What’s in a name?

When I was pregnant with Anya, one of the discussions we had was what last name to give her. R and I are not married, so we (obviously) have different last names. Which to use? It seems to me that typically the father’s name is used if the couple plans to stay together, and the mother’s is used if they don’t. (Generally speaking, of course. There are always exceptions.) But that didn’t work for me. Because R and I are in a committed relationship, but marriage isn’t on our immediate radar, and I did not want Anya to have a different last name than I do.

I’ve divorced, with all the headaches that brings for women who change their names when they marry and then change them back. Also, I have over 20 years of professional experience with my last name. So I have no intention of just chucking my name and replacing it with R’s when we do get married. I want to acknowledge that we’re connected, though, so I plan on adding his name to mine. Not hyphenated, because I’ve read that you can legally use either name if you don’t hyphenate, and I haven’t quite decided if I want to change my name professionally. (Twenty years, people!) And, for added fun, I plan on putting his name before mine, because it sounds better that way. So that’s the last name we gave Anya, and later Kai. (Okay, it’s the last name gave them; R obviously wasn’t as invested in the matter as I am.)

It’s that last part that throws people — the fact that his name comes before mine. Because that’s not how such names are typically arranged; normally it’s Mother Father, not Father Mother. It just does not compute.*

To add to the confusion, his last name can also be a unisex first name. So when I tell people one of the kids’ names, they always think R’s last name is a middle name. That doesn’t bother me, because my name is still in there. But it bugs me when they leave my name off. I get all “Hey, they’re my kids, too!”

And then I realize just how much of a feminist I have become.

Just as I don’t want my name to become subsumed in his when we marry, nor do I want my kids to have a last name that doesn’t include mine. They are half mine; they should have my name, as well.

Many societies do this; it’s not just me being bullheaded. I just don’t happen to live in a society that recognizes the matrilineal line.

Look at that — spellcheck doesn’t even recognize the word matrilineal.

Even though giving the kids both of our names makes their full names quite long (you will never hear me yell out either child’s first, middle, and last name at a playground, because who has that kind of time?), I am glad we named them as we did. Yes, it means I have to explain myself a lot, and spell their names a lot, and correct people constantly. (And when they get older, so will they. Sorry, kids.) But I think it’s an important message to send, to my kids and to everyone else: The mother’s line matters. The mother matters. Women matter. As human beings in their own right, not as an extension of men.

Hopefully to future generations, this whole patriarchy thing will seem quaint and backwards. Though the blending of names when all these multinamed people marry could get messy, I admit. That’s for them to sort out, however.


*My experience, of course, is that of an American white woman in a hetero relationship…YMMV.



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