His Last Name. Her Last Name.

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.

49 thoughts on “His Last Name. Her Last Name.

  1. We are talking about doing this with our kids. People think it is so cruel, and I think that having a 15 character hyphenated last name is cruel, so I’m not sure where I come down on it. Also, we don’t know if we’ll have a boy and a girl, so we can’t decide who gets what name based on gender. But my husband is the last of his line and I’m the last of mine, so we both want them to get carried on, and hyphenating can’t be the only answer.

    My parents hyphenated our names, and I did always like that it made me feel like my parents were equal parts of us – I guess I would feel concerned that if I had only one last name and my sister had the other, we would feel like we “belonged” to one parent or the other or like “Mom loves you best because she gave you her name” or something, but I dunno. I see all kinds of families these days, and last names just do not a family make.

    Jenna Reply:

    This is a good point about the kids feeling like they “belong” in some way because of the name (it’s a strange thing to say out loud but I understand the concept). Hopefully ours will get that we decided to do it because it’s a boy and a girl? I don’t think I would have even thought of doing a split with the last names if we had two boys.

    I am personally not a fan of hyphenation because I think it’s a one-generation solution. When Adam Smith-Jones and Molly Allen-Young get married what do they name their kids?

    Ellie Reply:

    If we both had hyphenated last names, I think we would just hyphenate and each keep one last name (perhaps girls keep their mothers and boys keep their father’s?); however, the problem really is when Molly Allen-Young marries Adam Smith, doesn’t want to give up her last name because that’s not how she was raised, and doesn’t want to just give the kids the name Smith, even though it’s so much easier. I know very few people with hyphenated last names who gave their kids hyphenated last names.

  2. I’m so glad to see you do this! I have often thought about giving my (future) daughters my last name and my (future) sons my husband’s last name (who is also Polish :)), but I was worried about social perceptions and confusion. Love that you have gone this route!

  3. This is such a great idea! My girls have my husband’s last name. I hyphenated our names, thinking that I would want to be referred to as his last name only to realize in the 5 years we’ve been married how important my last name is to me. Instead of introducing myself as Mrs. HisLastName, I introduce myself with the hyphenated name. Thankfully we both have short, easy to pronounce last names. :)

  4. Thank you for writing about this! I didn’t take my husband’s name when we got married, and we haven’t had kids yet, so we haven’t had to make the decision yet.
    I know my husband doesn’t want to hyphenate because he thinks it makes names too complicated or long or something (but what does he know, he doesn’t even have a middle name. Haha) I’m leaning towards our kids having his last name with mine as a second middle name, so they have my name but can be farther up in the alphabet. That was the one thing I didn’t like about my name when I was growing up. I don’t know, though.
    I’m always happy to hear what other people decide to do with this sort of thing.

    Jenna Reply:

    Ohhh that’s another thing I love about my last name, it usually works to my benefit to have a name that is first in the alphabet.

    Ellie Reply:

    I have a hyphenated last name and your husband is not wrong. It makes life extremely complicated. I also am not wild about giving my kids my husband’s last name because they will drop from D to T in the alphabet and that is a pretty far drop. But his name is much easier to spell, so it’s hard to know what to do.

  5. When I saw that you had given T2 your last name my heart sang because that is such a beautiful idea of sharing your family’s story.

    Our family as well as names that we pass down the line. The first born girl on my mother’s side always has the middle name Anne. So that’s my middle name and it’s Boo’s. Boo’s first name was my husband’s grandmother who had passed away shortly after we got married. My husband’s family has the tradition of carrying on the mother’s last name on in the form of a middle name. If we ever have a second child I think I’ll add my maiden name as a middle name for them. My dad never had a son from my mom and it’ll be a nice way of keeping the name alive.

  6. When I got married I had no desire to change my name. I actually had my husband write me an essay on why it was so important for him that I take him name. It isn’t that I don’t like his name but I simply did not want to part with mine without more reason behind it than “because that is how it is always done.” He did write me a wonderful essay and his reasons have made me proud to have his name. I did keep my maiden name as a middle name but that was for myself. It also meant that when we had our son I could not think of him having another last name. I think the essay was also good for my husband because it did really have him reflect on why me taking the name was so important to him. I know some people might think I was a jerk to do this to him but honestly I simply hated taking something simply because it was tradition. Now I know it is more about pride and creating a new journey with our name and writing a new history for the name with our family and that is certainly something I can stand behind and be proud to call myself.

    Jenna Reply:

    I love this Marisa! For me it’s not about who has what name, but about coming to a decision together. She takes hers, he takes his, they have different ones, they make up a new one together. All are awesome choices and when done together symbolize two people starting out in a life where they’re going to compromise and work together many, many times.

    Ellie Reply:

    Me taking his name was a nonstarter for us. I think an essay is the least of the hoops I would have made him jump through if he had really cared. I was raised in an area where women kept their last names, so I’m always shocked to meet men for whom it is a huge issue / possible deal breaker.

    I think there is a lot of value in having a family name. I just think it’s really dumb that we assume that it should be the man’s name that gets kept. However, with my 15 character last name, I really can’t demand my husband take it or that we give just my last names to my children.

    We didn’t really discuss the name change thing, because when I suggested he take mine, or hyphenate, he said, “I’m not asking you to do that, and I don’t think you should ask me.” Which seemed fair.

  7. My husband and I discussed this before we got married and since I really have no connect to my last name (my father’s who abandoned my sister and I) and we both didn’t like my husband’s last name because it always needed to be spelled out and is constantly mispronounced, we decided to both change our last name when we got married. Initially we tried combining them to make a last name, but we couldn’t find anything we like, so we just went back in his family tree (keeping with an Irish/British/Scottish heritage was important to him) and picked one we like. We ended up with his great-grandmother’s maiden name. It worked perfectly when we named our son because he has his great-grandfather’s (also his great-uncle and second cousin) first name, but with a different last name. Once we explain it to people, they seem to understand, and after 4 years of marriage my husband rarely gets asked about it. It’s pretty much a non-issue for me because everyone just assumes I took his last name.

    Jenna Reply:

    So interesting Brandy! Were you a little bit younger when you got married? I like the idea of the couple creating a new name (especially in your case when you had two obstacles you want to work around) but I do wonder if it would be difficult to manage when you have a professional career already established with a certain name.

    A lot of people actually think my name is Jenna Cole :). I’ll go to a wedding and they will talk to me as Mrs. Cole, which makes me laugh. I like the name so I don’t correct them unless it feels necessary.

    Ellie Reply:

    Everyone assumes my hyphenated last name is my husband’s name! Some of the judges call me Mrs. B and then are confused to why I don’t answer to it. So not only do they assume that I hyphenated when I got married, they assume I prefer to go by my spouse’s name!

    Brigid Reply:

    We did the same thing, choosing a new last name (that was a family name from his side). Otherwise I would have kept mine. We love our family name.

  8. I didn’t know you’d kept your maiden name when you married! I did too, and I’m surprised at how many women in our generation have taken their husband’s name.

    Our daughter has my husband’s last name and my grandmother’s name as a middle name. It’s a very boring, ho-hum American last name. Mine is not super unique, but it definitely WHO I AM, you know? It carries meaning for me and I just couldn’t give it up. Hopefully our daughter, regardless of a last name, will create the same kind of meaning from her father’s last name.

  9. LOVE this idea! Though it could make for tricky situations for those like my SIL who has had 4 daughters and no sons.

  10. I wish I had kept my maiden name only because it made my name really long. My first name is Jacqueline and my new last name has eight letters in it. It’s also a horribly common last name whereas other than family members I had never encountered another person with my maiden name. Now that it’s been a year since I made the change, I’m not even sure why I did it.

  11. I thought about doing this, but we had 3 boys, so I never got to make it real. I am the end of the line on my father’s last name.

  12. I kept my name, too, and hubby almost took mine (except that in Florida, you have to file for a legal name change and petition the court in order for a man to take his wife’s name – which I think is ridiculous!). We couldn’t afford to do that and didn’t have the time to contact the ACLU (even though California set precedent for the process to be the same for either sex to change their name), so he kept his, and I kept mine. We haven’t had kids yet, but this is one of the options we’ve considered, along with using his name as a second middle name. I think it’s really neat that you guys worked it out this way.

  13. Another idea for future parents: my mom kept her maiden name and so gave it to my brother and me as a second middle name. So I’m Anna Middle MomsLast DadsLast. Even though it would have been kind of cool to share a last name with my mom, I think it was easier to grow up as siblings with the same last name. But it was important to my mom that her last name was on my birth certificate (and my brother’s), and so I am proud to know that too.

    Rachel M. Reply:

    This is what I did too. Though I took my husband’s last name, because I wanted to, making my maiden name my second middle name. He took my maiden name as a second middle name, and then each kid has been named like this.

  14. Aren’t you glad your midwife asked you that question? It’s amazing how sometimes all it takes is a gentle little push to make you question your reasons for doing something. It sounds like you’ve been re-thinking everything these days. Good for you!

  15. I often regret taking my husband’s last name because it is SO long of a name and terrible to pronounce and spell (it’s Czech) so I completely feel you there. We always use my maiden name when doing any kind of reservation or name on a list (Doyle).

    Your post about giving T2 your last name gave me some thought though. I’m the very last of my family line of Doyles and truth be told, I almost wished I had a kid out of wedlock so I could pass on the family name. It’s kind of creepy being the last with the family name! I’m glad you’ve posted about it because it’s honestly something I’d never considered before.

  16. This is really interesting. It was and is super important for my husband and I to have the same name and those of our children. That’s just what we want. I am not hugely attached to my surname – my dad is one of 7 and there are many, many people passing on our name. It’s unusual in Australia/US but it’s about as common as ‘Smith’ in Sweden *shrug*. Also, despite being an incredibly vocal supporter (and at times, physical activist) for womens’ rights, I lean towards a relatively traditional model within my own life because that’s what works for me.

    I have to say the paperwork side of changing my name has been the biggest hurdle. Now that we are married, I have done it for informal stuff but am leaving the formal changes (banking, insurance, business) until I am back home to visit as changing it from here requires 2 statutory declarations and a mountain of paperwork – then after that I have to let social security, immigration and a bunch of other people know too, so we think my name won’t be formally changed until conditions are lifted on my green card in 2015.

    I think it’s great that you’ve come to a decision that works for you! I also think it’s fabulous that you don’t judge those women who are choosing to take a more traditional path than your own. I have really struggled with the number of women who go ‘she’s a housewife, she’s taking her husband’s name, clearly she’s just lazy/entitled/wants to be taken care of/isn’t a feminist’ :(

  17. The one thing I don’t get is your reference to your “journey out of Mormonism.” What does that have to do with anything? Yes, Mormon culture is traditionalist, but the culture and beliefs don’t have all that much to do with each other (unfortunately – it would be much less confusing if the culture were erased). Are you just saying you were steeped in cultural Mormon thinking? Fearing that people would judge you for not following the traditional path?

    Mormons believe in equal partnerships between spouses. Even if the spouses often split up the work in traditional ways, it certainly isn’t a rule and I have met plenty of people in “nontraditional” Mormon homes with wonderful family relationships. People in the LDS Church are encouraged to seek personal revelation through the Holy Ghost in their decisions regarding family, work, education, anytime! We are also encouraged not to judge each other – which includes in personal and family choices.

    Again, the culture is to blame for judgementalism, not the doctrine which is clearly against it, as taught in all the holy scriptures.

    Jackie Reply:

    Do you think a religion has to own up to the culture it creates?

  18. I took my husband’s last name and was excited and eager to do so. I would have never wanted to do anything different because I really wanted to be united to him in that way. Also, I really disliked my last name due to derogatory things people had said to me in the past on why I had that last name (something to do with my ancestors being slave owners). So of course, there was no other thought for my kids to have anything other than our shared last name. I love that we all have the same last name as a family unit.

    Marissa C Reply:

    Same here. I like being cohesive as a family unit. That being said, I didn’t like my maiden name. It is a girl’s first name and led to never ending confusion. And I didn’t even have to move back in the alphabet.

  19. I’m confused. I see A as the last initial for the girls, and B for the boys…. where did Cole come from??

    (btw – love that yall found a naming convention that fits your fam!)

  20. I love that you did this with your daughter. My husband and I are expecting our first and this conversation is one that has started. I am the last in my line and my vey Italian traditional father requested that I keep my last name when I got married. He asked me this right before he passed away and I knew it was important to him to have our name live on. Husband was super supportive of this and has even suggested doing the same as what you and TH have done. How do you plan on explaining the different last names to the kids when they ask? I understand your reason and completely support it- but young children don’t always have the level of comprehension adults do. Also, as we are not sure what we are having yet, would you have still considered this if T1 had been a girl?

    Jenna Reply:

    I’m hoping that if it isn’t an issue for us, it won’t be an issue for them. I think it’s highly likely that they will be in environments with divorced parents and gay parents and adoptive parents and “typical American” parents and I hope they learn that there are lots of great ways to do something. There are many ways in which parenting is a grand experiment. We start with great expectations and adjust from there.

    Jenna Reply:

    Oh and regarding whether we would have done something similar if our first was a girl, maybe. Although I like the idea of our girls getting their mother’s name and the boys their father’s name, I also have no problem with the reverse. It’s possible that we would have had a girl first, experienced a big Awakening in many areas, and I would have said that it was important to me to keep the Andersen name running through my line. The idea doesn’t bother me, I just don’t know if I/we would have thought of it.

  21. It’s funny, because this kind of offends me as a feminist. It’s not the idea, rather the way it’s applied. To have daughters have your last name and sons take your husbands almost creates the perspective that men and women are separate teams, that you and your husband are two separate forces and that those forces are defined by gender. You’re almost creating a gender distinction in your home by having different last names for the boys vs girls. I also wonder if down the road it will cause emotional stress for the kids to wonder why they were given the last name that they were- if they will feel aligned more to one parent ‘team’ than the other. I completely understand that all of this is in the context of a lot of personal changes, and I really respect women who hold on to their own family names when it is meaningful for them. I’m curious what you’ve read about this and if you have any links to share. Would love to learn more.

  22. Many cultures around the world do things this way. In fact, in many cultures the children take their mothers name or the woman doesnt change her name on marriage. I work in a school serving a highly diverse community and it is very unusual for the kids to have matching surnames. Just means that I have to check my records before meetings or making phone calls to make sure I use the correct name rather than calling Mrs Hassan Mrs Ali just cos her son is Ahmed Ali (fake names of course!!)

    My brother in law actually took on our surname when he married my sister, because he said he felt closer to our dad (who had passed away 3 months before they got engaged) than to his own father who had walked out on them when he was 10 and only popped back into his life occasionally as he grew up.

  23. What a great idea! My husband & I struggled with me changing my name when we were married. He was absolutely open to whatever I decided, but he also wasn’t quite comfortable with us not having the same name if we were to have children. Ultimately, I decided not to change it and he actually took my last name. The deciding factor was how we would be referred to formally going forward – Mr & Mrs Husband’s-first-name Husband’s-last-name. Where was I in that equation? I really felt like I lost my identity and he agreed. By taking my last name, we were able to have equal “stakeholdership” in the name. Your post has now made me wonder that if we contemplated giving our children different names, maybe we would have made a different decision!

  24. It’s such a beautiful thing to ponder on. I got married 8 months ago and still haven’t decided what to do with names. Because my father abused me I changed my name when I was in my twenties. It was a long and costly process. The rule in Holland is that one can change her name to either her mother’s maiden name (which is Bus and who wants that?) or make up a name. In the latter, the point is that you can only take a name that is non existent in the country and you need to be able to pronounced it in Dutch. I was tricky… I choose HOPE with sounds a little different in Dutch but could be done, and for that reason it was also not a name that existed in Holland. I wanted HOPE because it would tell the story of my life: to have hope in hopeless times. This name was granted officially by the District Attorney and our Queen and my birth certificate was changed. So it has a lot of meaning obviously. I was thinking I would love to take on my husbands name. I have never belonged and to me, taking his name means I belong and finally have a person to call family. But… do i hyphen? Do I use both names which makes my name incredibly long? Do I use Hope as a middle name though it will be my 2nd middle name, I use my middle name Christine in everything I do and sign. …Not even to begin about names for our children. Both my husband and me would love to pass on our names. A friend of mine told me the other day that she could see us naming a daughter Hope as a middle name, but would a boy like to live with that name? There is so much to consider. Anyone have any suggestions?

    Jenna Reply:

    This is a really beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing! So you are the only person in the entire country with the last name Hope? Wow!

    I like the symbolism found in you taking his name, in joining yourself to a new family after you’ve had such a hard time with your own past.

    What if you take his name, and then all of your children have the middle name Hope? If the boys feel like it’s too feminine they can just use the letter H when they share their full name.

    lala Reply:

    I love your story too. If you have sons, I don’t think Hope sounds too feminine–it immediately made me think of John Hope Franklin:

  25. I just have to say I’m glad you didn’t hyphenate – I’m hyphenated (as you know) and I HATE it. Especially with technology – the hyphen is never recognized by computers. And some people don’t know what it is (seriously, some wrote ‘ for a hyphen the other day.) My airline milage accounts are hyphenated, but the airlines sometimes won’t let me hyphenate and when I try to use my milage account, they say I am TWO different people! ;)

  26. This is a very interesting topic. I kept my maiden name for a year after getting married, and then became estranged from my father and decided that taking my husband’s name would be a nice change – his family is amazing. In my family, the tradition is to make the mother’s maiden name your child’s middle name. I had a very strong connection to my name and thought I would continue this, and now I’m not so sure. Had I had a better relationship with my father, I may have considered doing something similar to you.
    I’ve also been slightly pressured to use my husband’s family’s women’s middle name. I love the name, but it’s a tradition carried through the women on his side, not the men. Their middle names happen to be Marie ;-)

  27. In Belgium it is legally impossible to change your name to your husband’s after marriage. Every woman keeps her maiden name. This isn’t a new thing at all and goes back generations. Children take on their dad’s name. So I have always had a different name than my mom and that has never posed an issue because it’s our culture and is the same for everyone else. I don’t have my husband’s last name and no one here thinks anything of it. Our future children won’t share my name but their dad’s name and again no biggie, since it’s our culture here.

    On the other hand for my husband, who’s South African, it is strange that I don’t share his last name since he grew up in a country where women take on their husband’s last name.

    I had a friend in law school who is from Rwanda. He has 4 siblings and they were each given different last names at birth. Apparently that was their culture.

    This is a very interesting discussion seeing how our minds are so determined by the culture we know.

    Jenna Reply:

    I love hearing how other cultures approach this! The Rwandan tradition is fascinating. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_name#Burundi.2FRwanda

    That entire Wikipedia page is really interesting!

  28. This sounds like a very thoughtful arrangement for your family. It’s great that you have two children, so there is an equal number for each parent’s name.

    I have friends who created a combined last name when they got married (without hyphenations), so their children have both last names as well. Also, my partner is Latino and has shared that in most Hispanic cultures, women do not change their names in marriage. Any children take both the father’s last name and then the mother’s name after. For example, if Juan Garcia Menendez and Milagros Sanchez Lopez have a child together, its name could be Eva Garcia Sanchez (legal name Eva Garcia). I like this cultural system, not only because women’s names do not change according to marriage status, but also because it fosters a connection to both sides of a child’s family tree.

  29. This is a very sweet idea. :) I didn’t take my husband’s last name when we got married…I told him I would revisit the idea if we had kids. I don’t mind people calling me Mrs. HisLastName (although sometimes I feel like that refers to his mom, not me, lol), but I haven’t legally changed it. All my life though, I’ve thought about how my father had 4 girls, and no sons to carry his name. Even if we gave our future daughter my last name, she would eventually get married and potentially take her husband’s last name. But I guess, it’s impossible to hold onto something forever… :T

  30. I stumbled across this and to see people are doing other last name conventions makes me so happy!

    My fiancé doesn’t want to have us to have differing names from our future children and the option you have done has been one that I have presented to his family… But they just aren’t buying it. They say the only option is for my fiancé to keep his last name and have all the children with that last name, and that I can do whatever I want to with my name.

    My fiancé and I are actually looking into mashing up our two last names to create a new last name based on the beginning of mine and end of his. We thought of hyphenated but it would be 18 letters long so a mashup is much shorter and actually sounds pretty cool.

    Jenna Reply:

    My husband’s last name is difficult enough for my American-English speaking son that we sort of wish he had my last name as well! I don’t know that we will change it, but it’s nice having really easy-going in-laws who aren’t going to get worked up about that sort of thing.

Comments are closed.