Sunday, December 8, 2013

what's in a name? 38 weeks, 2 days

<Please excuse me while I take a brief hiatus from discussing my uterus.>

It happens every couple months. Like clockwork. Another article – for example here, here, here and just today, here – in the NY Times, that paragon of liberal media, about names. Marriage and names. Children and names. Families and names. About “maiden[1]” names and married names and professional names. And let’s not forget, the bane of everyone’s existence, the hyphenated name.

Among other deep insights regarding the FIRST WORLD PROBLEM HERE! struggles of name change, these articles generally include something about how hyphenated last names are hard. No one understands them. They confuse LITERALLY EVERYONE. Government agencies are endlessly perplexed by them. Children with hyphenated names hate them, are embarrassed by them, inevitably grow up to become disordered, maladjusted sociopaths hell bent on righting the wrong of their birth certificate misfortune – that dastardly hyphenated last name! (And so on).

So let me own up to something: I have a hyphenated last name. In fact, several of my close friends also have hyphenated last names. I realize this isn’t the “hard data” that the NY Times is working with, but among the dozen or so people I know with hyphenated last names, literally none of us has ever complained about the INCREDIBLY HEAVY BURDEN of, god forbid, two last names. It’s never been an onerous task to write our names out in full. It’s really not the end of the world that sometimes my JetBlue e-ticket truncates my name before it’s finished. And it wasn’t actually stressful to get married and decide to keep my own hyphenated last name[2].

But now, here we are, on the precipice of birthing another human life. And everyone wants to know: EGADS! WHAT WILL YOU DO FOR A LAST NAME?! For whatever reason, this question seems to be a source of great, all consuming stress for other people (just not really for us).

So, let’s cut to the chase. For the sake of confidentiality, let’s assume my last name is Smith-Jones. And my husband’s last name is Brown. Our son will be <wait for it> Smith-Brown. Is it a perfect, sustainable solution? Of course not. Is it actually that confusing? No, it really, really isn’t. 

So yes, dear friends, readers, and miscellaneous interweb robots chiming in from the northern Caucasus: our son will have a hyphenated last name. We will be <prepare for impact> a family of three people, with three different last names. It will, I can assure you, make us no less of a family. We will still be bound by blood and DNA and you know, love. So at least we’ve got that going for us.

What about you guys? What’s your naming game plan?

[1] I don’t know about you, but I myself was never a maiden. <curtsy>.
[2] And no, I promise I don’t judge other people who “take” their partner’s name. I just kind of happen to like my last name.


  1. I know I am by no means part of the norm, but I am currently on my fourth last name (only one marriage). My mother was not married when I was born and she gave me her (maiden) name. When she got married she changed my last name so that we would all have the same last name. After I cultivated a better relationship with my birth father I decided to change my last name to his. And then I got married and took my husband's last name. I share all this only to put out the perspective that doesn't matter (in my opinion). As a teacher I have had a few awkward moments when I called a parent and referred to them as Mr/Mrs (child's last name) but the parents always handled it gracefully when their last name was actually different. And to be honest, now that I am no longer in my 20s (and my students' parents are younger than me in many cases) I actually just refer to them by their first name, as they do with me. So there you have it, my very long two cents. :)

  2. I have a hyphenated last name after marriage, so I'm Smith-Jones and husband is just Jones. The baby is Jones too. I've had far more hassle here in the US than I ever did at home in the UK, but it works for us. As for the baby, she can hyphenate (or double barrel, as we Brits say) when/if she decides to get married.

    Not having exactly the same name as them doesn't bother me at all. I like your solution- elegant and still perfectly workable. In your FACE NY Times.

  3. As someone who has never dealt with a hyphenated last name myself, I like hearing this! Because yes, we too will be gifting our offspring with an unwieldy 'double barrelled' surname (as the English like to call it, for the purposes of general poncy-ness). I like that it's a manifestation of this new dimension to the bond we share, not to mention a unique and blended identity for our kid. So it's just the first name we have to sort out.

  4. I went the Rodham Clinton route when I got hitched, and just added a second last name and no hyphen. Just a space. And I kept my given middle name, which is my mom's maiden.

    It actually performs just the way I'd hoped; sometimes people call me Maggie Smith**, sometimes Maggie Jones, most of the time it's just Maggie Smith Jones. All apply, none are totally incorrect, and it's really no big.

    As far as our future offspring... we haven't totally settled. My husband thinks my double last name sounds much cooler than his single name (he didn't chance his at the time we got married for business reasons) and he's open to adding my last name so that we'd all be a set. I'm down for whatever. We've also discussed giving the them two middle names, the second being my last name. Time will tell.

    All in all, I do love this topic and never really tire of it. I always find it interesting. I think your baby boy's last name is perfection.

    **Thanks to your commitment to confidentiality, I got to be this badass:

  5. Sooo when I got married I thought about keeping my maiden name for work (publications and confidentiality from clients), but it just seemed too complicated. Half the name I can't remember which phone number to leave on voicemails, can't imagine having to remember which name! I thought about hyphenating, but I have a hard-to-spell-hard-to-pronounce Italian name and my husband has a long Dutch name, so I can't imagine it hyphenated together. So. So I took his name. How traditional, huh? I still miss my last name. But I made the decision (8 years ago), for this moment. Because I like that all 3 of us have the same last name. Traditional, but I like it.

  6. Were gonna have different DNA and the same last names. It's really the love thing that counts!! Let's get to the more important stuff, like first names! ;-)

  7. My maiden name has 5 syllables and my husband's has 3, so I never seriously considered hyphenating, although people sure liked to tease us about the idea. For the same reason I would definitely not give any child of ours a hyphenated name. I had no strong feelings either way about keeping my name vs. taking on my husband's. I did take his name, in large part because I liked it and it was unique. If hubby had had a more common name, like "Smith" or whatever, then I likely would have chosen to keep my maiden name, since having an unusual last name is now part of my identity. To each their own, and at worst the child will have to always be correcting spelling/pronunciation, which is annoying, but hardly something that ruins one's life.

  8. My mother, one of those "damn women's libbers" (as her boss once referred to her), kept her maiden name. My sister and I have our father's surname. It has been so traumatic and confusing. I mean, who IS my mother?!? I kid, I kid. It was absolutely not an issue growing up. I got married, kept my last name, and my kid will have his dad's last name. I have a long, very Dutch last name (2 whole words!) that doesn't hyphenate well. My in-laws have been absolutely baffled by my radical choice to keep my maiden name and are in utter crisis over what-will-happen-to-the-baby. What will happen? We think he will live. And resent us for a million reasons other than his last name.

  9. My husband is Latino, so he has 2 last names. Not hyphenated, just 2 last names. When I got married, I kept my maiden name and added his second last name to mine. So now we both have 2 (different) last names. I am Mac Jones and he is Smith Jones. Baby will probably just be Jones. What a modern world we live in!

  10. LOL, funny. The only person I know with a dbl last name is my mother (not hyphenated, just "Smith Jones"), and she has made it clear that she whole-heartedly regrets keeping her maiden name because of all of the paperwork headaches over the years. It's part of the reason I never even contemplated keeping my own last name!

    I work in a medical center, and I definitely think it's easier for insurance/guarantor/etc stuff when everyone has the same last name. That being said, it's not the end of the world when they don't either!