Throughout my pregnancy we spent hours talking about first and middle names for our second child. We didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl, so we discussed both male and female combinations that we liked. Our criteria for first names was the same as before (minus my thoughts about a theme) and I wanted a family name for the middle name (T1′s middle name is my FIL’s first name). About an hour after I gave birth to our baby girl the midwife asked if T2 was going to take my last name or That Husband’s. We both laughed because we had never considered anything other than the American standard, children take husband’s last name. And so on all the paperwork filled out post-birth the midwife used TH’s last name.
When giving birth in a hospital in the US, the birth certification process is streamlined and under normal circumstances it’s all taken care of by the time you are discharged. Having a home birth means that the parents have to go into the local municipal office with a stack of paperwork and apply for a birth certificate. After a few weeks of procrastination we were preparing for our appointment when I thought back on what the midwife had asked and realized “I want her to have my last name.” I have had a different name from my husband for almost 5 years now, and so far it hasn’t caused any problems. I’ve had a different last name than my son for 3 years, and that hasn’t been an issue either (even with multiple trips out of the country and back). But most of the males I know would not even consider such a thing with their own children. I was pleased, and not very surprised, when That Husband immediately agreed that it was a great idea for our daughter to take the last name Andersen.
That Husband’s name is a Polish one that is difficult for Americans to pronounce and often requires a few rounds of spelling before people get it right. (When we make reservations as a couple we always use either my first or last name, much easier that way.) A few people have asked if we have considered switching T1′s name to Andersen as well, but he is the last male in his line and I think it is important that he keep it. My ideas and beliefs about feminism have shifted along with my journey out of Mormonism and I see this is an opportunity to convey an important message to both of our children*. We, their parents, are equal partners in the home**. We try to make our decisions based on rationale, life experience, and goodness. Sometimes the way things have always been done is not the best way. I would be thrilled if each of them continued the tradition of giving the male the father’s last name and the females the mother’s last name if they have children of their own one day.
The birth certificate has been finalized and it is official. Our initials are S.B., J.A., P.B., and M.A. I love that my son shares that special part of his heritage with his father, and that my daughter shares that part of mine with me.
*If you’re struggling with my open acknowledgement of the ways I am trying to convey meaning using my child’s name, I suggest this Freakonomics episode. In particular, the section with Eric Oliver.
**This statement is not imply that everyone who uses the father’s last name for their children is part of an unequal relationship or that the children of those families will come away believing that. Everyone has different methods for conveying positive messages to their children, and this is one of our methods. There is no one right way to raise good kids.