How do you choose a last name for your child?

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Photo by NatalieMaynor, used under Creative Commons license.

My husband, D, and I are eagerly expecting our second child in a few weeks. And while we’ve honed in on a handful of first names we like, there is a big, looming question about the last name this child will have. Through somewhat unlikely and eerily parallel familial situations, we are both the very end of the line for our last names.

Hyphenating is not an option, as both names together would be too long and unwieldy. Others have suggested using my name as a middle name, and maybe it’s just my pregnancy-hormone-influenced headspace, but to me, that feels less like a compromise (where all sides gain *and* sacrifice something), and more like a temporary appeasement to ease the sting of the status quo.

Our firstborn carries my husband’s last name, and he suits it to a T. D is supportive of giving our new one my last name, but I am certain that the family backlash (on all sides) will be formidable. How many of you have wondered about this, too? Has anyone any experiences to share about having struggled with this, and/or having gone against the last-name-grain? — Karla

Comments on How do you choose a last name for your child?

  1. We decided the year we got married that a girl would get my name, a boy my husband’s. Then when we were pregnant, I decided to just go with the baby getting his last name, for easiness.

    (Of course, it turned out to work with our original agreement, since our kid is XY chromosomed! LOL)

    But personally, I’d have preferred totally hyphenated or new made up last name. My husband had already started publishing, tho (as had I, but I have a Nom-de-plume that’s spiritual/ religious).

  2. When I was pregnant my husband and I decided to give our daughter his step-fathers last name, as my husbands last name belonged to the man who walked out on his family and we didn’t want to pass that along. (So all three of us have different last names, but we’re thinking of changing our names to match hers in the next year or so.)

    Now my husband’s brother and his wife are pregnant and without anyone realizing it changed their last name to the wifes, and are planning on giving their daughter her last name.

    Needless to say, all the different last names doesn’t change the fact that we’re all family. We all have done what we have felt is best for our family and that’s the way it should be right?

  3. We’re not married but we do have one child together. She has his last name. We’re going to get married someday, but I don’t want his last name…and all his *swearies* of taking mine were well meaning lies. We’re planning on actually making up a new last name (by combining our names) and both taking it. Not sure if he needs to change it first or if we can both change on the marriage cert.

    In any case, I’m pregnant with our second and planning on give her the combo name and changing the first child’s last name legally as well. Seriously a PITA, but I wasn’t happy having a different last name than my daughter, so this was our compromise.

  4. I think the middle name option is the best. I’m an end of the line-r myself… and if I have a boy, I’ll consider using ‘Taylor’ as the middle name.
    I guess I’m a little old fashioned, but I found it sooo confusing when my friend’s parent’s mothers weren’t “Mrs.*insert child’s last name*. I found out I was saying the wrong name for like ten years. I still don’t know what my cousin’s are… if I wrote a letter to them– I’d have no if I could write “Mr. and Mrs. ________. If you do decided to not do the traditional thing– TELL people. I feel awkward asking at this point!
    I understand why people don’t want to change their name– as it’s part of their identity– but it seems much easier when everyone “matches”… even for paperwork’s sake. I have no problem with the idea of changing my name– even though I’ve been signing my art with this name since I was 10. New chapter- new name = exciting for me. There’s a million circumstances where people in the family won’t have the same name… but if you can– I think it’ll cut down confusion later in life.

    • Just a little info on this. “Mrs” is traditionally a prefix used to associate a woman to her husband. So it’s “Mrs. (man’s first name)(man’s last name)” and not “Mrs. (her first name) (last name). Neither me nor my husband chose to change our names when we married, but I still get called Mrs. (his last name) regularly, and technically it is correct. Plus, it really doesn’t bother me. I get it that a lot of people don’t “get it”. I’ll respond no matter what I’m called.

      We are currently discussing what we will name our future kids. He is also the last in line of his family, and I have a notoriously long last name. So far we are thinking we will probably give them both legally, but just call them by his.

  5. As much as I am for equality, the simple fact is that my last name is boring- it is short and punctual, and I never liked it. Years ago, I adapted my middle name Tayler to be my last name, and no one knows the difference, though legally I must still use my actual last name (I just don’t care enough to get it changed). Whether you like your last name or not, maybe consider how much it flows with the rest of the name. I choose a name that is flowing and sweet for my daughter, Sylvia Rose, and with my sharp and short last name at the end of it, the flow and prettiness would be gone, where as her fathers last name fits to hers better. It’s all too complicated in my opinion, and I just decided that what sounds better sounds better and that’s that. I wish she was more connected to me by name, but really, names are not everything and just because she does not share my name does not mean she is not any less a part of me.

  6. I know a family that my mom teaches has all the girls taking the mom’s last name and all the boys taking the dad’s last name.

    My husband has his mother’s last name as his middle name and his dad’s last name as his last name. It was a family tradition though, so his mother is named the same way. If you don’t feel a connection that way, than it probably isn’t right for you! My husband suggested it for our kiddo, but I really felt the same way as you do.

    Personally I think you just need to do what feels right! I would love to name a second baby with my last name as our first got my husband’s last name. 🙂 It would be an amazingly cool balance.

  7. My daughter has my husband’s last name. When she was born we weren’t married, but I honestly wouldn’t have wished my last name on anyone at that point in my life.
    When we got married, I simply added his last name to mine – before mine.
    Having two last names (so far) has been nothing but awesome. I can use either name I want. There’s no hyphen and sure, people often have no idea what I’m saying when I say both last names together.
    Honestly, I did it because it sounded ridiculous. It was a tongue-in-cheek jab at tradition – and now I have a fun last name that “you have to stand on one leg when you say it.”
    So – my response would be, give the kid both last names. Use whichever one you want when introducing him. When he’s older, let him decide which one gets the limelight (or if both do).
    I didn’t hyphenate my name because I loathe hyphens. So, I literally have two last names. It’s been a fun adventure.

  8. Hyphenated names can become complicated for your kids when they get older.

    My mom and all woman of her age on both sides of my family kept their names. Then myself and all my cousins have hyphens or mothers name as middle.

    Both my middle and last name are long, when I got married I took my husbands last name and hyphenated my last and middle names to my middle name. Now I sound like an eastern European law firm, but no one’s feelings were hurt.

    I think my kids will just get my husbands last name. Hyphenating only works for one generation, then it gets rediculous.

    Good luck

  9. It was important to me to keep my name when I married. My husband grudgingly agreed to boy/him, girl/mine. We had a boy and my husband did a happy dance around the ultrasound room singing, “I win, I win”. I was mildly bitter. After the baby was born, I found that it didn’t matter to me at all. Our second is a girl. Since it didn’t matter to me and really mattered to him, she also has his last name. Everyone is happy. However, it was a very personal and irrational decision, which may not apply to others.

  10. When my wife and i got married, I pushed for having the same name. It seemed more like a family unit, blah blah blah. It took me about six months to realize I was being a complete jerk. I regret how I felt then. Our child has both of our names, unhyphenated. This is a tough topic. If your family unit all change last names to something made-up, all sides of family feel rejected. It’s a messy issue.

    • When my husband and I changed our last names to a new name, our families honestly didn’t have much of a problem. My family expected my name to change to his when I got married, anyway, so there was no big issue with them. My husband’s mom made a bit of a deal about it, but IMHO she didn’t actually seem that upset, and was more just offended on principle. And she got over it really quickly. I think once his parents understood that his gigantacularly long hyphenated last name–which they gave him–was kinda unavoidably NOT happening, it became a non issue.

  11. My husband has no contact with his father, and as such didn’t want to pass on the family last name to our son. So, our son has my last name. Eventually, my husband will as well – it’s just a matter of filling out the paperwork.

  12. We had the same problem; I have kept my surname while my husband has kept his. Both our surnames are long and double barreling was out of the question, so we created a brand new name for our daughter which comprises the first part of my surname with the last part of my partner’s. It works well and sounds nice and the meaning of my surname isn’t lost

    • we are doing this, too. 😀

      both of us have strong professional attachments to our last names (and i refuse just to take his for cultural/traditional/whatever reasons.) we have made up a last name for our potential children combining three letters from his last name and three letters from my last name. we both have some irish in our heritage and the made-up name is actually an irish surname, so, bonus! anyway, we each legally are changing our names to include this new name as a 2nd middle name. that way we have a “family” name each one of us has in there somewhere, and it will be the surname of our children.

  13. The only thing i could think of, is how the siblings might feel about sharing different last names? I did have a friend in school with a different last name as her brother, and she changed it (it was her dad’s last name and parents divorced) because she wanted to have the same last name as her brother. I wonder, now, how her mom feels about that!

    • My older brother and I have different last names, and I’ve never blinked an eye at it. Then again, we are “half” siblings (share the same father, different mothers), so maybe it’s not the same situation.

      • My parents have been together 30 years but never married. When I came along, they decided to give me my mum’s surname and when my brother came along 8 years later, they give him my dad’s surname.

        It’s pretty cool I think, because it’s totally equal now. The only irritating thing about it is due to the large age gap between me and my brother and the fact we have different surnames (not to mention our difference in colouring; he’s blonde, I’m brunette!), people assume we’re step-siblings instead of real siblings. I’m like, “Err no, there’s no-one in the WORLD more biologically related to me than my little broski!”

        Hope this has helped a little 😛

      • That’s interesting Cortney. My (technically) half brother and I had the same last name most of our lives (my bio dad adopted him, then our parents divorced and mom went back to maiden name). He changed it to my mom’s maiden name in his teens. It devastated me at the time. I think every kid and every family is different so it is sort of impossible to predict how the kids may feel about it someday – although definitely something to think about!

  14. My husband had a long, confusing hyphenated last name before we got married. I had a short simple last name that I wouldn’t have minded keeping, and he wouldn’t have minded changing his name to mine either.

    But, after talking about it a lot, we realized that what we were really talking about here was a name that helped express who we are as a couple and (someday) as a family. And that had nothing to do with my last name either.

    So we made up a new name. And we’ll be passing it on to our kids.

  15. I haven’t noticed anyone say ‘merge last names’ on here. My hubby and I haven’t completely gone all the way with it yet, but have been spending some months getting used to the sound of our surnames merged to make a new family name. We’ll make it legal someday soon. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but it makes it uniquely your own family.

  16. My last name starts with a B, so when we had to sit alphabetically in school I always had to be in the front row… which I didn’t like. My sig others last name starts with a P, the middle of the alphabet = middle of the room. So for a while I thought, when we have a kid, it can have his last name.
    Then I heard that sometime issues arise during international travel if a child’s last name does not match the adult they travel with and we love to travel. So now I think we’ll do his last name followed by mine, maybe with a hyphen, just to have the legal documents work.

    My aunt and uncle hyphenated their kids last names and by college each kid just started using one.

    • My last name also starts with a B and I never experienced that sitting at the front of the room thing. However, I did experience handing back papers in huge classes at University, and having a B last name makes that so much easier! I can’t even count the amount of the times I got to leave class before most other people because I got my paper back so fast.

      So I recommend the B name first. =)

    • My mother has a different surname to me, and we’ve gone on countless international flights and never had any troubles like ‘are you kidnapping this child’ or anything.

  17. I like the Icelandic form of last names, where your last name is not the same as either of your parents, but tells people who your parents are: ie. if your dad is named Jón, and you are his daughter, your last name would be Jónsdóttir. In English, literally John’s Daughter. Traditionally, only your dad’s name would be used, but now some Icelanders are using their mother’s name instead, or both (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_name). I prefer last names that tell who both parents are. Something like Katrin Helgasdottir Paulosdottir, or Katrin Helgas’N’Paulosdottir could possibly work for my family!

  18. We have a generation old tradition in Québec of hyphinating last names. Sometimes the result is a little awckward or long, for example “Desormaux-Desautels” which is, well, awckward and long!! Many women and couples feel that the principle of giving both names to their children is more important than how nice it sounds.

    I think that what set the foundations for this tradition is that women cannot legally take their husband’s name when getting married unless they go through the painful and expensive regular name change process. This is not the case in the rest of Canada and this law only came into effect in the beguining of the 80’s in a feminist bundle of changes. This means virtually everyone keeps their own name after getting married in Québec.

    There is somewhat of a backlash in this tradition as many people do find it long and not so pretty to hyphenate. Another critique has been that although it’s real nice to give both names, both cannot be passed on to the following generation because we can only legally have two last names. And in any case, who would seriously want their kid named Smith-Johnson-O’Farley-Finnigan ? 😀

    Sooo we hyphenated because we like this tradition (we had even talked about legally changing our names to take each others’ names as well when we got married but then decided that was too much money!!) and we both have short pretty names (Amyot-Fiocco).

    Choosing their order was a little more complicated, to the point that our daughter has the names in the opposite order in her hospital records when we checked in for the birth.

    I have a teacher who created a last name for her kids out of her husbands name and her own. For example, in our case it could be “Amyco” or “Fioyot”. You could check if that is possible in your state!

  19. My freshman year of high school French, our teacher was from Cameroon and told us how he had trouble sponsoring his brother for a student visa because they have different last names. I don’t know if it’s traditional for the whole country, but he said that siblings usually all had different last names, as the parents took the last name of a friend or relative they wanted to honor and gave their child that last name. Different countries have different name games.

    My girlfriend and I plan on both changing our last names to a different, shared last name if (hopefully when!) we get married. We both have difficult-to-pronounce-and-spell last names to which we’re not attached (and hyphenating them would result in a long, convoluted, frustrating name which would never fit on any form) and we would want to have all family members with the same last name.

    • I can’t speak about Cameroon, but in Rwanda, they have “last names” that aren’t really last names (they actually write that name first when you ask them to write their names, and all in capitals, which shows the Belgian influence! They also say them first if you ask them their name. I guess it’s not really a last name, but I think that it a Rwandan immigrated to Canada, they would pick that name as a last name). That’s their Kinyarwandan (local language) names. Their first name (which is written second but not all in caps) is a more western first name (French in the past, now often English). So a family would have no name in common.

      I think that’s pretty common around the world, so I’m surprised it caused immigration troubles!

  20. I’m brazilian and therefore very amused by this whole discussion. You see, all of us have a first name, sometimes a second name, then our surnames are made by the mother’s last name and father’s last name. No hiphenization. No big deal. People go informally by first name-last name that is the father’s last name but no need to cut out the mother’s name from the formal complete name.

      • I only know a little bit about European Spanish surnames, but it’s similar. Usually only the fathers’ names would be passed on. It goes something like [first name/s] [father’s name] [mother’s name].

        For example, if Pedro A-B married Maria C-D, neither would change their surname but if they had children they would be something like Anna A-C or Pablo A-C. If Anna A-C married Guillermo R-X, their children would be R-A, and so on.

        However, tradition’s changing a bit in that when it comes to choosing the childrens’ surname, they choose whichever order sounds nicer, or one parent’s name’s over the other’s, or even taking a previous last name. So Anna A-C and Guillermo R-X might decide on Fernando C-X or even Maria B-D.

        I wish we had this system in the UK, since it would open up a lot more options, but no such luck. We could do it if we liked, of course, but our particular combination sounds far too long 🙁

  21. I’m running into a similar problem, but mine is that I don’t want either name. My fiance has his biological father’s surname (F), but wants to change it to his maternal grandfather’s surname (W), and wants me and his 2yo son [who has a different surname because, long story short, his deadbeat mother thought he was another guy’s] to change our surnames to W. I really don’t like W because it’s too plain and sharp; I’d rather something a little more traditionally Irish since we both are Irish. My surname (L) is Irish, but I’ve never been that fond of it. But I can’t seem to sway fiance to look at other options.

    Personally, if you and husband are perfectly happy giving the second child your surname, then go for it. You’re already going the “offbeat” path by keeping your surname after marriage, so why let anyone else influence your decision with your children? Just explain to both of your families, if they bring it up, that by doing this you and your husband are helping to save both family names because they both mean so much to you two.

  22. I have 3 brothers that share my last name and no cousins. My brothers are in thier 40s, two are with women who can not have kids, and the third doesn’t seem to be even close to finding the one plus he has a problem with our father. My sisters are done having kids so I am the only one who can continue our name. My darling man, however, wants to give our kids his name even with his brother having two boys. In this situation it is more important to him than me so I’ll just hope one of my brothers comes thru.
    A name problem I have is that if I take my darling man’s name I will have the same name (first, middle, last and same spelling) as his grandmother. My solution is since my current name is still important to my identity I will move it to be a second middle name. Most forms only ask for a middle initial so this way it will be legally easy to use and it’s still a part of me. This would work well for children if you like more traditional middle names and you don’t want a long last name.

  23. I am pregnant, and my family is all girls and my husband’s all boys (ALL OF THEM.) If the baby is a boy, it gets my last name, and if it’s a girl it gets his, and then the second will get the other parent’s last name. I would describe the reaction to this idea from friends and family to be violently negative. It really pisses people off. Like, REALLY. But, the interesting thing is that not once has that made me think that we should change our minds. Oh well. We figure that later on people will think our kids are from previous marriages, which is pretty common, and anyway later on they’ll want to pretend that they’re not related, and we’ll have made it easier. Sigh.

  24. If it helps- I have a different last name than my (same-parents) brother, and it has never been an issue. Sure we have to explain why every now and again, but it isn’t something that ever bothered either of us. I think giving your second baby your last name would be awesome. My brother has my dads last name and I have my moms. I love it.

  25. I grew up with a hyphenated last name, Momsname-Dadsname. I had no problems with it, so for those of you considering hyphenating–go for it! It works fine.

    I kept my name when I married.

    We are going to give my son my husband’s name. I didn’t want to do a triple hyphenation, and leaving one of my parent’s names out of the hyphenation seemed to sort of miss the point.

    Luckily, I grew up with a name that was different from either of my parent’s names, and I know that it’s not going to be a problem that I have a different last name from my son.

    My husband’s cousin and her husband have two sons, and they gave their first son her name and their second son his name. That’s another workable option.

    I have a friend from a big blended family. There were quite a few parents involved:
    Mom1 and Dad1
    Dad2 and Mom2
    Upon Dad1’s death and Dad2 and Mom2’s divorce, Dad2 married Mom1. They ended up with five children:
    Daughter1, Dad2’s last name
    Son1, Dad1’s last name
    Son2, Dad1’s last name
    Daughter2, Mom1’s last name
    Daughter3, Mom2’s last name

    The kids just… rolled with it! They are one of the closest families I know, and it didn’t matter what their names were.

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