When my first daughter was born in May, there were all sorts of things my wife Melanie and I had to decide: At home or in the hospital? Down the chute or via the sunroof? Cloth or disposable? Breast or bottle?
None of these were simple choices, and we were open to arguments on both sides. But one decision was easy for both of us—our baby would take on my wife’s family name, not mine.
While we have defied one convention in this naming decision, we hope to create a new one.
Melanie and I have a very equal relationship. From finances to housework to decision-making, the two of us each enjoy equal benefits, and bear equal responsibilities. So when we got married in 2014, it seemed natural to us that we would retain our existing family names rather than have one of us relinquish our name.
(It was, perhaps, a reflection of the fact we were both in our 30s and had established independent lives, with our own names, when we got married.)
For us, the tradition of a woman taking on her husband’s name had a faint hint of possessiveness that was out of tune with our desire for individual identities. It also put a partner in an awkward position if the relationship were to dissolve and they were left with a family name for a family of which they are no longer a part. While our relationship was strong then and remains so, you never know what the future will bring. So what name to give to children?
One option was a hybrid name that combines parts or all of the parents’ names into a new name, whether as a portmanteau or a double-barreled name. But this relies on the good fortune of names that work well together, which was not the case in our situation. It could also be difficult to perpetuate across future generations without names becoming long and unwieldy.
I know some other families that have done it this way, but it wasn’t right for us. We needed another approach. We had long been fond of the idea of children taking on the family name of their same-gendered parent, so a daughter takes on the family name of her mother and a son takes on the family name of his father.
This approach is a more equal one, giving both parents a chance to pass on their name and not privileging one parent over the other as the head of the household. So once we found out we were having a girl, it was an easy decision to follow the approach we had agreed to.
As the parent whose name would not be borne by his child, I was totally relaxed about the decision. The pride I will take in my daughter in the years ahead will come from her personality and her accomplishments, not specifically from her family name.
Despite much progress being made in confronting the sexism of everyday life, from the workplace to the home to the public arena, many people remain reluctant to grapple with the chauvinism inherent in the naming tradition of our children. Many men, even those who consider themselves progressive on social issues and those whose wives have kept their own family names, are in favor of their children to taking on their own family name.