kids

"My son wants the same surname as me, but I don't want him to have it."

“Mum, can I change my name? Can I have your surname? I really want to be a Vnuk. Please.”

That was what my son asked me last night. He’s six.

I didn’t take on my husband’s surname when I got married. Never considered it. I’m from a family of feminist women, and none of us changed our surnames when we got married, although we had a pretty strong incentive to.

I mean, who wants to be lumbered with a name like Vnuk all their lives?

Growing up in 1970s white-bread-with-fritz-and-sauce Adelaide, Vnuk was definitely weird. We were the only Vnuks in South Australia, and one of only two Vnuk families in Australia. If anyone ever said to me, “Are you related to…?” the answer was always, “Yes.”

Anyone who grew up with a weird surname knows what it’s like. You come to dread that moment when someone sitting behind a desk asks for your full name.

“Vnuk,” you say. “V-N-U-K.” (Okay, I’ve made it as easy for you as possible. Please just write it down.)

“V-E-N?”

“No, just V-N. V-N-U-K.” (It’s my name. Trust me, I know how to spell it.)

“Oh, that’s an unusual name.”

“Yes, yes, it is.” (I’m actually already aware of this, because I’ve had it all my life.)

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Surnames, handed down. Or not. Photo via iStock.

"Where's that one from?"

"Well, my father is Slovak." (Please don't make me go into the political history of central Europe in the 20th century.)

"Oh, from Slovenia?"

"No, from the former Czechoslovakia." (Seriously, I just want to get my library card/raffle ticket/pap smear and get out of here.)

And so it goes.

When you have a weird surname, you just accept that people will misspell it. I have a trophy engraved with the wrong spelling (and I only have, like, two trophies).

When you do come across someone who knows how to spell or pronounce your name without having to ask, you feel a sense of awe. This must be a truly well-travelled, highly educated person. Legend.

As a kid, I hated having a weird surname. I dreamed of changing it. I even had a new one picked out: Forester. Very Anglo. I didn't feel Slovak, because I'd never been to the country and didn't speak the language, so I felt like my surname misrepresented me. That was another reason I didn't like it.

But as an adult, I never seriously considered changing my name. That would be like me deciding to have a nose job because my nose is slightly too long. Why would you change something that's always been a part of you, when there's nothing majorly wrong with it?

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"I love you, that's why I'm not giving you my surname." Photo via iStock.

I married a man with an Anglo surname and didn't even feel tempted to take on his. (If he'd been a Forester, maybe.)

When we had our first child, I didn't hesitate. Father's surname, because it's Anglo. Simpler to spell and pronounce. Probably an advantage in life.

I heard women talk about taking their husband's surname because they wanted everyone in the family to have the same name, but that wasn't a concern for me. I didn't need a name to show that my daughter was mine.

When we had our second child, I did hesitate. One with my husband's surname, one with mine? That would be fair. My husband didn't mind the idea. But, remembering my childhood, I couldn't inflict a weird surname on my son.

Now my son is asking to be a Vnuk. It's probably just a phase he's going through, because he's started noticing things like surnames. But I never expected it. I never expected he would be the one who wanted the two of us to have the same name.

The fact is, when I really think about it, having a weird surname isn't so weird anymore. I don't live in 1970s Adelaide. Nobody does.

At the school my son goes to, more than 90 per cent of kids are from a non-English-speaking background. As a Vnuk, his name would blend right in.

When I really think about it, I don't have many of those awkward conversations with people about my surname anymore. Maybe I can stop hating it. My son likes it. Maybe it is kind of cool, in its own weird way.

Maybe, if this isn't a phase and my son still wants my surname in a few years' time, I'll change it for him.