While I always knew the politics of baby naming was a volatile sport, I didn’t fully understand how true that was until we shared our naming decisions with others.
When I found out about my pregnancy in November—three months into what I like to call “the incubation”—my partner and I were firm on two things:
One, we’re screwed.
Two, we’re hyphenating our child’s last name.
To say the pregnancy was unplanned would be an understatement. For years, we both lived under the belief that I probably couldn’t get pregnant. I feared infertility based on my polycystic ovary syndrome and our history of coital accidents sans baby as end result. As much as we wanted a child, we both were under the impression that we would never be parents because that was just our lives.
So finding out we are going to welcome a miniature version of the two us threw us for a loop. We were only back in New York City for five months at that point. I was only three months into grad school. A child wasn’t in the cards for our “Year of Change.” Not that we mind. We’re beyond excited. But, hell, are we floundering in the water.
Still, for as much uncertainty as Lil’ Peanut represents, his name was never a question. My partner and I decided on potential baby names a couple of years ago during one of our talks about our hypothetical family. And although the combination of our son’s first and middle names is a slight variation of that choice, his last name was always going to be a hyphenation of our identities.
But people seem to have a problem with that.
There is no doubt that we live in a world where the expectation is all children will bear the patriarch’s surname. It’s a long-standing tradition, albeit archaic, that my partner and I both adhere to involuntarily. And if you skew that tradition, people will often regard you disapprovingly. They will lecture you about how you are destroying the very fabric of lineage.
Just ask Molly Caro May about what happened when she gave her daughter her last name.
For my partner, the experience explaining why we’ve chosen to hyphenate our son’s last name has fallen along the same lines. The people he’s told just can’t understand why he wouldn’t want his son to be a Daugherty only—why he isn’t “being a man” by giving his son “the man’s name.” Doesn’t my partner know that all kids must carry on their father’s legacy?
Doesn’t he know that all kids are their father’s property?
Worst yet, they blame me. Apparently I have forced my partner into agreeing to join our last names for our child’s surname. Apparently I have gleefully emasculated him in order to exact my feminist agenda of ancestral visibility.
Because there’s no way a man would ever hyphenate his kid’s last name unless a woman threw a tantrum to get her way—at least that’s the story they tell him as he fights to explain otherwise.
Our son’s surname was a joint choice—and, if anything, my partner’s very logical demand. We want our son to share our identities because he is, after all, a combination of the two—one part Scaccia, one part Daugherty. He is no more my partner than he is me and vice versa. And we want his surname to reflect that biological and cultural makeup, even if, as May puts it in her piece for The Hairpin, my surname ends up tucked away at the front.
Our son, with his unisex first name, will be a Scaccia-Daugherty. And that’s something we’re damn proud of.
But then there’s also the matter of generational sustainability. What will our son do if he has a child with a partner who’s equally hyphenated? Whose surname will they pick? Will they come up a hybrid or something completely different? Will they recall tradition or defy it?
Will our son’s hyphenated last name die in the trenches of adulthood or will it become the appellation of a dynasty?
Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow asked variations of these questions in a 2011 New York Times article analyzing the longevity of hyphenated surnames. But it offered no definitive answer, no one solution. As to be expected, each couple approached the quandary of passing down a hyphenated surname differently, choosing a path that suited their lives and their lives only.
One couple stuck with tradition by passing down the father’s name, even though his name is unconventional. Another couple chose to carve their own path, combining two different hyphenated names into one. And another challenged the patriarchy by passing down the mother’s surname—a choice based on what’s easiest rather than what’s radical, but still nonetheless rebellious in the face of antiquated naming beliefs.
As for my partner and me, we wouldn’t hate if our son passed down our name, but we wouldn’t care if he didn’t. In the end, whether or not he wants his child to bear his surname is his and his partner’s choice.
While I always knew the politics of baby naming was a volatile sport, I didn’t fully understand how true that was until we shared our naming decisions with others. Everybody has a damn opinion on a child’s identity that will never have an impact on him or her whatsoever. Why? I can’t fathom other than for society’s ingrained belief that we actually have a say in other people’s lives.
If anything, our son is the only person who gets to praise or criticize our choice with any amount of weight. After all, he has to live with his hyphenated surname for the rest of his life—or until he turns the age where he can legally change it. And if he does, so be it.
Because his name is his name alone. And our choice is our choice alone.
Annamarya Scaccia is an independent journalist who has reported extensively on civil rights, domestic violence, sexual violence, reproductive and sexual health, public health, disability and LGBT issues among other rousing topics. Her work has appeared in the NY Daily News, Philadelphia Weekly and Philadelphia City Paper, and at RH Reality Check, Next City, Quest Magazine and The Raw Story. Annamarya was a 2011 Fellow for the Peter Jennings Project for Journalists and the Constitution, and is the author of the poetry and prose collection, Destiny for a Tragedy. Follow her on Twitter @annamarya_s.