Background: My name is Scott, and I live in the United States, specifically in rural Appalachia. I work as a freelance musician part-time (some of it from home, and some of it traveling around the country), but mostly I’m an at-home dad to my two young daughters. I have been a feminist ever since I learned what that meant in college, but once I started staying home with my girls and butting heads with countless gender biases, my feminism became much stronger.
My Story: When my wife and I got engaged, we also engaged in a long discussion about names. We both really liked the idea of changing our names somehow, to reflect that marriage was joining our families together, and that our identities were merging in a formal way. And we were both very insistent that whatever change we made had to be the same for both of us. The whole idea of marriage, to me, is the joining of two people into an equal partnership through life, and it seemed very against our beliefs to start that equal partnership with one partner “winning” the name battle. So we pondered our options:
Hyphenation? It’s the most widely-accepted egalitarian solution, but I don’t love it. Our last names would make a very ponderous hyphenated name. And we knew we wanted to have children, and hyphenation felt like passing the buck to our kids, since a hyphenated child getting married couldn’t practically make a three-hyphen or four-hyphen last name.
New last name? We spent a while trying to come up with some composite of our last names that would work as a last name, or maybe even a new last name that we both just loved. But we really felt like our family names meant something, and had a lot of history to them. I didn’t want to just end that. Plus, both my wife and I have publications (and in my case audio recordings) with our names on them out in the world, and it seemed like a new last name could confuse people.
So we just kept our last names as they were. But, we decided that we would both take on the other’s last name as a second middle name, a way of including the other’s name in our name without altering our basic name as it was. This has been a great solution, in that neither of us fundamentally had to change our name (which I like as a metaphor for marriage; the idea is not to change yourself, but to let your partner into your life).
The Kids: This is where things get a little complicated. Keeping our names was easy. Figuring out what name to give our children was a whole second set of issues. Again, we felt very strongly that whatever solution we came to should be egalitarian. But how? Hyphenation, as I said before, felt like passing the problem on. And everyone just assumed we’d have the kids take my name, as that seems to be the standard solution to the “parents have two last names” issue. But we just didn’t like what that implies about my family vs. hers.
So we alternated! Our first daughter has my last name (and my wife’s last name as a middle name) and our second daughter has my wife’s last name (and my last name as a middle name). This feels very good to us in terms of egalitarianism, feminism, keeping both our families’ names involved, and so on. But of course there were objections.
People said, “But they won’t have the same last name! How will people know they’re sisters?” This seems a little outdated to me. There are so many families out there who have kids with different last names for various reasons, and when I talked to schoolteacher friends, they confirmed that it’s really not uncommon.
People said, “But won’t your kids be confused, and have a lot of questions?” And I thought the same thing for a little while. But I soon flipped the other way, thanks to some helpful conversations with my wife. Will our kids have questions? Yes, they certainly will. And I will have a lot of explaining to do, just as I’ve done a lot of explaining in this post. And the very act of explaining why we made these choices, why we wanted an egalitarian solution, why we wanted our girls to have both of our families’ names, and why their names are so complicated…these are wonderful conversations to have with our kids. Sitting down to help our children understand why we made these decisions will add SO much to their feelings about their names, and so much to their understanding of our egalitarian family.
Scott is a part-time freelance musician and at-home married dad to two daughters in Appalachia. This post is part of The Last Name Project, a joint series by from two to one and The Feminist Mystique profiling a diverse set of individuals who are single, engaged, and married about how and why they decided on their last names. The goal of the project is to explore the patriarchal tradition of taking your husband’s last name and the tremendous amount of symbolism and meaning choices about last names still have for women, their partners, and society. If you are interested in participating in the series, email Danielle at danielle [at] fromtwotoone [dot] com or Shannon at hill [dot] shannonp [at] gmail [dot] com.