Different last names: How do I make our family sound more coherent?

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I am a divorced woman who will be getting re-married soon. My daughter from my last marriage still has my ex’s last name. But now I’m torn about what to do with my own last name?

Part of me wants my daughter and I to have the same name, but I also don’t want to be stuck with the name that is associated with such a crap time in my life. I obviously can’t have both.

Since I can’t change our child’s last name to that of my husband, is there anything that I can do to make our new family sound more coherent? -Amy

Has anyone ever dealt with a similar situation? What name-changing deals worked best for you?

Comments on Different last names: How do I make our family sound more coherent?

  1. It’s not the same situation, but I have a friend who got married recently and has kept her maiden name: she plans to give her surname as a middle name to any children they have. She partly plans to do this because she’s been told it makes travelling with children easier if you share a name with them from their passport – I don’t know how true this is.

    I don’t know whether updating your daughter’s middle names would be an option (depending how old she is it may be quite confusing). Would keeping your previous surname as a middle name be more agreeable to you than having it as a surname? It would still be there, but you wouldn’t necessarily have to write it down all the time.

    • From what I’ve been told, this is how names are passed down in Puerto Rican culture. So I assume border guards know this, and probably do find it easier to process families that have shared names.

    • Never change from your name (some call it a “maiden” name) to begin with and you will never be stuck with the ex’s name to begin with. Can’t tell you how many friends are remarried but need to carry the ex’s last name because they originally changes their name and then got stuck with it after divorce because that was when they “made it” professionally and is how people know them. Know with states like Texas trying to dine franchise women from voting (your required govt documents must have the EXACT name on all or you can be turned away at the poll) just stick with your birth name gals!! As for children, using the mothers last name as a middle name is a great compromise I think. MBdallas

      • The great thing about feminism is that you get to have a choice. Some people choose to keep their birth names, some people choose to take a married name. Some people choose to have a new name altogether! It’s a very personal choice, and although the discussions are great to have, no one can choose for anyone else what their name is.

        • Certainly, we have a choice. However, we must remember that this particular choice will always be political, whether we want it to be or not. We can make whatever choice we desire, but I think that it’s important to be aware of the political implications of our choices, and not pretend that those choices exist in a vacuum.

          Anyway, of course the questioner already changed her name, so I suppose in this instance some different advice is in order. Personally, were I interested in having the same name, I would create a new name, either in its entirety, or out of the letters of existing names. Additionally, you can change a child’s name; it simply requires going to court, same as for the male partner changing their name. It’s absurd, really, that women don’t have to go to court to change their name upon marriage, and is frankly a relic of a law, but there you have it.

          • But wouldn’t the father of the child (OP’s ex-husband) have to agree to the name-change in court? How likely would that be?

          • They would have to agree to it, but depending on the state and/or county, you might be able to just have them sign a notarized document saying they’re okay with the change, rather than having to appear in court. IANAL, so that may be totally off-base, but it seems to me that if custody can be decided that way, then certainly a name change could.
            As for getting the other parent to agree to it, maybe ask to change the child’s name to a hyphenated thing? Or just to add the mother’s birth name as a second middle name, rather than changing the last name at all. Of course, if the child’s father has consistently been a combative jerk, then that option is probably entirely out, so it’s pretty heavily dependent on the co-parents’ communication dynamics.

      • Okay, I get that, but this person already changed her name. I also chose to change my last name to my husband’s last name when I married. Nobody forced me to- I wanted to more than anything. The main reason was that I grew up as a child on the other side of this dilemma. My parents divorced when I was three, and my mom (with whom I primarily lived) remarried when I was six and had my sister when I was seven. From that time until I was 22 and got married, I was stuck with the last name of a family in which I did not feel I belonged. The family that I did feel like I belonged to had a different last name, and it hurt, so I couldn’t wait to drop my maiden name like it was hot and have the same last name of a family to which I felt like I belonged. My mom did occasionally refer to our family with a name that was a combo of my last name and their last names, but it was far from official. My advice- find out how important it is to your daughter’s dad to have her last name be exactly like his. If it’s important, maybe see if you can compromise and officially change all of your names to a new last name that’s a combo of the two.

        • This is exactly my dilemma. I would love your opinion. My son from a previous marriage has his dad’s last name. I’m getting remarried. I really really want my maiden name, its tied to my cultural identity, I was young, and I’ve regretted changing it. Beside the fact that I’m not with my ex.

          I don’t know if me and my fiancé will have a kid or not. Here is my dilemma.

          I talk to my ex about changing my son’s name. Hyphenate it. I keep my maiden name or hyphenate with my fiancé. Any child with my fiancé will hyphenate our two last names.

          My son keeps his dad’s last name, future children have my fiance’s last name. I have my maiden name and match no one.

          Or it has occurred to me reading this thread to change my son’s name to have my maiden as a second middle name. And future child also have my maiden name as a second middle name.

          I think my ex would be more agreeable with the third, and I’m also kind of favoring it because all that hyphenating would mean we all have 14 letters for last names. Unless I say screw it and I’m the only one with my maiden name.

          I do share 50/50 custody with my ex, so my son is definitely a part of both families.

        • I am afraid this will be how my daughter feels. I posted this elsewhere in the thread but I am going to post in right under you in hopes that you see it.

          This issue has recently come up for me and I am torn (although my situation is slightly different).

          I was married, took my husband’s last name and we had a daughter. We then divorced. I now have a son with my new fiance. My daughter is 4 and my son is a baby. I am getting remarried next year.

          I did not make a big deal out of last names to my daughter and she recently called me “miss same-last-name-as-her” while we were playing. It was the first time I really knew she was aware of the names.

          I sat her down the other day and said when I got married my last name would be “fiance-last-name.” She asked if she would change her name too and I explained about girls taking a husband’s last name and kids taking their dad’s. So she asked when she will get to change it to my fiance last name. And asked if she could take his last name when she gets married. She is co miserably disappointed that we won’t have the same last name.

          I then suggested to my fiance that I perhaps take 2 surnames–my daughter’s and his. He is not comfortable with me keeping my ex’s surname. It seems important to him (and I made him jump through so many hoops to be in my family to make sure everything we did was in my daughter’s best interest that I would like to honor his request. I don’t want him to feel that he must ALWAYS take a back seat to the kids because I don’t think that is healthy for our relationship (I mostly made him jump through hoops in the process of him becoming part if my daughters daily life and joining the family and where we live. Long story. But trust me I did not make it easy for him.)

          My next step is to talk to my ex. I am dreading it because i don’t think he will be very agreeable.

          My daughter lives with me 85 to 90% of the year (I actually keep track on a calendar). I want her to feel she belongs. I honestly do not care if she takes my fiance last name or takes 2 surnames (her dad’s and my new one) or really ANYTHING. I just want a solution that makes everyone happy.

          • I’m currently in a situation very similar to this, but my first husband died and my kids are older. I was oblivious to the situation until my 6 year old started questioning what their last name would be. We placated them with the promise to revisit the question when they are 11. That was okay with the 6 year old. The 9 year old said that they don’t care but broke down in tears and was distraught over us not having the same name. I’m still debating what to do. The only thing I can think is to add fiancé’s name to my married name but I honestly hate it. I wish I knew what to do. I wish you good luck too.

    • For travelling abroad that wouldn’t absolutely be an issue (unless you mean the moment you have to leave your country). In my country for example you can’t change your name and kids take their father’s surname, so it’s perfectly normal to have families with different passports names (a lot of women, especially from older generations, use their husband’s name socially, but it doesn’t change on documents). It is utterly confusing to see married couples with the same last name here since your first thought would be that they’re siblings.

      • I’m curious now, which country are you from? I’m from the Netherlands and we have the exact system you describe, except for the kids thing. While it usually happens that way, kids taking their father’s name, even married couples nowadays can opt for letting the kid have their mother’s name.

        • Italy! *waves hello*
          Kids only take the mother’s name if the father is not in the picture (= unknown father on birth certificate)

        • In Quebec (a province in Canada) women can’t change their names (everywhere else in Canada women have a choice to change their name). For the most part they still take their father’s name however a lot of people are hyphenating.

      • I agree this is generally not an issue when travelling abroad; however I know of cases where it has been (specifically when traveling from Canada to the US). My cousin’s son has her last name (he was probably 12 at the time). My cousin took her son to the US for a vacation (I think they were actually stopped when they tried to go to Mexico) and they were traveling with his father (who had a different last name). They got a lot of questions about if they had permission from his parents to take him on the trip (note: my cousin looks very young and they though she was his sister not his mother). They had a hard time convincing them that they were his parents. One of the comments was that he didn’t have his father’s last name. (This was about 10 years ago but I have heard of similar stories more recently.)

        Most people I know from Canada that travel to the US with their kids and have different last names than their kids travel with copies of birth certificates (long form ones that say the parents name).

    • This issue has recently come up for me and I am torn (although my situation is slightly different).

      I was married, took my husband’s last name and we had a daughter. We then divorced. I now have a son with my new fiance. My daughter is 4 and my son is a baby. I am getting remarried next year.

      I did not make a big deal out of last names to my daughter and she recently called me “miss same-last-name-as-her” while we were playing. It was the first time I really knew she was aware of the names.

      I sat her down the other day and said when I got married my last name would be “fiance-last-name.” She asked if she would change her name too and I explained about girls taking a husband’s last name and kids taking their dad’s. So she asked when she will get to change it to my fiance last name. And asked if she could take his last name when she gets married. She is co miserably disappointed that we won’t have the same last name.

      I then suggested to my fiance that I perhaps take 2 surnames–my daughter’s and his. He is not comfortable with me keeping my ex’s surname. It seems important to him (and I made him jump through so many hoops to be in my family to make sure everything we did was in my daughter’s best interest that I would like to honor his request. I don’t want him to feel that he must ALWAYS take a back seat to the kids because I don’t think that is healthy for our relationship (I mostly made him jump through hoops in the process of him becoming part if my daughters daily life and joining the family and where we live. Long story. But trust me I did not make it easy for him.)

      My next step is to talk to my ex. I am dreading it because i don’t think he will be very agreeable.

      My daughter lives with me 85 to 90% of the year (I actually keep track on a calendar). I want her to feel she belongs. I honestly do not care if she takes my fiance last name or takes 2 surnames (her dad’s and my new one) or really ANYTHING. I just want a solution that makes everyone happy.

  2. I totally understand the desire to sound more unified, but as the daughter of divorced parents who has no name in common with my remarried mom, I want to say that it has never, ever made us feel less “coherent”. She is my mother, no matter what our names are, and growing up it never crossed my mind that others might think of us as less related or something. Anyway, just something to keep in mind!

    • I’m grew up in the same boat, and it was never an issue or concern. My sister and I still use different family names and doesn’t make us any less closem

    • My parents divorced when I was 11 and my siblings were younger. I honestly never thought twice about the fact we didn’t have the same last name as my mum or that my half sister (who I usually refer to as just sister, I’m only saying half here for clarification) has a different surname to me. What my mum said about it all recently was she wished she’d kept her birth name all along rather than having changed name three times over her life.

      My suggestion, if this is really important to you which is fair enough, is that you hyphenate your birth surname with your new married name (or just use both names as one name without hyphen) and at the same time add your birth surname to your daughters middle names if it isn’t there already and if that’s feasible (ex might object etc). After all, your daughter is member of the family with your birth name and in some cultures would bear that name anyway. I have always been sad that my Mum’s family name is not in my name anywhere.

      What this would mean is that you would always have a shared name with your daughter, but that name would not her father’s name or your new husbands name, but your name. The advantage of adding your birth surname to your daughters middle names (and not her surname) is that the shared name link would not broken by her marrying and changing her surname either. It would probably raise some eyebrows as it’s not common practice but if it’s what would make it right for you and your daughter then why not? This is your chance to make a new beginning and it’s no one’s business but yours what you do. Good luck!

    • Oh also! Not sure how old your daughter is, but if you want to change her name, make sure to get her permission and input first. Her names are not just vestiges of old relationships and family connections, they’re HERS.

      • THIS. I was pressured to change my last name when my mother remarried. I was lured into it initially with promises I could hyphenate and have both names. That went out the window and I resented it for years. I was practically counting down the days til I could get married and change my name without offending my stepparent.

      • Absolutely the daughters last name is hers and those connections are really important, I think changing the daughter’s last name is potentially very problematic. If I’d have been asked if I wanted my name changed to my mother’s new one when she re-married I’m sure I would have felt like it was a straight up choice between parents, choice is often a heavy burden for a child of divorce.

        This is why I suggested that an option to explore could be that the mother’s maiden name be added to the daughters as a middle name (if it isn’t there already) leaving the daughters current first name/last name combination totally intact. The mother can then incorporate her own maiden name with her new married name or take it on as a middle name. This way mother and daughter will each have the mother’s maiden name somewhere in their full names, there will be a link. I realise this will be strange if the mother hasn’t used her maiden name in a long time but it could be a lovely opportunity to reclaim it or even choose a whole new one!

        The option above still needs the daughter’s agreement and consent of course, but if presented with that option I wouldn’t have felt like I was rejecting my dad (which I would have felt if I gave up his last name) and I wouldn’t have felt like I wasn’t supporting my mum (like I would have if I said no to changing my dad’s last name to her new married one if she suggested it).

    • I am also a child of divorced and remarried parents and sharing a name with my mom is definitely something that matters to me. Granted, my mom never took my father’s name, so I have a hyphenated name of hers and my fathers, so at least she’s not stuck with the name of the man she divorced.

      But still. When she got remarried she was considering changing her name (our last name has other emotional baggage, even though it’s her maiden name), but we talked about it and I realized it was really important that we share a name.

      I guess the message of this mildly rambly comment is to talk to your kid about it, if she’s old enough to communicate. At the very least, consulting her will show her that she matters and her opinions and feelings matter.

    • I agree with this for the most part, but as someone who had a different last name than my sisters, there was always an issue (especially with school!) when it came to permission slips and being picked up. Our mom always had to bring in her marriage certificate at the beginning of the school year and fill out special paperwork. And when I wanted to get my nose pierced at 16, it was the same sort of deal

      Its not life altering, but its kind of an annoyance

  3. I just remarried. I have a son from my first marriage and my husband and I just had a daughter. I added my husband’s last name, but kept my first husbands name as well. It’s not hyphenated, I essentially have two last names. I did this specifically for my son; for a long time it was just the two of us, and I didn’t want to take away that bond by ditching my first husband’s last name like it was dirty. My son is thrilled, and my husband is happy. My new name is long, but it’s worth it!

  4. We have the same problem, with the added complication that my HtB has 2 kids as well who live with him and have their Mothers name double-barrelled with his name.

    He is fine with whichever name I want to use but I’m the same as you, whilst I currently use my former married name and maiden name interchangeably (maiden name on everything but official documentation), I personally want to break with the past and take a different name

    In my case however my kids are pretty much adults and therefore mainly independent of me so I’ve chosen to take HtB’s surname as otherwise we are going to have a household with 4 surnames in it!

    • I know of a household with three surnames. They embraced it. The voicemail on the house phone was “You’ve reached the Johnson-Smith-Green* family…” and the whole community knew and just accepted it.

      *Not their actual last names.

  5. My mother was in this same situation, and she decided to hyphenate her last name so that it was exhusband-newhusband. It was very important to her to share a last name with us while we were in school. We have since grown up, and when she got divorced again she went back to her maiden name.

    I’ve talked to her about it before, and she has always said that she didn’t mind keeping ex-husband’s name because she didn’t associate it with him anymore. She thought of it as her children’s name and keeping it was a way to be closer to us. On the other hand, she said it was a huge pain having a hyphenated name, so it may be simpler to use ex-husband’s name as a middle name, like Pemcat suggests.

  6. I have three daughters. My eldest daughter has a different last name than the youngest two. I am also guardian to a young man who has yet a different last name. I got married last year and took my husband’s last name. It has never been an issue. You should have the last name that makes you feel happy and comfortable. Hyphenating is an option if you want to keep the same name as your daughter.

  7. I have one daughter from my first marriage, and one from my current marriage. I considered the surname thing early on, but decided it isn’t that big a deal to me. My parents are each divorced from first partners, with children from them, plus myself and my brother from their marriage to each other. It was never a big deal to any of us that our names didn’t all match. My mother kept her older kids’ last name as a middle name, so she would still connect with them on paper, but I wanted no connection to my ex abuser, other than our daughter. My older daughter, nearly 8, likes to call herself by her first name, middle name, my maiden name, her surname, and my husband’s surname, all at once. She may end up legally changing it that way in 10 years. I try not to let things like pinterest projects that say “the -blank- family”, or have one big initial bother or tempt me. We are happy as we are, and with girls, they will likely trade their fathers’ names for partners someday, anyway.

  8. I know that a couple of my friends just had to explain the situation (which I know does not help). One lady had two kids with one last name, another kid by another last name, then when she got remarried for the 3rd time had a different name. She said it got really confusing when her youngest was still in school. So if she went to pick up her youngest (who was 16 at the time, so not exactly a 2nd grader) for a dr’s apt or something. They would call her Mrs. Doyle (the child’s last time) and she was have to explain it is Mrs. Hayes now. Even though the records at school showed her new name they kept on calling her that. After a while she said she just accepted that the school would just keep on calling her Mrs. Doyle until he graduated?! I am sure that most schools see a lot of divorces and remarriages and mothers having different last names as their kids. I think this situation might be the extreme of the school office being stupid and not giving a shit considering this kid was about ready to graduate and not having to worry about it again.
    One of my friends got remarried she kept her maiden name. She carries her marriage license with her as she has been questioned a few times for various different reasons. So she whips out her marriage license .

  9. I had a friend who recently got married and had her second child with her new husband. Her first son was named after his father, but as he was no longer in his life when she remarried, she changed her older son’s last name to her new husband’s last name (the son was 8 or 9 at the time) when her new husband legally adopted him. I also had a friend in gradeschool whose mother remarried when we were in 5th grade and his last name got changed, too. My mother kept her maiden name when marrying my dad, and I’ve never had the same last name as she does, and I’ve never experienced any issues because of it. It was just something that was, never crossed my mind that it was weird when I was a kid. I’m not sure if this helps or not, but just wanted to show that you don’t necessarily have to keep your child’s last name that of your ex-husband if you don’t want to.

  10. I foresee this issue for myself in the future.
    I have children from a marriage, and if I were to marry my current OH I have decided I will be known by his name to his family etc, but keep ex husbands name for the sake of our children and legal/official reasons, if I were to have a child with current OH I would then change my name legally to his for the new child, as long as my current children are fine with it.

  11. I am the child of a divorcee who re-married. I haven’t had the same last name as my mother since I was about 6 (I’m now 28). My subsequent siblings were adopted by my biological father (my mother’s ex) so WE all have the same last name, but my mother hasn’t had our name since before they were even born. We’ve never once faced issues because of our names. (We’ve had a few race issues once they see us in person, but that’s a whole other problem)

  12. I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s answers. When I got married, I chose to keep my maiden name. I’ve had friends, acquaintances, and family members essentially ask me this question and I’ve always brushed it off. I respect tradition, but there are so many ways of living in this world – and so few of us who fit in the standard checkboxes! We jokingly call ourselves the “first half of his last name”-“last half of my last name.” It works for us right now, at least 🙂

  13. Maybe come up with an unofficial family name. You could combine your last names into something cool, or pick something that makes you all happy. Alternatively, you could give your home a name, which totally makes it feel more awesome and more of a shared space.

    • Yup! I couldn’t see any good reason to change my last name legally, professionally, or socially and neither did my husband, but we have a portmanteau last name that we use as an inside joke. And I love the naming your home idea!

  14. I think at this point, at least in the United States (and I don’t know where the original poster lives, but that’s where I live, so that’s what I can speak to), there is not much expectation that there will be a clear last name connection between members of a family.

    Furthermore, plenty of people living in the United States may use different naming conventions than everyone-in-the-family-has-one-last-name (I’m thinking of naming customs from Spain and Latin America). Those who you encounter in your daily life might not even make the same assumptions about last names as you do.

  15. My spouse and I have different last names. Our child has my spouse’s last name. I don’t feel like this impacts our family at all (except when I get mail addressed to me with his name, which makes me irate)

    However, here’s my perspective growing up. My parents divorced when I was 3, and it was me, my mom, and my sister. We all had my dad’s last name, T. My mom didn’t date, and once I asked her, if she did get remarried, what she would do about her last name. She said she’d change back to her maiden name, which I thought sounded like a great idea. However, when I was 13 and she did get remarried, she took his last name, S. This felt like a big betrayal to me at the time. I’m sure it was influenced by the marriage really shaking up our household for a variety of reasons, but it felt like she was ditching us by taking his name. If she’d taken her maiden name, it wouldn’t have felt like that – she still would have had a different last name from ours, but it wouldn’t have been “siding” with her new husband, if that makes sense.

  16. When I was in elementary school, my best friend came from a home in this situation. What he did was hyphenate, with his legal name was his mom’s old name, but would then go by the new family last name when he introduced himself.
    As a kid I never questioned this – his name was his mom’s new last name. There was never any confusion with the school, because the mom always talked to the teacher about the situation before each school year. And on most school things, the preferred name was used versus his legal name.

  17. I married while raising my little brother so I added my husband’s last name. I use the two last names for specific reasons. At work and dealing with my brother, I use my maiden. When I’m with my hub, kids, or in our home, I use my married last name. My kids love my long name and hope they get to add to theirs. My boy said my name is like life, you keep adding to it. (Not bad for an 8 yo)

  18. How involved is your daughter’s father? My mother-in-law dealt with this by having her new husband adopt her son (my husband.) That won’t work if her father is still involved, of course, but in my mil’s case, the biological dad hadn’t been seen in years.

  19. For a long time, women have been guilt-tripped into changing their name for the sake of family unity, but I really believe kids could care less. At the elementary school I work at (public school, on the progressive side), I’d say about half the students don’t have the same last name as their mother, and 75% don’t have 2 married parents with the same last name. Family is family, kids know who their mom(s) and dad(s) are. So do what feels right for YOU.

  20. I’m from Mexico, a country where you cannot decide what your last name is. And maybe this will help you have another perspective (and that’s why I write this). In Mexico, your parents pick your first name, then we have two last names, the first one is the first of your father, and the second one is the first of your mother. This is a very simple, yet effective way to know who comes from who. Maybe for you the last name of your ex is only that, but for your child it may be the name of her father, it’s also her roots (if this is the situation, I’m only guessing and mean no disrespect).

    I would personally not change my children’s name, and I prefer to keep my maiden name, I’m maried but kept my name (you could change it but it is not very usual here), not even with friends and family, I am who I am, married or not.

    Hope it helps,
    Good luck!

  21. Prior to my marriage I took an entirely new last name that was partially inspired by my fiancé. It was a name that was meaningful to me and still in keeping with my Latino heritage. After we married, he actually took my name and dropped his German-based last name. We were married for many years and had two children who share that common last name. We are now divorced. I’m now in the awkward position of sharing a last name with a man I’m no longer married to that my children now have as well. I’ve considered reverting to my original maiden name but there are reasons why I changed it in the first place. I’m now with a woman and we are seriously considering marriage. She has a very unique last name and her name combined with mine would make for an interesting combination if we were to follow Spanish tradition. Not sure what to do or recommend other than to caution creating new names unless one party is willing to give the name back!

  22. I had friends in a similar situation-the mother had four daughters, but when she remarried she took her new husband’s name and her daughters kept their own last name. Our community created a family portmanteau for them for cohesion, so the parents were Mr. and Mrs. Ramos and the kids were O’Hares, but as a whole unit we unofficially referred to them as the O’Hamoses.

  23. You could, as a family, sit down and come up with a “team name”. Like The Starks or the Tudors, but instead of it coming from a surname, it can come from whatever you want it to. In high school, there were cliques that named themselves–notably, “The Giggle Gaggle”. So you could try something like that. Consider–most superhero groups don’t share surnames, but they do share a group designation. Your family, too, could be as cool as the X-Men or the Avengers!

    This has the added bonus of not being something you impose on your daughter–it’s a collaborative, team building effort. And you could have t-shirts made!

  24. I know for myself, I wish my mum and I had had the same last name… When she changed it back to her maiden name after the divorce from my father I felt excluded if that makes sense? I know that being married to my father was not something she wanted to remember, however for my sake I wish she had kept it. She was my primary caregiver but school teachers were constantly confused why our names were different, and at family events I was the only one with a different last name…

  25. My mother never changed her last name, my sister’s and I have grown up using a variety of both names (legally it depends on where you look whether it is hyphenated or not) or just one or the other.

    On family Christmas cards mom uses both last names, space, no hyphen. Lastname lastname Family.

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