AI: What’s your name? Who’s your family?


So the good news is I’m getting divorced! The bad news: I have my exhusband’s last name. You see, I decided to change my name when I got married due to pressure from him and his super traditional family. The argument my exhusband made at the time was that I should change my name so that we’ll be identifiable as a family. Like the Smiths or the Joneses. And of course, our son has his last name.

I know a lot of hetero couples who have handled marriage and name changes in different ways. My mother didn’t change her name when she married my father, but they decided to give the children my father’s last name. I have a friend whose parents also have different last names, but they decided to combine their last names into an entirely different name for their children. And then there are poly families with children. Most of those I know just give the children the last name of the biological mother or father.

So what about all of the nontraditional families out there? What do you do when you marry someone of the same sex? What about poly families? Do you hyphenate or combine names? And if there’s no name changing, what name do the kids (assuming there are going to be any) get? This is a really personal decision, and I’d like to know how you all handle it.

The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Featured image is Untitled (Family), Keith Haring, 1984.

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  1. My opposite sex spouse and I both kept our family names when we married. I didn’t see our marriage as a reason for me to start identifying as part of his family rather than the one I grew up in. He declined to switch so that he might someday bring honor to his family name. We had considered a hyphenation, Szkl-nche, just so no one would ever be able to pronounce our new names, but didn’t bother. We’re getting divorced now, so we saved our selves some trouble.

  2. My wife and I are in a straight marriage, and for the moment we have kept our own last names (though that doesn’t stop many people from calling her by my last name anyway, much to our annoyance). We’ve decided that if we ever have children, though, we should all have the same last name. If that happens (which is still very much an open question), she and I would both combine our last names into a brand-new one that we would share with our child. Basically, we either both change our last names or neither of us does. If our names hyphenated in a more pleasing fashion, we’d probably go that route.

  3. I don’t actually plan on getting married or having kids. It’s not that I’m against it, it just seems unlikely that it’ll ever happen to me, so I’ve not put a lot of thought into naming conventions. I will say that I’m glad my mom never insisted on giving me her maiden name, mostly because then my name would rhyme. I’m also glad my grandpa took my Grandma’s last name, because otherwise my last name would be impossible to pronounce (it’s Polish).

  4. There’s no excuse for a woman in a heterosexual marriage to take her husband’s last name. Well, maybe if her maiden name is Poopsalot. But, if not, taking one’s husband’s last name is a pure embrace of the patriarchy: Women are not independent persons. Once married, they’re subsumed into their new husband’s life and family.

    However, the last name issue does make a useful litmus test. If your boyfriend is pressuring you to take his last name after marriage, then he’s probably a sexist asshat.

  5. My husband and I struggled with this very question. I didn’t want to give up my family name and he didn’t want to give up his. We thought about combining our last names, but they quite similar sounding and blending them sounded pretty gross (lots of lah-lah sounds whichever way we cut it).

    I really don’t know what we will do if children come along. I mean, i understand that giving the child the father’s name is a nice way to bestow a sense of paternity… but then again, i have to have a parasite live off me for 9 months before i push it through my most tender parts and then HE gets to slap his name on it? That doesn’t seem right at all.

    And what about our family lineage and our child’s sense of identity and connection to their history?

  6. Just changing your name does not int itself make you an unwitting tool of the patriarchy. My mother changed her name (and maintained her new name after divorcing my father), mainly so that we would share a last name. This does make it easier to show family relationships with just ID rather than, say, a birth certificate.

    In Quebec this is actually illegal, and honestly I think that law, while well-intentioned, is incredibly oppressive. It actually makes it so a woman can legally change her name to *anything* she wants, as long as it isn’t husband’s name.

    In my case I haven’t thought about it too much. I would only actually marry for compelling legal reasons, and children aren’t really foreseeable.

  7. My fiance and I are keeping our own names when we get married. I’d considered taking his, as I’m not particularly attached to my own last name and it would be convenient when we have a child for all of us to have the same name, but we are also polyamorous and hope to end up with a multi-adult family, so there may be surname confusions anyway.

    The couple we’re dating also each kept their own names as marriage, and they have a portmanteau name they use unofficially: it’s not their legal name, but they use it in contexts like “The Smithigans are having a party this weekend!” It turns out that most of the contexts you want a single household name for are social, not legal, anyway, so that solution works very well, and we’ve come up with our own version of it. It’s a handy solution for poly people, as you can add syllables and reconstruct the name as your household changes, without needing to do any paperwork.

    As for what we’ll do if we have a child, we haven’t decided yet. We might flip a coin for which of our names it takes; we might use whichever goes best with the first name we like; we might give an entirely different surname. My fiance is an only son and his dad really cares about having the family name passed on, so if we have a son we may give him their name, just because he cares and we really don’t.

    • I like the idea of portmanteau names. That isn’t something I had really thought about, but it’s a good solution, especially for poly households. I can see how there could be confusion with a lot of surnames in the family.

  8. My brother and his wife kept their separate names. This made things interesting when they had my nephew. He was preemie, so ended up in NICU for a few days. We tried to say we were there to see the Smith baby (They decided that the baby would have my brother’s last name), but they had him under his mom’s last name of Leydsman.

  9. I don’t want to get married. I also don’t want to have any biological children. But if I did, I wouldn’t change my name when I get married. I would pick a last name for the child just like I would a first name. The last name would have some deeper meaning like equality or freedom or something. I guess if I have more than one child, I’d probably go with the same last name for all of them. If I adopt a child, then I wouldn’t change hir name. And I would unofficially name my multi-person household like one would name one’s sports/knitting/blogging team.

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