What's in a name? Should I allow my son's surname to be changed?
February 19, 2012 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Should I allow my son’s mother to change his surname?

My son is four and a half. His mother and I split up some two years ago and for the most part we are able to deal with one another reasonably amicably. We swap dates, go to parents’ evening together and even mange the occasional day out together. Our relationship was pretty fraught and so it’s unlikely that we’ll ever really be ‘friends’, much less get back together, but for the most part we do about as good a job as might be hoped of separated parents.

We do however have an apparently insoluble issue which we don’t seem to be able to get past. When our child was born, the intention was that we would get married and accordingly my surname when on the birth certificate. Our relationship was rocky from that point and the prospect of marriage quickly faded from view.

Since we have split up, my former partner has pushed hard to first have my son's surname changed to her surname and lately to some hybrid of form of my hyphenated surname and hers.

Her originally stated rationale is that she wanted to have further children and wanted them to have the same name. For what little it is worth, she’s 42 this year and there appears to be little prospect of her having further children.

In any event, she’s changed tack slightly saying that it’s inconvenient when she travels with our son (although she concedes that having his birth certificate largely removes this problem and I have offered to provide a notarized letter of consent for her to travel).

I perceive that she is embarrassed by her child not sharing her surname and this is something I can empathise with. I am struggling however to agree to what she wants for a number of reasons and I would be glad if people could offer a critique of my reasoning below and their perspective on this thorny problem more generally. I am pretty clear in my own mind that I am being rational and not emotional in refusing to grant her request but this community is nothing if not forthright and I would be grateful for your clarity.

My reasons for saying no are as follows:

First, my son sees me 4 days in 14. He’s already lost a very great deal of a parent who adores him and wants to play as big a part in his life as possible. Our sharing the same name is a powerful sign to him that there is a meaningful link between the two of us and that we are part of each other’s lives forever.

Second, and tied to this is the importance of strong male role models to young boys. As he gets older the connection between us will be pivotal in determining his developing character and our sharing a name powerfully demonstrates our connection. I am loath to allow this to be watered down.

Third, he’s self aware enough to know his own name and there’s a strong sense of self-identity in his declaration of his name, i.e. when he tells you it. I am seriously scared by what he will consciously or unconsciously think about his name being changed. It seems inevitable that he will perceive it to be some kind of rejection and I cannot allow the consequences to flow from that which I fear. Suffice it to say that I think that changing his name will be traumatic for him and I’m not prepared to do this to the poor mite.

Fourth, my former partner feels strongly about this but appears to be unable to articulate a case about why this is in our son’s interest. She has plenty of reasons why she wants this to happen but none of her reasons relate to any benefit for our son. In the absence of this, I struggle to engage with this demand.

Finally, our separation was acrimonious and there is a great deal of mistrust on both sides. I am reluctant to allow my son’s name to become hyphenated from (for example) SMITH-JONES to SMITH-WILSON as part of hyphenated names are frequently dropped. I am concerned that, in the example above, my son’s name would be changed to SMITH-WILSON and that he’d be ‘known as’ Wilson, in short order.

Do please offer your thoughts one way or the other as I’d really like to keep us out of court on this but this feels like a fairly binary issue to me and in the absence of a compromise, I can foresee my former partner returning to lawyers later this year.

Thank you for reading a far too long question.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (66 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you offered to compromise by adding her surname as a middle name?
posted by the christopher hundreds at 6:14 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can so empathize with both your position and your son's mother's position. I am married but all our children have my surname - not a combination. I feel names, and what names can signal, are important. Obviously the fact that you and your son's mother are no longer together as a couple makes this even thornier to resolve.

I do agree that changing a child's name once a child is fully aware of their own name (this happened to me) can be fraught for the child. On the other hand, since your son spends most of his time with his mother, I can understand her wish to have names that "match" or at least more directly reflect her parentage of him.

Is she willing to add her surname as his second middle name?
posted by flex at 6:16 PM on February 19, 2012

I am pretty clear in my own mind that I am being rational and not emotional in refusing to grant her request but this community is nothing if not forthright and I would be grateful for your clarity.

Your arguments about symbolic fatherhood and signs and "connection" sort of contradict this. Modern families see name changes and hyphenations quite a bit--I see no reason to believe this is "traumatic." I do think it's a lot easier to, say, keep your kid on your insurance, or get them a library card, or access their dental records when you share a surname. It's very likely that day-to-day things like this are at least as big a concern to her as the emotional aspects (which you seem to share).

Hyphenating honestly seems like the fair solution to me; it's also the one that deals with the practical concerns and leaves out emotion. Your fears about your surname eventually being dropped also underscore your emotional interest in what's happening.

In my personal opinion, if this is heading towards court, you should give in. That sort of battle would be a lot more destructive to all involved than a name change.
posted by almostmanda at 6:16 PM on February 19, 2012 [35 favorites]

This is a really tough question. I wonder what your kid wants his name to be.

As an aside, I have my mothers' last name and would never change it since my father was actively involved with my life for only a few months. I think the bigger issue is the 4 days in 14 visitation.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:17 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

If he knows his name, his name should not be changed at the whim of anybody but him (and by that I don't mean you both should try to convince him to pick a side.) Because you are still his dad, it's not like he's a member of a brand new family with no link to the past. Resist this.
posted by michaelh at 6:18 PM on February 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

My sister raised two children with different last names... her daughter shares our family name, her son was named after their father including the surname. The kids never had any kind of difficulty due to having different names, and so far as I know my sister never had any complications in travelling with a child that didn't share her last name.

Chances are your ex just dislikes the added reminder of you.
posted by myShanon at 6:18 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

In general when co-parents disagree about something and no compromise is possible, the default position seems to be "don't change anything." As a child of divorce let me just say: this invariably means the problem never dies.

I recommend you come up with five or six alternative proposals - her surname as a middle name, allowing her to use her surname on non-official occasions (which is what my stepbrother's mother did for ten years,) etc. Consider also what kinds of things you might want for this. Four days after 14 is rather uneven, for instance. Are you really comfortable with it? I ask mainly because if you make her aware of how important the issue is to you (and I think it is fairly important to you,) she may decide it's not that important to her, after all.

For what it's worth, many of the fights my parents had over the years revolved in part around what I should be called, and it was always, always, always significantly more important to them than to me. I am in fact very sensitive about my name and what people call me largely because I know how upset mistakes made them.
posted by SMPA at 6:18 PM on February 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

Well, I think all of your reasons are actually emotional with the exception of the third one - they're all really about your opinions and feelings and upholding them and not so much about your child. But point three is valid.

I also suggest her surname as your child's middle name.
posted by mleigh at 6:20 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

There are dozens of arguments for either side. But no one living in our society hasn't met people whose kids have different surnames. It's just not a thing anymore. But at the same time, there are enough people with hyphenated names that pieces don't get dropped for convenience as much anymore.

It's not irrational for her to want to change it. Nor is it irrational for you to want it not to change. Hyphenation is probably the least unsatisfactory option for the both of you.
posted by Etrigan at 6:20 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I hear your concerns, but I do think you are reacting more emotionally than rationally. His mom wants her son to carry her surname as well as yours. That seems like a good compromise. It's important to her, too, just as it's important to you. If she's willing to go for a Smith-Jones combo, your name is still included and the connection to your son is still there. The addition of her name doesn't change that for him. How would you feel if his last name were just her last name (as is the case now from her perspective)?

My boyfriend's children have a hyphenated last name with mom's last name first and dad's last name second. This IS their last name - teachers consider it their last name, the kids consider it their last name, and I think both parents are happy this way.
posted by Sal and Richard at 6:20 PM on February 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

It's your son's name to change, not his mother's. My boys have their father's last name and he's been in their lives sporadically, unreliably, and even abusively. They know that as adults they can choose any surname they want, but absent stalkerish craziness where I felt it necessary for their protection, there's no way I would undermine their sense of self by imposing a name change on them. You are an active part of his life? A positive loving parent? No way should his name be changed.
posted by headnsouth at 6:26 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Please don't make your son choose. Regardless of what he might want his name to be, he has no way of understanding the practical and personal ramifications of his choice.

I think there is a little hypocrisy in your reasoning. You think that sharing a name strengthens your personal connection, but you resist hyphenation because you fear that your half of the name will be dropped from practical use.

Kids go through phases of feeling (or wanting to feel) closer to one parent than the other. There will always be times when he feels more like a [mom's last name] and times when he feels like a [your last name]. Having both of those names, legally, is a bridge to either of those ends. All you can really do is be the kind of person in your son's life that he would WANT to be associated with, in name or otherwise, and let the chips fall where they may w/r/t what he is ultimately called.

In short, my vote is for hyphenation. Buy your son some nice things that are engraved with his nice new FULL name -- that will make your ex-wife happy, because she'll see it as capitulation, but it will make you happy because your part of the name is forever etched alongside.
posted by hermitosis at 6:30 PM on February 19, 2012 [10 favorites]

Hyphenation solves all of your listed objections except for the final one. And I'm surprised you say that part of hyphenated names usually get dropped. I know a lot of hyphenated people who use both parts, and do not know (of) any who used to be hyphenated but only go by one half.
posted by lollusc at 6:36 PM on February 19, 2012 [9 favorites]

So the child has a hyphenated name already but neither part of which match the mother's last name? I could see your side if it was already a single last name but the current hyphenated name convention is something that in our society has both parent's names - her having an entirely different last name must be very confusing to others. To me that makes an even stronger case for why she needs her name on there, especially as she is the primary caregiver and contact point.

Your first three reasons apply equally to her (name as a meaningful link, same name as role model, lack of his mother's name is a "rejection" of her) and your fourth reason "not in his best interest" could be equally said of your refusal to accommodate a wish she has had since his the two of you decided to not share a family name. For your final objection, neither part of your hyphenated name has been dropped so far, why do you assume that YOUR part of a new hyphenated name would be dropped? At four, his last name change will not be traumatic unless one of the parents makes it traumatic.

I think a hyphenated name (one from each parent) serves everyone's interest; you may also want to check the laws where you live. In some jurisdictions she may be able to legally change his name without your permission. It would be far better to solve this outside of the court system in a way that is win-win for everyone - your son gets to share something with BOTH of you and the two of you can move past this issue.
posted by saucysault at 6:40 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Unless I read OP's post wrong - OPs name is hyphenated. Adding the mother's surname to the equation is a bit much. Smith-Jones-Brown is not done.
posted by omarlittle at 6:40 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

As he gets older the connection between us will be pivotal in determining his developing character and our sharing a name powerfully demonstrates our connection.

The connection you will or will not have with this child has nothing - literally nothing - to do with whatever name you do or do not share.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:41 PM on February 19, 2012 [23 favorites]

As he gets older the connection between us will be pivotal in determining his developing character and our sharing a name powerfully demonstrates our connection.

I have tons of friends who have no connection to their father other than sharing his last name. Your future connection with your son has nothing to do with anything he does or anything his mother does. It's all about you making the effort to stay in his life. His name has nothing to do with it. This is the wrong hill to die on.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:51 PM on February 19, 2012 [20 favorites]

Our sharing the same name is a powerful sign to him that there is a meaningful link between the two of us and that we are part of each other’s lives forever.

sharing a name powerfully demonstrates our connection

I don't see how number 1 and number 2 are different at all. I agree with DarlingBri - I think that there are plenty of other things that more powerfully demonstrate your connection to your son. If you're still turning up 4 days out of 14 and listening to him and teaching him and relating to him, why would your connection weaken because of a name change?

You appear quite attached to an idea of yourself as emotionally separate from this issue, but neither of these two (one!) reason(s) stand up to logic; it's all about emotion!

And I'm not saying that there's nothing wrong with that but I think you need to shed the idea of the correct/logical argument for the status quo (yours) and the irrational/inarticulate argument for change (your ex-wife's). Both of you are acting based on emotion and I think it would help you to recognize that, within yourself and in your conversations with your ex.

Your third issue is the only one that I think matters; what would a 4-year old think about a sudden name change? Only people who've been through that are really able to comment, so I won't say a word about it...
posted by cranberrymonger at 6:55 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is entirely her issue. She is symbolicly stripping you out of her life & her son's life. I would not allow it. Symbols are powerful. I disagree with the majority opinion: Names are important.
posted by Ys at 6:56 PM on February 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

OP, I'm with you on this. I'm a firm believer in the power and importance of names and the connection they provide from one generation to the next. Especially father to son.

The time to decide this was 4 1/2 years ago. Done is done.
posted by zinon at 7:04 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

I would never, ever, allow this. Yes, it is emotional, but emotions are not wrong. You are in a powerful legal position here (although, reading above, apparently not in less enlightened jurisdictions that Oregon). Mostly this is because the name is set, and it would take legal action to change it. If you don't agree, she has a hard, uphill legal battle. I see no reason to let her win. I see plenty of reason to fight her.

My childrens' names are their names. Neither parent may change them, no matter the reason. I would not go along to be nice, and would in fact actively oppose my ex-wife's attempt to strip them of my family name. I *hate* hyphenated names. Especially when they aren't actually either of the current parents' names. Ick. It actually feels "squicky" to me to try to manipulate children this way.

I simply cannot imagine why I would allow such a change. The kids were born to us when we were married, and our last name was XXX at that time. That's their name. Too bad if she doesn't like it.

As the prior poster said "done is done". Don't change it, and don't allow it to be changed. It is spite, not compassion talking when she asks for it.
posted by Invoke at 7:11 PM on February 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I understand your position, and I understand your ex's position. But a lot of your concerns would seem to be met by your maintaining an active role in your son's life. I really think that the benefit of a strong connection with a father figure would render the issue of his name rather insignificant; if you see him a lot, stay active in his life, show him you love him, the fact of him having HER name would not make much difference to his thriving and happiness.

I think the best solution is the hyphenated name. Your ex has every reason to want her child to have her name. The fact that it was an acrimonious split actually makes her case for wanting the child to have her name even stronger. And the fact that he's old enough to know his name really does not make any difference, in my view. He is still a minor, and he really cannot raise legitimate objections to having his mother's name AND his father's name. Most of us did not choose our names as children; the fact that you have tweaked a 4 1/2 year old boy's name is not something that he should have any problem with, if you present it to him in the most positive and appropriate light.

I could imagine presenting it to him as, "we want you to have both Mommy AND Daddy's name, that's a very special privilege for you," etc.

Your vehement objection to him having his mother's name honestly does not sound any more selfless than her objection. A father-son relationship is not encapsulated in a name, any more than a mother-son relationship is. A father-son relationship is the totality of the time spent together, the love expressed and felt, the things done together, the trust between them, etc. The name is a minor consideration.

A hyphenated name would answer ALL of your objections, in my view:
(1) It would represent the fact that you are in each other's lives forever;
(2) It would honor the importance of strong male role models;
(3) It would preserve his self-identity, and perhaps even strengthen it because both parents would be present in the name;
(4) It IS in his interest, because your ex is right, there is value for YOUR SON in having the same name as his mother;
(5) and with regard to the frequency of hyphenated names being truncated ... that's a non-issue, HIS NAME will be the hyphenated one. Anyone who truncates it will not be calling him by his name. Your son, if the name is introduced to him as something to be proud of, will insist that the whole name be used, and will use it himself with pride.

Your anxiety about this seems to be a proxy for your anxiety about your ongoing relationship with your son. Focus on preserving your relationship with your son, and consent to this name change. Because the name change strikes me as a positive, and cannot affect your relationship with your son if you continue making that a priority.
posted by jayder at 7:20 PM on February 19, 2012 [22 favorites]

I think if hyphenation or her surname as a middle name is not possible, and the kid is old enough to recognize his name, the ship has sailed on this issue.

Just be sensitive that your reasons--yours and hers--are essentially the SAME reasons. This is a good thing--you are both invested in this boy enough that you want him to carry your names. Lucky boy. Focus on that.

I wonder if she fears that having a child with a different last name would scare off potential future mates (and by extension, her chances of having more children in a stable relationship). Like it's somehow a roadblock to her being able to create a new family of her own. At 42, she's hearing last call for the baby train, and it may be that she's trying to set herself up for success as best she can by removing "baggage", including the boy's name. I totally get why she would want to do that.

That's not a ridiculous worry to have, but you're right--the problem that changing the kid's name addresses is HER problem, not the boy's.

But, OK, so she's doing this for her, not the boy. That's not something to dismiss outright: A happy mom is an important part of your son's life, too--even at the expense of a name. If this is really agitating her, it maybe the better part of valor to acquiesce. The boy will adapt, you will adapt. What about changing the boy's middle name to yours (first or surname) and using hers as a family name. If you can accommodate both your last names, that would be best. If you can't, don't do it all. It'sa thorn in the side to whichever parent loses, but you'll get over it.

Sorry you guys are going through this drama. It's a tough one. Hope you find a happy resolution.
posted by elizeh at 7:37 PM on February 19, 2012

I am a little disturbed by the characterisations of the mother as "spiteful", symbolically attacking the father via his name, interfering with the power of father-son names, and showing contempt to places that are re-evaluating paternalistic legal traditions in the face of a changing society. There is a lot of misogynist baggage that comes with those types of statements that AskMe performs better without. Escalating the OP's emotions when they are already so emotional over this issue is not helpful to them or the community in general. It is possible to reframe this from a battle (with larger issues) to a conversation.

OP, you have said this is to you a binary, black and white issue. The mother of your son has offered at least one compromise that you have rejected and you do not seem to have any compromises yourself to offer. Parenting, whether you are with the other parent or not, is full of compromises on small issues and big issues. Perhaps the two of you could take a parenting class together and meet with a mediator about this specific issue to get tools to solve problems together. It would also hopefully see that your child's mother is probably not acting out a power play but most likely has valid rational and emotional reasons for this modification (and other issues that come up over the years). For the sake of your son i hope the two of you can solve this soon in a way that both of you are happy with.
posted by saucysault at 7:39 PM on February 19, 2012 [22 favorites]

I would do the hyphenated thing as a compromise but would not remove your name. My father wasn't with my mother growing but he was actively involved in my life. Today not only I share his surname but also his first name. It brings me a lot of connection with him and it brings me lots of nice memory to know that he himself got his name from my grandfather. It's brought lots of history and meaning to my life so I am glad I have it.
posted by The1andonly at 7:41 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Our sharing the same name is a powerful sign to him that there is a meaningful link between the two of us and that we are part of each other’s lives forever.

If this true, then how does your child know that there's a meaningful link between him and his mother, and that they are a part of each other's lives forever, given that they don't presently share a name? How does any child know this in regards to a parent whose name they don't share, for that matter?

It's parenting that makes someone a parent, not a name.
posted by scody at 7:41 PM on February 19, 2012 [20 favorites]

The customary procedure in English for making a hyphenated name where one or more parents' names are already hyphenated is to drop the matronymic(s) from the hyphenated name(s). So if Amy Winehouse and Blake Fielder-Civil had had a child, the child's surname might have been "Fielder-Winehouse".

So I am questioning why it is so important to you that your son's surname be your Smith-Jones rather than Smith-Wilson. In my experience, matronymics are usually what people forget, not patronymics.

Also suggesting that if your ex goes to court over this, she is likely to get what she wants, and if you keep pushing her on this you are just more likely to make her want "Wilson".

Finally, you are mistaken in thinking that you are being more logical than she is.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:44 PM on February 19, 2012 [14 favorites]

Also, if it helps, this is a sort of tangential story but may help you feel better about it.

There's a group of extended family I have in the northeast among whom we are all "the Newman girls." (we range in age from 29-75) None of us grew up with or married the name Newman; it was the last name of our great-grandparents, who had five kids who then had three to five kids each, etc etc. Most of the Newman children were daughters and lost their names at marriage, so the end result is that we have this group of 12 or 14 women cousins with different last names who always become the Newman girls when we get together. So even though I'm a XYZ by birth and an ABC by marriage, I'll always be a Newman girl among these people.

All this to say, whether your son is a Jones-Smith or a Wilson, that kid's going to get involved with your extended family and they're going to see him as a Newman too. So your legal name is one thing, but it isn't the ONLY way to make a named connection to your family.
posted by elizeh at 7:45 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

My kids have their father's name, and I've never had a problem. I show up, say "I'm Jane Socks, Crystal Violet's mother," and 100% of the time (a little disturbingly) that's all the proof anyone needs. So phooey on that. Though we do live in Southern California -- it could be that people are more traditional/pissy elsewhere.

It is a little bit lame for me that they have his name, not mine. However, throughout history, that's pretty much how it has been done, because a mother knows for certain when a child is hers, and so generally doesn't have the same need to hang a label on him. So their father wanted them to have his name, and I said whatever.

That said, it seems to be important to your ex, so why fight the hyphenation? She has 10/14 of a say, you have 4/14 of a say. In the absence of anything truly harmful or dangerous, she wins.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 7:50 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

My son's mother tried to change my son's name, and well, she lost.

She went on using hisfirstname herlastname when taking him to the doctor and so on anyway - until I got wind of it and got an injunction.

The main reason is that it creates an identity confusion for the child.

Also, it really screws with immunization records, medical records and so on. I had no end of trouble getting daycares and schools to take his records under a different name.

You kid has a name. He can change it when he turns 18.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:22 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have a hyphenated last name and I hate it; as soon as I was old enought to write, I dropped the first half. I don't know what you should do in this situation, but I do agree that hyphenated names are not a good solution.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:58 PM on February 19, 2012

1. Seriously, you think names do a lot of work.

2. If you want your son to have a meaningful connection to you, make your time together meaningful -- don't rely on a name.

3. Your son's gonna pick his own nicknames as he gets older and moves in and out of different friendsets and life roles -- TBH a last name is not the end-all be-all of his identity.
posted by spunweb at 9:01 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd go with the hyphenated last name. There's a good opportunity to do this as your child should be starting kindergarten soon. "Daddy and I / Mommy and I wanted you to have both our names for starting school, so that the school always knows who your parents are."

Going forward, all the school paperwork will be under both names. Your ex probably wants it to be clear to the school and everyone else that she's his mom. I know it bothers me a bit when someone calls me "Mrs KidsDadsSurname", but I live in a place where it is super, super common for people to have different names from their kids. Maybe it isn't that common where you are or maybe your ex just wants it always really clear. I mean, I do occasionally have to jump through a little hoop to show a hospital or teacher that I'm really the mom. Maybe your ex doesn't want to have to pull out the long form birth cert or maybe it's really painful to constantly have to explain that you're not together anymore - and something she always has to explain in front of your son.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:03 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

For those saying hyphenated names are not the solution, please re-read the post. The child already has a hyphenated name that the father gave him. It just doesn't include the mother's name anywhere.
posted by saucysault at 9:05 PM on February 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd go with the two name solution, or hers and yours.

That's because I am a risk averse person, and the possibility of rolling the dice in court-where really, none of us could say how that might unfurl- is a one in three shot. Your name only, her name only, her name/your name together. I might risk it if it was a your name only, your name/her name together, but even then it's 50/50. If having some aspect of my name connected with my son was my primary goal, then I'd compromise here, and then fight like hell if she ever tried to go for her name only.

The difference between this and Pogo_Fuzzybutt, is that here she didn't say she was trying to drop your name all together - she asked for a two name solution. That seems way more compromising. And honestly, the argument about the ship sailing on the name, or that he might get confused might not be as strong as one might hope: When parents remarry, or adopt children, last names are changed. There are work arounds for children who have name changes - and schools can handle it quiet well, particularly when the issue is an additional name (Smith to Smith-Jones). It is harder when the name is changed all together.

There is a way to make this okay for your kid, the way Jaydar suggests, if you do go through with it. But I can imagine that part of the difficulty is when people try to negotiate for something not in good faith. That is, your ex wants something, and rather than just say "because it would make me happy to have our kid have both our names", she's coming up with what feels like, and might be, bullshit reasons, and you're kind of requiring it to be 'logical' enough based on your standards. When frankly, some of your arguments aren't particularly logical either. Whoever upthread said that is is probably more emotional and that's okay, sounds right.

I can see how perhaps it feels that you only get a small piece of your son - and I can only imagine the back story on how that went down. I can also see how in a way, changing the name means it feels like you get a little less than him. It might have helped if she had acknowledged that this gain for her feels like a bit of a loss for you, and made it clear that this wasn't the beginning of a powerplay to remove your name all together. But it sounds like she didn't. But you can still be gracious, with a laser sharp focus on your son, and consent to two names - with the requirement that both are used, and that you both tell your son together, to make it positive. This is still about you being a part of your son's life. It just sucks to repeatedly have to be the bigger person, but it might be worth it for you to compromise. If there is something else you want - like to see your son for more than 4 of 14, perhaps on holidays, etc., it might be worth realizing that you might want to figure out how to address and negotiate that issue as well, if possible.
posted by anitanita at 9:09 PM on February 19, 2012

whoopsie, that would be: I'd go with the two name solution, OF hers and part of your hyphenated name.
posted by anitanita at 9:12 PM on February 19, 2012

Ok. So my situation was different but I'm going to start with that. When I was born I was given my father's last name. However, he wasn't around after a few months or so. So when I was around your son's age my mom asked how I'd feel about using her last name instead. I agreed. I am to this day extremely happy that I did and that she asked me. It's one of the things I really respect about my mom.

That said, it's clearly more complicated when you are working with both parents in the picture. And even more so since your name was already hyphenated. I think you and the ex need to sit down and work out a compromise that you can both live with and then ask your son. That gives him agency in the matter, shows him you two can work together, and doesn't make him a pawn in mom vs. dad. You guys are going to have to agree on harder stuff than this, so this is a great place to start.

And P.S. you really never know how people are going to use their names. I've known people who have changed their first name, ended up going by their middle name, only go by part of their hyphenated name, etc. etc.. Something to keep in mind.
posted by grapesaresour at 9:20 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd go with the hyphenated name for now, but in addition to this - I would make an agreement with your wife that, at an age you both agree upon, you will allow your son to legally change his name to the last name of his choice, or keep the hyphenated name.

Your son's name matters most to YOUR SON, not to you and your feelings about the connection it strengthens between you and him.

He may decide one day that he likes one last name better than the other for purely aesthetic reasons, and not because one parent means less to him than the other.

I have very, very strong convictions about my own name. For me, it's my first name. My parents put one name on my birth certificate, but called me by a completely other name since birth. I grew up thinking the nickname was my real name, and was pretty horrified at the age of five when I learned otherwise, and asked - at the age of 5! - to change it. They didn't, which was fine, but not a day in my life has gone by where I haven't wanted otherwise. I am finally in a place financially where I am able to legally change it; I'm in the middle of the process right now.

So bottom line of my advice is, let your son decide. Obviously not now, but plan to do so at some point in the future. Hyphenate now as a compromise. And please don't take it personally if he chooses his mom's last name over yours one day.

((If I were your son, I'd jumble up the letters of your last name and her last name, and create my own unique last name out of it. Maybe that will be an idea that appeals to him one day when he's older....?))
posted by Squee at 9:29 PM on February 19, 2012

She should change her last name to match her sons. Better that than changing his name at nearly five years old when he isn't able to realistically make the decision for himself.

fwiw - my folks divorced when I was a tot. Mom kept dads last name until she remarried when I was about ten.

You don't have to give in on this. That's why it requires your permission.
posted by whatisish at 9:33 PM on February 19, 2012

Maybe you can find out what the major concern of your ex is. Is it about being identified by the school and so on? Maybe she can ask the school if they would allow all records to show the child as Hername Your-Name, with Hername actually being a second middle name. Anything that shows a full legal name would always carry her middle name (health card, driver's license, passport, hospital wrist band, etc). If she can find out if the school will allow her to register him as "Hername Your-Name" while still being just "Your-Name" as a surname, maybe it will solve all the problems of a triple hyphenation.

The law says that your full legal name is your only legal name. So if she can just find out if the school will allow use of Hername Your-Name for registration, this will probably avoid problems for years.

To be clear:

Firstname OriginalMiddleName HerSurnameUsedAsSecondMiddleName YourHyphenated-Name
Robert Michael Chong Smith-Wilensky
and at school:
Robert Chong Smith-Wilensky
or, since schools will often let you choose how you register, maybe even:
Bobby Chong Smith-Wilensky
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:37 PM on February 19, 2012

Your reasons for not wanting a change sound exactly--EXACTLY--like her reasons for wanting the change. Both sides are pretty purely emotional, and I don't think you have any kind of moral or logical high ground here. You think she might be embarrassed that your son doesn't share her name; you appear to be angry and feel threatened by the prospect that he wouldn't share yours. Emotions abound.

Saying it's emotional doesn't make it less real or less important, however. You make it fairly clear in your post that you think it does. Does hearing that your side is equally emotional make it seem any less important to you?

This is not black and white and the only logical solution is compromise. Personally, I favour the hyphenation route. If you do not, I suggest finding another compromise rather than just continuing to insist on the status quo. The more strongly you argue that your name strengthens your bond with your son, the more you strengthen the argument that he should also have her name, to reflect their bond.
posted by looli at 9:48 PM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Allow?" Dude...Let this go. Names are not a proxy for parenting. And if you're trying to symbolically sever the tie the child has to their mother through naming, reconsider because you will open yourself up to a world of hurt. Chances are, the desire for power and control over a situation has leaked into the other ways you relate to your child, and they may very well pick up on that and come to resent you - so much, they eventually change their last name.

Go with hyphenation of part of your last name, and that of the child's mother. This is the least of your problems. What image of fatherhood do you want to project towards your kid?


Of course you're not with this person. She clearly has issues.

Emotional and petty girls tend to want to do this sort of thing when they get out of a relationship.

I just want to point out that this "girl" is a woman who gave birth to another human being. There's nothing girlish about that, and the way people are slamming this kid's mum is REALLY not okay.
posted by Ashen at 9:51 PM on February 19, 2012 [20 favorites]

I don't see what you get out of a compromise. I don't see your ex stopping her chipping away at your presence in your son's life, regardless of whether you compromise. I see that 4 days out of 14 being pretty diminutive, and a legal fight in your future no matter what you do. Your child already has a name. Let it be.
posted by Happydaz at 9:55 PM on February 19, 2012

In my opinion, this was settled a long time ago. The child already has a name. You're not going to change his *first* name just because his parents no longer get along, right? Why would you do it for his *last* name?

When you pick a child's name, you pick it for life, and nobody but that child, once he or she becomes an adult, has the right to change it. You do not get to change somebody else's name because you think it'd be fun to have a"matching set".
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:18 PM on February 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Some comments deleted; I think we can do this without insulting either OP or the child's mother. If the question makes you too emotional, please skip this one.
posted by taz (staff) at 10:19 PM on February 19, 2012

If we ignore the interests of both parents and judge solely in the best interest of the child, then it becomes obvious the answer is to keep his name what it is now. Changing it will only inconvenience and confuse him.
posted by rocket88 at 10:22 PM on February 19, 2012

What scody said. I have friends who divorced when the son was 1 year old. The mother kept the father's name for the sake of them having the same surname.

The father only visits occasionally, often cancels and is known as the ice-cream fairy as that seems to be his level of involvement. Her current partner is much more of a father figure to the child.

Be the best parent you can be, the name is irrelevant. Your son will know who his father is.
posted by arcticseal at 10:23 PM on February 19, 2012

If we ignore the interests of both parents and judge solely in the best interest of the child, then it becomes obvious the answer is to keep his name what it is now. Changing it will only inconvenience and confuse him.

Actually, it may be a greater inconvenience not to share the name of his chief care-giver, if we are talking 'best interests' over the longer term of schooling, medical care etc.
posted by honey-barbara at 10:27 PM on February 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am pretty clear in my own mind that I am being rational and not emotional in refusing to grant her request but this community is nothing if not forthright and I would be grateful for your clarity.

It sounds like you believe the rational should trump the emotional. And that emotional considerations are kind of silly, not really valid, not worth serious concern.

I think this might create two problems:

1. You might resist admitting it when you are acting based upon emotion. You may look for ways to prove that the outcome you want emotionally is actually the logical thing to do. And you may be able to come up with convincing arguments there. But maybe it is not really the case, that the reason you want the outcome you want is that it is the most logical. It seems you came up with the reasoning after having the emotion.

2. You may treat emotions as if they are unimportant and not to be taken seriously, in situations where emotions are very important and should be taken seriously. This is a very emotional situation. And everyone's emotions are important here. Yours. Your son's. Your ex's.

3. You may feel that if you can prove someone's rational objections are actually coming from an emotional base, then they can be discounted. This might lead you to stretch, reach, and read in "emotional" explanations for "rational" objections.

Rather than tell you what the right or wrong thing to do here is, I would just ask you to step back and really reconsider your method of coming to the answer.

1. Stop cutting out emotion as a legitimate factor here. Emotion is one of the most important factors. The goal is your son's happiness. Your son's happiness is going to be seriously impeded if he has unhappy parents. Remember that.

That's not to say all considerations are equal. For example if something would emotionally traumatize your son, then that's probably more important that either your feelings or your ex's. Just don't be so dismissive right off the bat.

2. Stop looking for ways to discount your ex's stated reasons for wanting the name change. You don't have to agree with them, just stop looking for ways to discount them. Instead, try your best to work with them.

I don't know your ex, but probably the main thing most people would want in this situation is to feel like they were heard, and the other person was making a good-faith effort to find a solution that would take into account what was important to them. Even if that solution could not actually be found, if the person truly believes you did your best, sometimes it's enough.
posted by cairdeas at 12:34 AM on February 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

The kid should have his mother's last name as at least part of his name. She is the primary caregiver, after all, and it sounds like it means a lot to her. I don't think fighting her on this is going to do anything good for your son.

Insisting on your name only sounds kind of controlling and spiteful, to be honest.

I post this as a non-custodial parent of a 12-year-old, whose child goes by Firstname Dad'slastname (he has custody). Her Official Name on her birth certificate is Firstname Middlename Dad'slastname Mom'slastname (no hyphen, just a space). All her records, except her state-issued ID, have Dad'slastname only. This doesn't bother me. I also see my child 4 in 14 days (for us this means fridays and saturdays). I don't feel as though my connection to my child is lessened *at all* based on the name she normally goes by. If she wants to legally formalize using Dad'slastname only, she or they will have to go to court for a quick and easy name change anyway, at which point she may choose to hyphenate and include my name. It's up to her.

My daughter's bond with me is forged by time spent together, trust, and love. Not by some words on a piece of paper. And this is how I feel with my last name not even being included at all. Your child's mother is not trying to cut you out to that degree, even. I don't feel "cut out" personally, though. Her dad's last name is a fine and wonderful name.
posted by marble at 2:13 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know why your relationship ended, but I'll bet the name issue isn't just something new. It's the same inability to get along being fought on a new battlefield and it has no solution you will both be happy with. It's time to stop fighting for your son's sake. Go with the hyphenation since it seems equitable.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:08 AM on February 20, 2012

So when I was around your son's age my mom asked how I'd feel about using her last name instead. I agreed. I am to this day extremely happy that I did and that she asked me. It's one of the things I really respect about my mom.

This is key, I think. The kid has a name, and even at 4, would probably feel weirded out if mom announced that his name was being changed. Both parents should approach this from the perspective of what the child wants. No manipulation, just sit him down and ask. It might even be helpful for mom and dad to make the opposite person's case:

Dad: Son, your mom and I have been talking and we were thinking of changing your last name to your mom's last name. Since you spend more time with her, it would make it much easier to deal with school and doctors and travels and things like that.

Mom: But your name is YOUR name, and we shouldn't just change it for OUR convenience. We want to do what you want to do, so here are your options.

I have a friend whose father was not around pretty much ever, and when he was around it was no good. My friend had his father's name all through school, and after graduating college, he changed his name to his mothers last name. It was no big deal, and I think doing it on his own terms made him feel good.
posted by gjc at 5:18 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a parent with a different surname than either of my children, whose surnames are different from each other and from my husband's. Twenty years ago in Canada, I found the best way to deal with teachers and other parents was to not make a fuss when either I or my child was called by the "wrong" surname as a one-off and gently correct people I had to deal with repeatedly. The situation has largely improved with more divorced and blended families in society, but surname-mismatch suspicion and assumptions have definitely not vanished.

For travel, please provide a consent letter for every trip without being asked. It's not always needed, but it is nerve-wracking to be in a situation where a functionary is suspicious about an adult traveling with a child whose papers don't match in name.

Please, please sit down with your child's mother and your mutual child and a mediator to discuss everyone's concerns and find a solution the three of you can accept. It may help to write down possible objections to different scenarios and counters to those objections, considering the viewpoint and assumptions of all parties involved.

You may need to have a few rounds of documented discussion before you're comfortable getting together talking through this problem with (not just in front of) your son.
posted by thatdawnperson at 7:04 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreed that your reasons sound just as emotionally-based as hers, probably even more so. Your points one and two seem to be purely emotional desires for your son's name to symbolize something about your connection and relationship and your importance in his life-- but the name is totally besides the point here, what matters is the way you interact (as well as things like your custody arrangement, which is also its own separate issue.) She probably has some of the same emotional motivations, along with some practical concerns around logistics (not that I'm saying those concerns are huge ones that necessarily deserve your deference, but you seem to be very interested in who's being emotional and who's being logical/practical here.)

Your only reason that seems truly focused on the kid's needs rather than your own is #3... and I think that only really holds true if you're talking about a total name change. If you're talking instead about hyphenizing/hybridizing, then I think it's pretty easy to present to him as not a rejection but "adding something extra" ("now you get to have both your mom's name and your dad's name in yours!") and it's not about changing the name he knows entirely but just tweaking it. (And based on my personal experience and those of others, the "dropping part of the hyphenated name" seems unlikely and kinda paranoid... but also I think pretty easy to protect against once you get the kid proud of his last name as representing both his parents. "No, my name isn't Joey Smith, it's Joey Smith-Jones! I have both my mommy and my daddy's names!")

Now, all this is not to say that she's necessarily "right" and you're necessarily "wrong," especially given the fact that she's the one that wants to change the status quo so there's some added burden of justification there... but it definitely doesn't seem to me like it's clear-cut in your favor, either, nor that you are being particularly logical and detached about this.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:28 AM on February 20, 2012

Trying to see it from the kid's perspective here..

I have a hyphenated last name, rather unusually (I believe) as a result of family pride and history rather than dysfunction (don't mean to use too strong a word there).

While I'm proud of my surname, it does sometimes feel as though there is a stigma attached to it (even if only perceived in my case). And practically speaking it IS a pain in the ass and it's shocking how many people even in this day and age have trouble wrapping their heads around it and what a hyphen is. My Dad made a hobby of cutting out address labels and filled up the side of our fridge with various entertaining mutilations of our name.

Since OP (and child) already are in this boat I'm sure he can relate. However while going from Smith-Jones to Smith-Wilson might seem the most equitable solution I think I disagree. The child wouldn't have both your names, he would have NEITHER of them and it would be to the child's detriment rather than benefit. He would be doomed to a life of "fuck, here we go again" explaining his name to people. And trivial as it may seem I could see resentment coming from that.

I'd agree with offering to add Wilson as a second middle name as an olive branch. It might not placate the mother's concerns but those concerns seem to me to be hers not the child's. FWIW my brother has two middle names and his initials (JOAL-S) are fun and a nickname rather than a cross to bear. (For added fun my wife is an OAL-S)

As well-stated above, not sure if this is the hill you want to die on but that's how I'd present it.

Where's King Solomon when you need him?
posted by raider at 9:06 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ms. Vegetable says no. Full stop.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:08 AM on February 20, 2012

As a mother of a child with a different last name - I would say do not let her change it to just her name. Hyphenated is a different story.
posted by JXBeach at 9:35 AM on February 20, 2012

I'm another child who was given the option to decide about changing names. It came up around age 6 when my mom remarried and changed her name, and then every couple of years after that my mom found a non-pressured way to make sure I knew that my name was completely up to me, but that if I ever wanted to change it to the same as the rest of the family (or to my biological dad's name), she'd make that happen.

Looking back, I have so much respect and appreciation for the way she handled that. I was never made to feel any pressure, or that having decided to keep my name I could never change it later.

4 is probably too young for that - at that age, I'd say the fair way to deal with it would be to either keep the same or hyphenate for now, and maybe do at least feel him out to see if he understands the issue and would like a name change. But whatever you do, agree now that at a later date he can choose and you will both refrain from tying yourselves into these emotional knots over the perceived emotional significance of names.
posted by Stacey at 9:45 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I once occupied the 'son' role in a scenario like yours. So did my older brother. Older brother took mother's maiden name (and a new first name while he was at it! Those blanks on the legal forms are so enticing!) upon reaching legal age, just shy of ten years after the divorce. Neither parent approved, each (and other family members) persisted in calling him the wrong name, shaming him for his choice, etc. He died broken and childless (part of the name change was to give his children a chance to carry on a family name of a family he respected and loved - he felt (rightfully so) quite the opposite about our father's family. In death they still mock him for his name change and misname him all the time).

Since I was an infant when the acrimonious divorce went through, I never knew the man from whom my surname came from. It's actually quite a cool surname, but aside from that, it became a bone of contention that lasted well into my teen years. I still have the notebooks where I tentatively scribbled the hyphenated birth name-mom's new married name. She (and my dad) both remarried the same year at the age your son is at currently. I never wanted my step-dad's surname (that name was carried on by his older kids anyway) but I would have been ok with it for the most part if it became my legal name. I adopted it illegally around puberty because it eased things socially for me (no more hearing my mother addressed as "Mrs. Birthsurname" was actually rather pleasant!)

This was in 1970s America. I still have a copy of an elementary school transcript with "DIVORCED" in all-cap scarlet letters next to my parents' surname that didn't match mine. This stigma faded by the late 1980s but I was out of school by then

The mind games between birth parents was intense at times but I resolved it at age 17. My father eventually "won" by the fact that I decided, of my own accord to keep my legal name when applying for college, and by prodding by a sister who worked in the law who schooled me on what "legal name" meant and that I should stop using mom's new married name (which I'd done in high school, in a new town where Mom didn't want nosy busybodies prying into a previous failed marriage... I was young enough that it "worked" that step-dad could be my birth dad).

In the end though, my birth father didn't "win" - his disgusting behavior with my brother, his no-parenting-but-always-sends-child-support-on-time-never-missed-a-payment style didn't cut it with me. Yeah, he "won" that I'd have his surname to carry on ... but since he never provided me with anything fatherly, and then somehow magically thought I'd be a bounty of grandchildren carrying on his name, here he is a bitter old man wanting grandkids that I will never provide (snooze button on the bio clock pushed too many times plus queer equals no kids!). Plus, do you know what? Despite the fact I carry his surname, he and new wife lie to people they know and point to my sister as their only child! (WTF, dude?!?! Way to be disrespectful of someone who essentially followed your wish). I've randomly met people from his hometown (where he is a prominent 'pillar of society' type) and they are shocked to learn he has two sons and my sister isn't "their" own child! So much for "carrying on the family name" asshat! He has no grandchildren, period. And never will!

My mom, for all her insistence on me carrying her new name, respected my decision and whether she cried herself to sleep at night about it, I'll never know (this is typically what she did, and I'd only find out if my step-dad couldn't bear the crying), but this much I do know: she raised me to be an independent thinker and to bear responsibility for myself and my actions. She supported it when I decided that my legal birth name was what I wanted to go forward with into my adult life. She also hedgingly supported my brother's full name change (her hesitation was due more to feeling insulted at first, but then getting the clue about the whys and wherefores of his change). Although her pressure on me to change my surname to hers was strong, she knew it was MY choice, not hers. In retrospect, I cut her a lot of slack, as it wasn't easy being a woman with a child bearing a different surname and suffering divorcee stigma in an unenlightened age.

My step-dad was perhaps the coolest of all. He would love for me to have his name, but he ultimately cared more about "raising me right" and providing a roof over my head and instilling in me the virtues of caring for others, giving back to society, and showing respect to people. He's the one who gets the holiday phone calls, cards, letters and photos. My bio-father? Nada beyond my perfunctory politeness in the face of his and his wife's asshattery.

The best course of action here I think is this: acknowledge that a woman also has the right to be a part of a child's naming convention (e.g. through a hyphenated last name, even though there's already a hyphenation going on here) and give her due recognition but stop short of changing his name until he has the capacity to reason this for himself. When your son reaches adulthood, he will have been guided by good parenting and respect by each of his parents so that he, and he alone, can decide how best he wishes to honor that parental legacy with a surname.

Be that good parent and don't sweat this surname or that surname. Insure your child is happy, healthy, secure and respects others. It may take a while, but putting that out there in the world on behalf of your son will go a long, long way regardless of whether he's Mr. Hippy J. Moonbeam or carries the name you gave him at birth, or the name his mother creates to make her life easier.

Names are *not* eternal, love and respect are. When that time comes on his rise to adulthood (you could perhaps incorporate it into a ritual), give your son the respect and dignity he deserves by allowing him, free of pressure and bias, to choose a surname that suits who he wishes to be and who he has come to respect and honor.
posted by kuppajava at 10:02 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

All's I can say is punting to a 4 year old on this is really, well, I would question whether or not you've been around many 4 year olds. Of course the kid's gonna say, "I want my name!" Please don't burden the child with this. Ugh.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:10 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

So you and your ex named your son in contemplation of marriage, with the expectation that she would take your name and everyone in the family would share a surname. You split up, and since then your ex has been pushing to change the child's surname. I agree with you that the child's surname should not be changed to HERS only, but I disagree with you that the child's surname should be YOURS only. If we're speaking on purely rational terms, hyphenating your surnames seems like a perfectly reasonable compromise to me. Yes, even if the child's name is already hyphenated.

I agree with others that the reasoning you've put forward is much more emotional than rational. Your top two reasons are especially emotionally wrought. If a surname is such a powerful sign that there is a meaningful link between you and your son, why shouldn't the same link exist between your son and his mother? As for your second reason, are you saying that this connection wouldn't be so important if you had a daughter instead? Doesn't that seem a little... irrational?

By your logic, any father/son relationship without a surname in common would be weakened, while any father/son relationship with a surname in common would always share this deep, meaningful connection. I happen to know (yes, know) that this is false. My husband's mother never took his father's surname when they married. When they had children, it was decided that it would simply be more practical for the kids to have their mother's last name since she handled more of their day-to-day stuff, like schools and doctors, etc. I should emphasize that my in-laws are very happily married, and obviously just as in love now as they day they were married, if not more so. My husband absolutely adores his father. There is not a word he says about his dad that isn't imbued with the deepest respect and affection. The name thing matters not one iota to him, he is his dad's son through and through.

Conversely, some of my friends growing up were estranged from their fathers, and sharing a last name with their fathers was equally meaningless. For one friend, it was actually a painful reminder of the relationship she did not have with her father. She started using her mother's name in middle school though it had not yet been legally changed. I believe she officially dropped her dad's name once she turned 18 or 19.

So if you want "a powerful sign to him that there is a meaningful link between the two of us" and you truly believe that "the connection between us will be pivotal in determining his developing character," just keep on being the best dad you can. Symbols mean nada in the face of your actions, which are much more powerful in terms of creating connections and developing character. If you want to be a role model to your son, then be one. Giving your son a hyphenated last name will not do a thing to water down your relationship with him. Did you feel that having a hyphenated last name yourself dimished your relationship with either or your parents? Do you need to examine that a little more deeply?

In regards to your third reason, your son is only four. He is not nearly old enough yet to have a huge identity complex wrapped up in his name. It doesn't have to be a Horrible Traumatic Ordeal for him, unless you want it to be one. You could explain it to him as getting to have a piece of his mom's name as well as a piece of his dad's name, because he is a part of you both equally. Doesn't sound so bad, does it?

As for your fourth reason, I don't see your first three reasons as logically compelling either, so faulting your ex for the same seems a little harsh. I also don't see the status quo as being so important at this point (your son being so little) that it must be protected at the cost of creating more acrimony between you and his mother. That brings me to your final reason, which I find to be a tad overdramatic. Your ex is asking for a reasonable compromise, and you've immediately jumped to her wanting to eliminate you and your influence from your son's life. If this is really about something else, figure out what that is and deal with it. Don't turn every disagreement you have with your son's mother into a proxy for whatever it is that is really grinding your gears. That'll only make all of your lives more difficult.
posted by keep it under cover at 11:43 AM on February 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

I find neither your ex's reasons or yours particularly compelling, for all sorts of anecdotal/personal reasons, and far more emotional than rational on both sides. Also, don't make your son choose, especially if there's any hint that there'd be fallout if he chose sometihng that made one or both parent unhappy.

It's thorny - I'm leaning towards leaving the name alone, though, but I appreciate that she wants to have her name represented and it's possible that the middle name compromise won't be enough - and if the surname is already hyphenated I think adding more on would be messy and confusing. But FWIW I think your ex is making a gesture of compromise that you would do well to mirror.
posted by sm1tten at 2:07 PM on February 20, 2012

The notion that sharing a name will forge a connection between you and your son is pure emotion. So are your other reasons. So are hers.

However, if you truly believe in this magical, pivotal, name-forged connection, the rational extension of that belief is that it's best for a child to have magical, pivotal connections with BOTH parents. And then add his mother's last name, in some form, to your son's name.
posted by orangejenny at 5:49 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, in fairness, his mother's thought that sharing a name will make her more easily identified as his parent might be rational, but I have to defer to the parents on how true that is. Your last reason is also a little rational, but it can be addressed by giving your son WILSON-JONES instead of SMITH-WILSON.
posted by orangejenny at 5:54 PM on February 20, 2012

I think it's likely that this is part of a larger issue. Does your ex- always need to fiddle with things, being unable to accept things as they are? Is your ex- afraid you'll kidnap your child? Is your ex- just plain pissed off, and wants a win?

I'd start responding by asking for more information, and really paying attention. Some of the arguments are BS, but some are likely very real, and may lead you to the heart of the matter. You are going to be co-parenting for 14 more years, and really for life. Developing a functioning relationship, and process for resolving conflicts, is really helpful.

Once the name is legal, i.e., on the birth cert., I tend to think the next change should come from the person whose name it is, when that person is old enough to legally decide. My son changed his 1st name, by usage, not by law, to the name his Dad prefers. He loves his Dad, and wants to be closer. I still call him by the name he grew up with, but I'm fine with his choice. The name on the certificate, and his relationship to you, are not correlated. I have no doubt of this, whatsoever. His Mom may need to learn that her child is going to love her, no matter what, because she's The Mom. She'd have to work hard to lose that, and that's not going to happen.
posted by theora55 at 5:27 PM on February 21, 2012

Just as likely, the larger issue could be that the mother always wanted to share a last name with her child, either through marriage or by including her name. She could have agreed to use the father's name only on the promise of marriage. The OP says in his post that marriage was quickly dropped as a possibility after their child was born and there are ongoing trust issues in their relationship. Perhaps the mother feels the promise of marriage just as she was giving birth was a bait and switch to make her agree to a name she wasn't 100% sure of, and she now wants to correct it since it is frequently a practical concern in her daily life.
posted by saucysault at 9:24 PM on February 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

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