The Last Word on Last Names
You’ve spent hours poring over baby name books, making lists, and trying out first and middle names to see how they sound. But what about your baby’s last name? Times are changing, and you have more choices than you may realize.
There are a lot of options available to you that you might never have considered when it comes to your child’s full name. Most babies are given their fathers’ last names because it’s the norm in our society, but did you know that you’re under no obligation to use that name? There are many choices that might work for you and your family.
Who Gets to Pick?
When parents are married, they usually decide together about what last name their baby will have, but when the parents are not married, there can be some disagreement. In most states there are no rules about this, though in Florida the baby of disagreeing parents receives both parents’ names hyphenated, in alphabetical order. If you and your partner are unmarried, the mother is usually the one who has final say about the last name. But when you’re married, it’s a decision you need to come to together and you’re not obligated to use any specific last name for your baby and can even make one up if you want.
Using Mom’s Name
Many parents choose to give their child the mother’s last name. South Portland, Maine, couple Elizabeth Edwardsen and Tim Beidel decided to give their daughter Harriet her mom’s last name. “I didn’t have any relatives left named Edwardsen,” says Edwardsen. “I also thought it would give her an early dose of feminism to be breaking away from the whole paternal name tradition. My husband agreed mostly because he has to spell his name every time he says it to anyone, and his name is routinely mispronounced. Harriet’s middle name, Lilah, was the name of her paternal great-grandmother. I guess I hoped that would make his parents feel a little bit better about the fact that their name wasn’t going on the new baby!”
While the decision was the right one for her, Edwardsen wasn’t fully prepared for the confusion it would cause. “[Harriet's] classmates’ parents sometimes think Tim is not her father. I’ve been asked more than once if he adopted her. Also we confused the census person who called back twice to make sure she wasn’t adopted by Tim. Every once in a while we run into some person who is obviously offended by the fact that we did this, like we’ve violated an important rule.”
Some parents choose to carry on the mother’s last name as the child’s first or middle name. Cathy Burke Ondrak of Centennial, Colorado, is pregnant and tentatively plans to give her baby the first name Burke. “I had a really hard time changing my name when I got married,” she says. But the biggest reason for the choice is her father. “He had no boys, so his name will not be carried on. I think it is a great way to honor him and continue to remember him.”
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