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. I love all the responses here! Seems like everyone does something different.

    My husband’s mother wasn’t married when he was born but she married when he was about 8 years old. At that time she gave him several options: 1) Keep his current name (her maiden name), 2) Change to her new husband’s name for family consistency, or 3) Change to his biological father’s last name. According to him, it was a hard decision, but he felt a connection with his birth name, and kept it.

    I was very adamant about not conforming to taking a man’s last name, but after much internal-debate I took my husband’s name when we married. Partially because the hyphenated version is quite hilariously full of penis-joke innuendo, and while my own father is wonderful, I felt no connection to the rest of my family that shared my former name. My husband and I talked about it EXTENSIVELY prior to the wedding and ultimately it became important for us both to have a cohesive family name when we eventually have children. (I never thought I would be so excited to etch it on the mailbox.)

    I think the biggest aspect is to allow dialogue, allow choices, and honor both the family and individual identity.

  2. I’m piping in to reiterate what a few others have already said in that it is not unusual for kids these days to have different last names from their parents. I work at a public school, and I’d say that kids having the same last name as both of their parents is split about 50-50. Basically, I don’t think that your daughter will seem alienated nor your family seem unusual if you have different last names. You might consider just holding off on changing her name until she’s older and then letting her choose to change it if she wants to at all.

    In terms of clarity when your daughter is in school, one thing I find really helpful as a teacher when I meet parents is when they introduce themselves by their full name, and tell me who their child is by the full name. Example: “Hello, I’m Jane Doe and I’m Billy Smith’s mom.” This is a simple, non-awkward way to let me know who’s parent they are, and what I should call them! No explanations necessary. The thought of whether or not they have a “coherent” family doesn’t even cross my mind.

  3. I divorced 2 years ago and my two children have my ex’s last name, as did I. I did NOT want to keep his last name. When the divorce was final, I changed my last name back to my maiden name and changed my middle name to the married name (their last name still) I had no affinity for my middle name and the kids, who are both pre-teen, like the fact that Mama and they still have a connection.

  4. I just got married myself, after a divorce. And like so many, I changed my name, developed a professional career with said last name, had 2 daughters, ect. Despite what ever my life was with my ex husband, I didn’t want to have to explain that yes, I am still the same person, just with a different last name. I ended up hyphenating it, old married name with new married name. Unconventional I know, but it worked for me.

    • My dad and step-mum were both widowed and remarried when their children were adults so their situation is a bit different. My step-mum originally changed her name to my dad’s last name. Then she realized that no one knew who she was because they were used to her having her first husband’s last name. (Her first husband was well known in the community.) She also was a bit sad that she lost the connection with her children. She ended up socially hyphenating her first husband’s last name and my dad’s last name. They also use that name as their family name.

  5. I was in this situation. I went back to my maiden name. We are the This Name-That Name-Another Name family and that’s who we are. We have two kids with the ex’s last name and three kids with the husband’s last name and I have my own name. I got over the whole “The Names” tradition. We are ALL of us!

  6. My mother and father split when I was very young. My last name is MarriedName. Mum had already developed a name for herself professionally as MaidenName, so she went by MarriedName for school things, and MaidenName professionally. I didn’t have anything to do with dad’s side of the family, so I have always been the sole MarriedName in a family of MaidenNames. I always saw my mother as having both names, and never had a problem with it. Other than depositing cheques, it didn’t cause any trouble for her or me.

    If you want to have a cohesive name for the family, that’s great if that’s what you want. However, from the perspective of a child with a different last name to the rest of the family, to me, a different name meant nothing. I knew I was part of my family by the way I was treated, not what I was called. Whatever you choose, your daughter will know you love her no matter what she is called.

  7. I agree with those who said that different names really doesnt make it any less coherent! Maybe consider how you felt when your changed your last name in the first place. If you still felt coherent with YOUR parents, with your married name. Then you can consider similar feelings by another life change, the family is still the family, names are just names!

  8. Someone I used to know lost her father when she was a baby. Years later, the mother wanted to remarry and wanted her daughter to change her name at the same time as the mum, so they would be a family. Daughter objected – it was her father’s name and it was her name. In the end, the stepdad changed his instead to match the mother and daughter. I found this both sweet and weird – he was almost replacing the lost dad.

    Anyway. A name doesn’t make you a family. Families are made up of parents, kids, uncles, aunts, grandparents, stepparents, foster parents. If you love them, and they love you, they’re yours. And no one can change that, even if you have a different surname.

  9. I’ve been through this! I was married for 16 years before I got divorced and I had changed my name when I married. I couldn’t wait to go back to my original name, and I felt bad about having a different last name than my kids, but I just couldn’t hold onto that name anymore. So I went back to my birth name (I’ve never been a “maiden”, pretty sure). My kids were weirded out at first, but they have adjusted. When I got remarried, I just couldn’t go through the whole name changing thing again. I love my name. I love my husband completely, but I just couldn’t change it again, and he understood. We now have three last names on the mailbox, and the multi-name thing has never caused a problem for us. We are a modern blended family, and we have differnt last names. No big deal.
    My advice is do what feels right for you. Kids are resilient. Your daughter will be just fine if you have different last names.

  10. I took my ex-husbands name when we married. We divorced, and a few years later he kidnapped our son. Since I was paying my attorney 10’s of thousands of dollars to get my son back, I had my name changed back to my maiden name. My family warned me to think twice about changing my name, but I was so overcome with grief and anger, I wanted nothing to do with the ex or his name. The real kicker is that my ex’s last name isn’t even his dad’s last name – his mother lied to him about who his dad was, told him he shared a deceased dad with his half brother. Convoluted mess!
    It bothers my now 9 year old that I have a different last name. I am in a relationship, and thinking of marriage. As it stands right now, the 3 that make up our family all have last names. I’ve talked to him about how he would feel if we add to our family with a child. He is okay with it, but wants the baby to have his last name.
    I wish we could just all pick a family name and use that.

  11. My last name is my mothers maiden name. She later married and changed her name. When I got married I felt it important to keep my last name. My husband and I sign cards and such last name, last name. In our entry way we had a large vinyl sugar skull made with our last names on it.

  12. Add another one to the “it’s the family that matters, not the name” column.

    I was given my mom’s maiden name at birth.

    She got married when I was a kid, took his name, and that’s the name my younger sisters have. I also used that name socially in school from K-3 (then switched schools and the new one wouldn’t allow me to use a non-legal last name). So, for two years, I was the only MyLast.

    Then, they divorced and she returned to her maiden, so we were 50/50 on last names in the household. She never had any issues with my sisters having a different last name in school (although my poor sisters were picked on because their last name is another word for penis).

    When I got married, I kept my last name. My mom just recently got married and changed hers to her new husband so I’m the only MyLast left in the family, but that’s okay.

    This is our first xmas, so we’re doing MyLast+HisLast Family on the cards. We’re leaning toward kids having my last name as a second middle name, with his as the legal last. If we decide that is too cumbersome, it’ll just be his last, but I don’t think that will make me any less connected to them.

  13. My mom and dad have been married for 33 years, she just never took my dad’s last name (I have her last name as a middle name, and my dad’s as my last name). It was never weird growing up with a different last name-just different from most of my friends.

    I followed her lead, and kept my last name when I got married. My husband and I refer to ourselves as the mashup of “His last name Her last name” and lots of people think it’s cute. Our names are way too long to hyphenate, so no luck there. I personally would be down for changing it officially, but that does not seem to be in the cards.

    Also, my mom travelled with us quite a bit internationally, and it never was a problem, with our without my dad.

  14. I have been through almost the same thing. My kids from ex partner (we weren’t married) have my ex’s and my maiden name hyphenated as their surname. So they are still connected to me and my family at least. I got married recently, and changed my name, but I don’t think I would have changed it if my kids only had their dads surname. They are 6 and 8.
    My husband and are about to have our first child together so it’s going to be a confusing few years ahead as my kids navigate being siblings with different surnames!

  15. My mum got re-married when I was 9. We talked about it and I was given the choice & decided I didn’t want a different surname to my mum. I changed my surname to match hers by ‘usage’ (not legally) at the same time, then by deed pole (legally) a year or so later. Depending how old your daughter is, maybe talk to her about it and give her the choice. I know even at that age I really appreciated my mum asking what I thought and letting me decide. Plus I much prefer my current name.

  16. Not quite the same situation, but this past year my father retired and fulfilled his lifelong dream of changing his last name. He had been saddled with his deadbeat stepfather’s last name, and no longer wanted to be affiliated with that family. He could not change it until after he retired because of professional reasons, and it did create an issue within my house. My mother is a teacher, who took my fathers name when they got married. I was in the process of completing my third university degree. My mother took back her maiden name, my father went through a legal name change and I kept his original name. I could have changed it to either my mother’s name or my father’s new one, but I decided it was too much of a hassle. I don’t mind not having the same name as either of my parents. I understand where you are coming from, because that familial coherence was a concern for us when we were going through all this, but we know we are a family and that is all that matters to us. My father no longer has to be associated with a family that made his life miserable, and he was totally fine with me keeping the name. My mother got to back to her maiden name, which she loves. And really, there is no denying that I am related to the two of them. I am sure your child will understand if you all have different names, and if worse comes to worse, hyphens and middle names are great.

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