We’re thinking about creating a family name — how can we avoid losing our heritage in the process?

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By: rickCC BY 2.0
My partner and I are thinking about coming up with an entirely new last name for our family — one that isn’t attached to either family in any way.

I only have one reservation: names often have a long history attached, and it’s likely we’d want to share this history with our future kids.

For families who have created a family name: what do you do when your children ask you about your family name’s history? — Maggie

Have you and your partner created a family name? How did/will you explain the name to your kids?

Comments on We’re thinking about creating a family name — how can we avoid losing our heritage in the process?

  1. My husband and I each kept our names upon marriage. But when our son was born, we gave him a blended name (one syllable from each of our surnames, approximately).

    I’m just gonna put my cards on the table here and say that I think the family-name-is-the-father’s-name is a patriarchal tradition that’s gotta go. (It pretty much is the definition of patriarchy, eh?) If you’re concerned about heritage — and I am, too — realize that bestowing the father’s surname means you are cutting off half your kids’ heritage, name-wise. I consider our blended name to be a wonderfully accurate attempt at reflecting our son’s heritage. I’m proud of our decision, and I tend to sing it from the rooftops in hopes that others will follow this path.

  2. My fiance and I are combining our middle names to form a new last name. We were going to combine our last names but our particular last names don’t mix well. Coincidentally both of our middle names are our mom’s last names so we keep that family link. Plus we are both changing our middle name to our former last name. Anyway I’m excited about it, so thought I’d share!

  3. I think there are many ways to honor your ancestry without keeping your last name. All three sides of my family have made sure to keep up family traditions, even when we don’t share a last name. For instance, our family makes pickles from my stepmom’s family’s secret family recipe, I’m going to a family reunion based off of a name that I don’t share with that part of the family, and yet I am no less a part of that family and its history. I think the important part is keeping the stories alive. My aunt keeps photos of everyone at her house, and when a family reunion is coming up, we go through the pictures to make a slide show. Going through those pics stimulates a conversation of storytelling about our family history, keeping our ancestry alive. That’s so much more important than simply a last name, in my opinion. I don’t share my aunt’s last name, or my grandmother’s or great grandmother’s. But we share a connection that we keep alive through tradition and the keeping of the history.

    So, that’s my two cents. The wife and I (well, future wife) have decided to choose a completely new name, but we will be sharing our family history through our stories.

  4. I don’t have an reply to the family name question. But I have comments on the sharing family history with your children. My mothers maiden name and my grandmothers maiden name are no longer on my side of the family. But geneology and tales from the people who *had* those names, and are part of our blood, part of what makes us who we are still live. Even if the kids don’t share a blood bond, as my step-daughters don’t. They still love to hear stories. So we tell the tale about my Great Grandfather coming to America when he was 16 with 20 dollars in his pocket, show the pictures of him then, show his signature at Ellis Island how he met a young woman, and neither of them spoke English well but loved anyways. We tell the tales about how my Great Grandmother divorced my G. Grandfather for being a cheating traveling salesman in the 20’s! and how brave that was to be a single mom and a divorcee at that time. We tell the kids what the times were like then, why our ancestors left their homes to come here. We make them real people, and we respect that bond that passes down, and that shows to the kids. We also made sure they all have names that *mean* something and are traditional to our biology and to the kids, well they love hearing the stories about their names, how they got them, what they mean and so on. So basically, if you keep your ancestors and their names alive to your children, it doesn’t matter if their last names match, when they grow and become parents, they will most likely fall back on the stories told to them as children and the names will live on.

    • also, I think chosing a new name is a really good idea. Lots better than hyphenating!! My husband last name is hyphenated, PLUS it’s an O’irish type last name THEN hyphenated! HIDEOUS. He has had to spell that thing his entire life. In the military, they took off the front part and just left him with the last part, making him have to file taxes with the last part even though legally, the whole hyphenated shebang is his name! I’d never want to do that sort of thing to our kids ugh!

      • I like my hyphenated name and I think it’s beautiful. It hasn’t caused me any trouble. I’ve always had to spell it out, but I enjoy that.

        Obviously you’re entitled to your own opinion, but I’m uncomfortable with the fact that you are calling someone else’s name hideous, and talking about hyphens as though they are completely absurd. Some of us are really attached to our hyphenated names.

  5. We did this! We got married in October, and as part of that transition, we both changed our last names to a new name, which is a combination of our last names (Westra and Elliott to Ellstra). For us, this was a really important step and one of the most concrete things we did to designate (internally and externally) that we are a family. It was really important to us that we have the same name, and that our future kids have the same name – especially because they’ll have two moms. For both of us, sharing a name is part of what makes a family, and we really wanted that, but neither of us felt comfortable taking the other person’s name. So we compromised, and combined our name into something that we both love. (We did try out a lot of combinations in the process, and then settled on one a while before the wedding).

    During our ceremony, we took a few minutes to talk to our community about our new name – we explained that because we wanted to “combine our families of origin to create a new family,” we were also combining our names to create a new family name. We explained the new name combined each of our favorite elements of our old names – my wife kept her initials, which were important to her, and I kept the end of my last name (-stra), which is a signifier of my Dutch heritage.

    80% of the people there already knew our plan and our chosen name, but because we talked about it during the ceremony, and explained the reasons behind it, it really helped our community understand and embrace it. We have not heard any negative comments but a lot of “I think that’s so cool” and “such a great idea” comments. When we got home from our honeymoon, we went through the process to change it legally, which was kind of a pain. If we had been legally married in MN (not an option at the time), we could have easily both taken new names through the marriage certificate itself (and for free), so I recommend finding out if that’s an option in your state. Some states still only let the woman change her name on the certificate.

    I certainly agree with others that the heritage you pass to your kids is much more than a last name – especially because that one name is only one of many that exists in their family. We don’t have kids yet, but I expect that we’ll teach our kids what our names were, how and why we combined them, and talk about why this was important to us. But growing up, I also really enjoyed knowing that I was ½ half Dutch, and I loved those moments (however rare) when someone heard my last name and said “Oh, you’re Dutch, from the lowland veld. There are a lot of Westras there.” So I’ll also teach my kids that they’re ¼ Dutch, and that their name is still a “Dutch name,” even if it’s technically made up, and that my love of that heritage is part of why we chose the name we chose.

    Our kids will also know that their Grandparents have different names, as do their aunts/uncles/cousins, and I think it will be fun for them to learn about all those different names, what they come from, and what they mean. I think we’ll also at least consider giving them first/middle names that are connected to family heritage as well, so that’s another way to pass down heritage. And I hope that when/if they get married, they’ll feel free to pick the name that works for them and their partner, whatever it is, because our example gave them the freedom to do so. And hopefully by then, it will be less assumed that a woman will take her husband’s name when she gets married.

  6. My grandmother loved her maiden name so much and was so proud of it she made it my mother’s middle name. It’s my middle name as well.

  7. My aunt and uncle hyphenated their names, as my uncle was the only boy of his generation with the last name, and my aunt is an only child. While some family members think that their kids are going to have a hard time in kindergarten needing to learn to spell an extra name, I keep reminding them that if we were of different heritages, they could have one last name just as long!

    I had thought about keeping my maiden name or hyphenating names, and believed I would keep my maiden name somehow when I married… I believed this up until I met my husband, and I fell in love with his last name: the rich history of the region of Italy, and the story that his grandfather traveled here on a boat in the early part of the last century a week before a horrible earthquake flattened the city he lived in… so his life was saved by immigrating here. It’s a name I am proud to have now. I had no such historical attachment to my maiden name “Austin” other than it was easy to spell and no one ever mispronounced it.

  8. My husband & I combined our last names. It didn’t go over well with his family, so his legal last name is actually hyphenated as “combined last name – his maiden name,” as a compromise with his family, but my husband uses just our combined last name for pretty much everything. We actually wanted to make sure we had the same last name, instead of just keeping our own names and combining the surnames of our children, in order to avoid confusion. And some states require that a child whose father’s identity is known must get the last name of the father, which would not have flown with me. I am NOT carrying a kid for 9 months in order for it to not have my name, lol.
    We haven’t really thought of how to explain this to our kids. We kind of figure we’ll just be upfront about it and they should be cool with it. It’s not like they’ll have known anything else. And if they’re like my husband and myself, very little should phase them. 🙂

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