives with that name are gone, I don't much care about keeping it and indeed contemplate a change. I was looking forward to traditional marriage precisely for that reason!

On the other hand, I am very close to my stepfather, who raised me from age 7 and is effectively my father. I refer to him as my father, my dad, etc., even though I call him by his first name. But we don't have the same last name and I never even considered changing it. This even though I really don't get along with my biological father at all.

Why? It may be retro, patriarchal, unprogressive, you name it, but to many people, me included, a kid's last name is intuitively something that comes from a Biological Father, even if we know better intellectually (and I do). It is fantastic that many people have grown up and are now raising children in circles where there is a choice in the matter. I applaud that choice and wish I had grown up in an environment more accepting of a broader range of families. But--even though I don't have children--I'm just saying, don't set aside that particular cultural marker of flesh and blood unless you have a good reason to. And also unless you're prepared to be seen as making a statement about patriarchy, family, etc..

This is my experience only! I read other comments with interest and only want to say more about my particular perspective.
posted by skbw at 8:12 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Minor data point- I know a guy who changed his name TO his mother's last name after graduating college. It was no big thing.

There will be occasional busybodies who want to know the story, and an easy explanation could be "we wanted to name him Jones Smith, but that sounded funny, so we named him Smith Jones instead."
posted by gjc at 6:54 AM on November 20, 2011

Thanks all for giving me the confidence to go ahead and do this. I expect to become accustomed to explaining things, but we will be a two-last-name family no matter what. Surely the explanations would be easier if baby was getting dad's last name instead of mom's, but we'll survive.
posted by Sock Ray Blue at 9:33 AM on November 21, 2011

« Older identity theft? Spam?   |   How do you keep unusually focused and productive? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.