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July 15, 2014 11:26 AM   Subscribe

What Happened When We Gave Our Daughter My Last Name

Everyone has some sort of charge around this issue—including me. Everyone has to defend the decision they make about it. Over and over again, I watched women acquaintances hear me mention it and then, almost immediately, the mask of self-protection would slide over their faces. They probably saw me as a better-than-thou type. I tried hard not to be that. I didn’t want to shame anyone. I only told people when I was asked and purposely acted casual about it. Some of my married women friends said nothing; some smiled big smiles; my single friends told me either they were taking notes or they could never possibly. Men often looked unsure but pretended to be hip to it. One guy friend teased, “Of course you would.”

Then, I took my pregnant, vomiting, exhausted self to New York to visit my cousin—a remarkable and fierce woman whose Facebook “political views” description reads I’m for doing drugs during an abortion while marrying a gay illegal immigrant. We drove around her neighborhood and she showed me the street art she photographs. At some point, I told her about my baby’s last name. She lifted her hands off the steering wheel and yelled, “What?!” as if in prayer, as if the earth had shuddered.

One short pause and then: “I want that. I really want that. But my man would never let that shit fly.”
posted by supermassive (146 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
I doubt many people would notice. Maybe they'd think the two adults aren't married? Maybe they'd think the kids are adopted? I really can't see why this is a big deal, except for the fact that you might have to tell the story once in a while. But if someone gets upset or concerned, then they are an asshole.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:44 AM on July 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


I was just reading that... almost makes me want to have kids just to buck various traditions and see my super-conservative in-laws freak out, but that's probably not the right reason to have a baby.
posted by kmz at 11:47 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


My wife and I made the typical decision on this, and I'm still conflicted about it. I think it's a right and good choice the author made and would love for it to be a common one. Some days I think we should have gone the other way. Or come up with some other alternative. But conventional approaches can be very hard to shake.
posted by that's candlepin at 11:48 AM on July 15, 2014


I was really confused reading this! I thought she meant to have the kids first name be her last name. And I was all like, 'May is a nice first name!'.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:49 AM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


A large part point of giving it the man's last name is that he acknowledges the kid as his, which isn't as obvious as matrilineal parenthood.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:59 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


That was an excellent and thought-provoking read; thanks for posting it. I liked the author's combining firmness with utter lack of self-righteousness.
posted by languagehat at 11:59 AM on July 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Incidentally, in Chinese families, wives don't traditionally take the husband's last name but kids do usually take the dad's last name. But I knew a family when I was a kid who named their first son after the dad and the second son after the mom.
posted by kmz at 12:03 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Just read that this morning and glad to see it on the Blue. Two of my favourite excerpts:

One windy April day, our daughter was born; or rather, I birthed her. Of course, Chris helped me. But my doula friend pointed out to me that we often say, “my child was born.” Birth deserves more than passive language because it is not a passive act. It deserves all the animal sounds that emerge from a woman when she has to open and push a baby into the world.

Because the words we use really affect the way we perceive an action in the world. And...

Strangers can’t stop commenting on how amazing Chris must be—to have, I guess, granted me the gift of using my last name for our daughter. I try to smile and say, “Yeah, he’s amazing, but not for that reason.” I want to say he’s amazing because his manhood is never threatened, because when he was a boy his family nicknamed him Sweeties, because he tests his own courage and failure in the mountains, because he is patient with me. He’s amazing because he holds his ground when he needs to, and I’m amazing too, and we can both be idiots to each other but never once was I worried that I would have to convince/beg/bypass him to give Eula my surname.
posted by a halcyon day at 12:06 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


It feels - at least in my urban, left-leaning, and fairly bourgeois circles - that taking the father's name is no longer a given, but accepted as a negotiation. We know a number of couples that have, but also many (like us) whose children have hyphenated surnames. Also a few couples who have made up a hybrid name out of their surnames, and given that to themselves and their kids (which required legal name changes). None of these options elicited much comment.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:07 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


The future seems clear: girl babies get mom's last name, boy babies get dad's last name. So simple, so clean, so fair.
posted by escabeche at 12:09 PM on July 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Yeah, but Eula ? Really ? The licensing agreement ? Man ..

Various countries have different ways of naming. Iceland's is interesting.

Then there's this (second question), about a kid who reaches age of adulthood and says to heck with what her parents named her, causing parents some anguish.
posted by k5.user at 12:18 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't know. I don't think I would have told everyone beforehand. It just seems to be inviting judgment.

It is sorta funny that most people have problems with the child's last name, and not the fact that she named her baby Eula May.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:19 PM on July 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


But when a couple decides to use both names as a last name, usually the woman’s last name gets tucked between her child’s and husband’s, and usually that’s the one that falls away around school age.

My parents did this -- my mom's last name is my middle name, and by the time I was old enough to be aware of it, nobody was treating it as a second last name. Unfortunately, the name in question is much more commonly a male given name, so it just looks like I have a gender-inappropriate middle name.

(And now the word "name" is starting to look weird.)

They considered giving me a hyphenated name (would have been too long to fit on forms) or a blended last name (couldn't find a combination that sounded dignified), but I'm not sure giving me mom's name as my surname was ever on the table. Too bad, because it's earlier in the alphabet than dad's.
posted by zeptoweasel at 12:21 PM on July 15, 2014


When I got married, I kept my maiden name. I have been known as a MyLastName for my entire life - the idea of changing that seems absolutely preposterous to me. That's ME. It's who I am! And these are my people! My clan! My last name is uncommon and I am, despite the weirdness of it, strongly attached to it.

And so, when we adopted our kids, they got my last name. I think that particular discussion lasted about 30 seconds and went, "Hey, I think the kids should have my last name. Okay? Deal." Shortly thereafter, my husband took my last name (he had a longer wait due to some legal stuff that we didn't want to mess up). He had no real attachment to his name, or his family of origin, so he totally caved to my peer pressure to become a MyLastName. The entire thing caused me a great deal of joy because hey, MyLastName Clan needs more people! Join us! We're awesome!

Very few people have been had anything to say about it beyond some variation of, "Huh, you don't hear about that happening very often." Even when my husband still had his original last name, no one asked about the kids having my last name - possibly because they thought I had been a single mother, or that my kids were from a previous marriage, or possibly because no one cared either way. I suspect the latter.
posted by VioletU at 12:21 PM on July 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


I know more than a few families where the child, either from birth or from a very early age, has lived in the sole custody of the mother, with either little or no contact with the father, and STILL has the father's last name. I thought it was weird enough having my father's last name after he left and went no-contact, and I was a pre-adolescent and technically old enough to understand such things (the court wouldn't allow us to change our names to our mother's without his consent). I cheer on any couple who makes it something you decide instead of something you assume.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:23 PM on July 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


My kids have enquired about my name vs their father's name from time to time. Standard answer is, "That's what we decided to go with. If you want to change it later on to both our last names or Square Pants or something, you go right ahead. We aren't trying to include one over the other or exclude anyone, just keeping it simple (by only using one last name of the three options) for now."
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 12:24 PM on July 15, 2014


Once upon a time, around the time of the bad, old, greentext days of the internet, it seemed like my generation, who had somehow picked up the ill-advised moniker of Gerneration X was going to change the world. You had only to sit in any hip coffee shop, or exciting new tech startup to see it. We were going to upend the old orders and recreate the world, not in the stodgy, three-piece blue flannel of our parents, but in the day-glo colors they'd cast off when they decided to become the Me Generation back in the 70's and 80's. Of course, as HST famously observed, you could look with the right sort of eyes from the heartland and see where that wave peaked. The traditional center would hold, it always did, and our new ideas, if we were lucky would slowly be assimilated, albeit in a muted palette.

That said, it still makes me happy that some day-glo banners are being raised here and there. Not the self important freak flag, but a quiet stand on the ramparts with a safety orange detour flag that merely points out that maybe we should still consider why we do some things, and if maybe there's not a Better Way. This story reminded me of my aunt telling my new wife all the scandal caused when she didn't change her last name upon her marriage, and how happy she was to see that twenty years later no one even remarked on my wife's decision to do the same. Shoulders of giants and all that.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:25 PM on July 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


That was a pretty wild read, not because of what she's doing, but because I had no idea people had so much investment in what other people decide to name their children. I mean I know they do, but it's still weird to see it laid out like that.

Meanwhile, on my mother's side, there are somewhere between seven and nine marriages in three generations (great-grandma, grandma, mom.) I grew up with no living women on my that side having the same last name, or even married to the person their current last name came from. My mom had two different last names while I was alive, and it never matched my own.
posted by griphus at 12:27 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


It feels - at least in my urban, left-leaning, and fairly bourgeois circles - that taking the father's name is no longer a given, but accepted as a negotiation.

In my urban, left-leaning, fairly bourgeois circles, I've raised the notion of children not taking the father's name (in particular, alternating last names for each child) and received expressions of disbelief in return. My favorite responses have been the ones about the logistical difficulties this would raise in schools and in airports, as if those haven't already been raised by women not taking their husband's names, adoption, divorce, etc.
posted by leopard at 12:33 PM on July 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Wouldn't the hyphenation scheme get cumbersome after just two generations? Just concatenate the two names and hash the resulting string with SHA-2 or something like that.

Or just throw out the notion of names-as-pointers-in-a-data-structure altogether and give them a cool name like Danger.
posted by indubitable at 12:35 PM on July 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Since 1981, soon-to-be married couples in Quebec are actually not allowed to change names after the wedding takes place. Children of these marriages often have double-barrelled surnames, and sometimes you find children where the order will depend on their own gender as well.
posted by northtwilight at 12:36 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I kept my last name when we married - that was never up for negotiation, but it didn't matter to my husband anyway.

When I was pregnant with our first child, I pointed out that I was doing all the work carrying this baby and so it only seemed fair to give him my last name. My husband said "Okay, if that's what you want." And that was it. So all our kids have my last name.

It really has never been a thing. I did think it might be a thing, somehow? - maybe officially, considering I'm an immigrant, or with the school system? But the only times it's ever come up have been -
1) now & then, someone addresses mail to us giving me his last name
2) telemarketers call me "Mrs. [HisLastName]" (this is how I know they're telemarketers!)
3) uh, this one time crossing the border, a border guard asked my husband if the kids were his, and was a little skeptical about it but accepted his answer that they were.

I'm not living in some feminist utopia, either, just a kinda-liberal/kinda-conservative Canadian city. I honestly think these days so many families aren't the "traditional" model anymore - children from previous marriages, children born out of wedlock, people remarry, people hyphenate last names, everyone picks a new last name, adoptions, etc. - it really isn't the default anymore that everyone in a family unit has the same last name. So people are less likely to assume that it is, or raise eyebrows over it.

In my experience, if you tell ANYONE your naming decisions (I mean, not even last name decisions, just first name thoughts!) before you have a baby, they are going to give you an earful all about your choices (and why they suck)! But after you have the baby, people just accept whatever you named the kid and get on with life. So that's my first thought on reading this.

My second thought is that it does seem true that many couples either don't have this conversation or it's pretty much accepted that giving the kids "the mother's last name only" is simply not an option because it's not fair somehow. I understand why people think this way, but I sincerely disagree.

My husband gets it. And he jokes about having kept his last name. And to be totally honest, I really don't want to be all like "he's so amazing" about it, although other people have said that to me. But for what? - acknowledging me as an equal? acknowledging and agreeing my thoughts on the matter are valid? not making it into any kind of a deal? because their husbands would never allow it?

I don't know, I think that should be the standard a woman expects from a partner; that should be the norm, not something out-of-the-ordinary. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem so in many relationships.
posted by flex at 12:38 PM on July 15, 2014 [26 favorites]


Or just throw out the notion of names-as-pointers-in-a-data-structure altogether and give them a cool name like Danger.

How absurd. Danger is obviously a middle name.
posted by squinty at 12:40 PM on July 15, 2014 [64 favorites]


As evidenced by the cautionary tale of Anthony Weiner.
posted by yerfatma at 12:44 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


When it comes to last names, I've always thought it strange that women are expected to change theirs, and that the child takes the father's name. Hyphenation is obviously not a scalable solution, when taken past a single generation. I've often thought that the best solution is for the wife to keep her name, and the children take the last name of the parent of the same gender. So, girls get their mom's name and boys get their dad's name. It probably wouldn't satisfy people who question why gender should determine anything, but I still like it because it's utterly fair.
posted by Edgewise at 12:47 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Or just throw out the notion of names-as-pointers-in-a-data-structure altogether and give them a cool name like Danger.

How absurd. Danger is obviously a middle name.


Dangerously, of course, is a last name.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:49 PM on July 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


My wife married me, so she says, mostly to get my last name because her credit rating was piss poor.
posted by Postroad at 12:49 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Edgewise: your plan breaks down when you consider same-sex couples or gender variant folks. Also if the child grows up to have a gender identity that doesn't match the one they were assigned at birth, it complicates things. It is not "utterly fair" if you look at the possibilities with any depth.
posted by HermitDog at 12:50 PM on July 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


Hyphenation is obviously not a scalable solution, when taken past a single generation.

The Spanish have been using hyphenated surnames for generations (although, under current practices, the mother's surname does eventually disappear.)

And our kids will figure it out - to my mind, I've done a small bit to smash the patriarchy in naming them, and they'll figure out how to do theirs when the times comes.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:51 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I've often thought that the best solution is for the wife to keep her name, and the children take the last name of the parent of the same gender. So, girls get their mom's name and boys get their dad's name. It probably wouldn't satisfy people who question why gender should determine anything, but I still like it because it's utterly fair.

I don't think it's about being fair, per se. Last names are usually ways to acknowledge paternity for the father (as someone pointed out, the woman's role is usually less in doubt), while cleaving the spouses and children into one family unit that they are thenceforth known by. I agree that hyphenated names start to get unwieldy, but I also think they acknowledge the joining of two, uh, houses, and how every child is a member of that family.

Maybe there's not a good/fair way to do this.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:53 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Mixing up convention had always mattered to me... It didn’t feel revolutionary to us.

The author is extremely pretentious. Wow.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:53 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


A large part point of giving it the man's last name is that he acknowledges the kid as his, which isn't as obvious as matrilineal parenthood.

And what's so awesome about what the writer and her husband did is that they chose a name that acknowledges the kid as theirs.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:57 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


uh, this one time crossing the border, a border guard asked my husband if the kids were his, and was a little skeptical about it but accepted his answer that they were

Wait, while you were standing right there? Or was it because he was traveling with them but without you? The latter makes sense I guess but the former is pretty fucking creepy.
posted by elizardbits at 12:58 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh My Crapping Hole:

Mixing up convention had always mattered to me.
...
At four months pregnant, when people asked if we’d chosen a first name, we shared our last name choice instead. Neither of us expected any drama. Our far flung and nearby communities had always been open-minded. That’s why the shockwave shocked us.

My (Internal) Translation of this:

I like being obtuse/unexpected for its own sake; but when people react negatively to my behavior it's a mystery as to why.

Ugh. I've faced this, I've engendered it. But to pretend that no one would react to going out and saying "We're playing with conventions" is to court insanity. I say this as a person who wore a re-purposed pants leg as a hat for a while. People will react to anything outside the norm, and to behave like they are the ones who are being unreasonable is just deliberately messing with the social contract.

If you want to stick out, go for it, but be willing to accept that some portion of the world around you will not accept this.

I nearly had a heart attack when I found out my (what I thought of as hippy) friends were committed Tories.

You never know how you will react to things but when you lead out with

Mixing up convention had always mattered to me.

You are going to get some negative ones.
posted by NiteMayr at 1:06 PM on July 15, 2014 [18 favorites]


When I was married, I elected to extend(?) the offer to my wife to not take my mouthful of a last name, which she refused. I even spent a short time trying to convince her to keep her name.

I was born with it, but I can't fathom why anyone would voluntarily change their last name from a perfectly good one to something that results in so many mispronunciations, spelling errors, and time wasted with phone reps.

Whenever someone asks me for the spelling of my name, I usually just sigh and hand them my ID. Much easier that way.


With regards to the article, however, I found this:

At four months pregnant, when people asked if we’d chosen a first name, we shared our last name choice instead.

To be particularly telling of why the author experienced so much "drama" from her choice.

Person 1: Have you decided on the name for the baby?
Person 2: Her last name will be mine, which is May.

Obviously, I'm paraphrasing the conversation, but if I was the asker, it would seem a bit fighty and needlessly defensive to me.
posted by Debaser626 at 1:09 PM on July 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


...so if the child grows up to have a gender identity that doesn't match the one they were assigned at birth, it complicates things. It is not "utterly fair" if you look at the possibilities with any depth.

Meh. If they decide to transition external to the gender they feel internally, its very likely they would go forward with a legal name change. If we were to follow the logical conclusion of your concern then you should also object to any parents who give a gender-associated first name and instead name all our kids Pat.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:17 PM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


When I was married, I elected to extend(?) the offer to my wife to not take my mouthful of a last name, which she refused. I even spent a short time trying to convince her to keep her name.

Yeah that was the case with my me and my wife as well. Halfway through my rebuttal as to why she should keep her own last name, I realized that by definition our relationship would have to have a Stupidest Argument and it wasn't going to be this.
posted by griphus at 1:17 PM on July 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Our two kids have a hyphenated last name: dad's last name-mom's last name. (I'm mom.) We went with that because we agreed that it sounds and looks better than the other way around.

No one has ever given us grief about it except for older people in my husband's family. The most insistent was probably his grandmother, who always addressed correspondence to the kids and myself with (only) my husband's last name, even though I kept my birth name.
posted by methroach at 1:20 PM on July 15, 2014


Mixing up convention had always mattered to me... It didn’t feel revolutionary to us.

The author is extremely pretentious. Wow.


Maybe you are using an idiosyncratic definition of pretentious that I am unfamiliar with, but I can in no way comprehend how that statement can be described as pretentious.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:22 PM on July 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Sometimes, I'll make a choice that I know isn't exactly conventional, but still be surprised at how angry and defensive people get when they find out about it.

I get it. You can know something's a little unusual, but not really realize how many people don't think you should have that choice, or just get really angry and aggressive.

And that can very much have a radicalizing effect.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:22 PM on July 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


I have my mom's last name, the one she got from her father. It's important to me that any hypothetical children I would have would have my last name as their primary surname.

It seems to me to think of FirstName MomsName DadsName as "taking the mother's last name as their middle name." Perhaps because I come from a Latin American tradition of FirstName MiddleName(s) DadsName MomsName, (a la Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez) I think of that as having one first name, two last names and no middle names. After all, you can have unlimited numbers of middle names, right? So why does taking mom's last name before dad's preclude having a middle name? And why can't you have two last names or have one last name with a space in it? There are lots of last names with spaces in them so why can't Momsname Dadsname be one of them?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:25 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Maybe you are using an idiosyncratic definition of pretentious that I am unfamiliar with, but I can in no way comprehend how that statement can be described as pretentious.

Some people are uncomfortable with any talk of the patriarchal structure of everyday life.
posted by kmz at 1:31 PM on July 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


I have my mom's last name. Big deal! So pretentious!
posted by oceanjesse at 1:33 PM on July 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


This whole article is odd in that the writer seems to think she is urbane and educated while apparently completely non-self aware that she's completely embedded in her social milieu and ignorant of the fact that naming conventions aren't in any way universal. My family is French and none of the women I know have changed their names when getting married. Children often carry their mother's name because...why wouldn't they?

I'm sort of surprised I'm the first person to lob the "this is a stupid American issue" grenade here. If you agonize over what people think of what name you choose for your own child, your issues really have little to do with the name and a lot to do with unexamined mental paths you need to address. Or not. Whatever.
posted by syncope at 1:34 PM on July 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


telemarketers call me "Mrs. [HisLastName]" (this is how I know they're telemarketers!)

Ugh, I wish it was just telemarketers. I have a "friend" from high school and college who always addresses correspondence to my wife and I as "Mr. and Mrs. [My FirstName] [MyLastName]". Which drives me up the wall because my wife kept her last name, and she sure as hell doesn't have my first name either.
posted by kmz at 1:35 PM on July 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


I've been surprised by how my own group of friends and acquaintances has almost universally gone with the conventional everybody-takes-the-man's-name approach. I wouldn't ever presume to call anyone out on their own personal choices (which is why I won't be sharing this on Facebook), but it's kind of disappointing in the aggregate. I just keep noticing more and more how women tend to give way in all these little situations because it's no big deal to them. But what if all the little deals add up to a big freakin' deal, you know? On the other hand, I kept my last name, but don't bother correcting people when they call me by my husband's. Maybe I should start though!
posted by 912 Greens at 1:37 PM on July 15, 2014 [20 favorites]


I have a last name that consists of my mom's first name followed by my dad's first name. This was because my mother changed her last name upon getting married, then had her feminist consciousness raised and decided to give me both their names as a last name. It's unusual - a last name with a space - but I've gotten ten times as many questions about it in the US than growing up in India, where naming conventions are not as rigid. I'm rather proud of the name and didn't change it when I got married. I'd ideally like a combination of my husband's and my last names for our children, but the name would be rather a tongue twister, so we might end up giving the child part of my last name as a middle name instead, though that would feel like rather a cop out.
posted by peacheater at 1:37 PM on July 15, 2014


I've of the school that children call adults 'Mrs. Whomever" and "Mr. Whathisname".

Hyphenated names, new names, combined names, maiden names, hell, I've run into families where the child, the mother and the father all have different last names.

I'm all for calling yourself whatever you want, but man, sometimes I long for the old days of "Mr. and Mrs. Jones".
posted by madajb at 1:38 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I know more than a few families where the child, either from birth or from a very early age, has lived in the sole custody of the mother, with either little or no contact with the father, and STILL has the father's last name. I thought it was weird enough having my father's last name after he left and went no-contact, and I was a pre-adolescent and technically old enough to understand such things (the court wouldn't allow us to change our names to our mother's without his consent).

My son's mother tried to change his last name from mine to hers at some point. It was part of the plan to cut me out of his life. That she signed him up for daycares and doctors under her lastname instead of mine was a big part of the reason she lost custody.

My wife changed her name to mine because mine was easier to spell.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:38 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


When I was married, I elected to extend(?) the offer to my wife to not take my mouthful of a last name, which she refused

Similar for me. When I got married, my wife changing her name wasn't something that I would have ever brought up or considered. I think it's a kind of weird practice, frankly, but to each their own, and she insisted on taking mine. I gather that legally speaking she can use her married name or her maiden name, so nothing is really lost I guess. So I never had to deal with this issue when it came time to name our little girl. I would definitely want my name somewhere in the mix, personally. I'm the only one of 5 kids in the family (now all 30-somethings) to have a child, and I suppose it is kinda nice to pass a name down through the generations. Unless she decides to change hers when she gets married, I suppose...

makes me want to have kids just to buck various traditions and see my super-conservative in-laws freak out


I'm enjoying the idea of the inevitable baptism/communion/whatever talk from the step-family for that exact reason. NOPE.

Our two kids have a hyphenated last name: dad's last name-mom's last name.


I have some friends that were going to do this, but instead opted for a completely new name built from parts of the 2 names, with no hyphen. Because "Green-Dick".
posted by Hoopo at 1:39 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I kept my maiden name when I got married and our kids have my last name. Older relatives were horrified at the time but got used to it, it was never a problem with schools - so many families have multiple last names that it just didn't seem to ever be a problem. Literally the only time it's been a significant headache was when my college age daughter living in another city needed to use her insurance card (which has her father's name as the insured on it) and had a pharmacist not want to cover stuff that's supposed to be free under the ACA.
posted by leslies at 1:40 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


For all my anti-patriarchy feminist convictions, it is a complete accident that my future wife will be taking my last name and our kids will have my last name. I wish I could buck the system but we can't! (future wife doesnt like her last name for various reasons). Oh wells.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:43 PM on July 15, 2014


When I married my wife, she was excited to change her very vanilla last name to my sounds-vaguely-like-a-Bond-villain last name. And I noticed that the decisions on changing names that her sisters made (one yes, one no) seemed to be made on the same basis; am I getting an awesomer name than I am losing?

But of course now this article makes me realize I should have tried my daughter's names with my wife's last names in case they want it that way when they're old enough to decide. Whoops!
posted by selfnoise at 1:46 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I never changed my name when I married, and our daughter's surname his MyLastName HisLastName without a hyphen. So we all have different last names. Occasionally it is mildly inconvenient, but we roll with it. My daughter hates it and can't believe we cursed her with such a long, stupid last name, but she's 16 and still hates most of the things her parents do.
posted by chaoticgood at 1:48 PM on July 15, 2014


I thought the rule/guideline was that the spouse and/or kids take the coolest last name.

They probably saw me as a better-than-thou type. I tried hard not to be that. I didn’t want to shame anyone. I only told people when I was asked and purposely acted casual about it.

Nope, you did not: At four months pregnant, when people asked if we’d chosen a first name, we shared our last name choice instead

Maybe they were trying to downplay End User Licensing Agreement?
posted by sfkiddo at 1:49 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I can totally get behind everybody just taking the coolest last name. I've often thought about names that I would have considered taking, like Kale (vegetable)/Cale (musician). Or Nabokov. Or most anything related to cats (Katz, obvs. Or Mews. But not Garfield).
posted by 912 Greens at 1:58 PM on July 15, 2014


My wife and I have 4 months to come up with both a first name and last name for our baby. One of my favorites so far is my wife's last name as first name, then my last name: Squires Wiseman.

I also note that if you're the first generation to give your baby the mother's last name, then it is a break from the past, but there are more radical things than giving the kid a last name that you may only have because of a patriarchal system.
posted by jjwiseman at 1:58 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


An English couple I know had a child before they were married. They were advised to give the child the father's surname.

If they hadn't, and then later got married, with the mother changing her name to the father's surname — then the only way to change the child's surname to match the father's (and now also the mother's) surname, would be for the father to legally adopt his own child.

I still don't understand why some things work the way they do.
posted by ZipRibbons at 2:00 PM on July 15, 2014


Ugh, I wish it was just telemarketers. I have a "friend" from high school and college who always addresses correspondence to my wife and I as "Mr. and Mrs. [My FirstName] [MyLastName]". Which drives me up the wall because my wife kept her last name, and she sure as hell doesn't have my first name either.

My wife's father and grandmother both address letters written solely to her as [Herfirstname] [Mylastname], which really sucks when they sending her checks for her birthday.
posted by LionIndex at 2:01 PM on July 15, 2014


I'm all for calling yourself whatever you want, but man, sometimes I long for the old days of "Mr. and Mrs. Jones".

Not that old. I'm looking at my great-great-grandparents Matilde "Nilsdotter" and Ander "Anderssen" records right now.

Still patronyms, but nobody changed their name after marriage. (I think there was a law passed just after my family emigrated that forced the end of traditional patronyms in Sweden, and converted all female forms to the male forms.)
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 2:01 PM on July 15, 2014


My wife kept her name and I kept mine because they are both awesome. The plan for any future kids is that they will have my last name because I'm a kinda scary looking dude and she is a round smiling white lady. We figure people will pretty much let her take any kids she wants while I will get a hard time. Reports from this thread about that not being the case are making me rethink this plan.
posted by Uncle at 2:02 PM on July 15, 2014


Any place that hands kids over to someone solely on the strength of a matching last name, I don't wanna leave my (nonexistent) kids with.
posted by ftm at 2:04 PM on July 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


My wife is a lazy feminist (her words) and didn't change her last name when we married. The kids have my last name (apparently the cats have hers), so while it's consistently patriarchal, it does raise issues at times, particularly when travelling. When I'm not with the kids, the TSA agents will notice quite quickly that the kids have a different last name than their mother, and that this is somehow a *thing that is not done and could be child trafficking*. Then follows needless minutes of explanation followed by us ultimately going on through to be scanned, etc. We haven't had an issue yet with regard to medical care and my wife being denied access to the kids, but I do get the feeling that a lot of people assume we're divorced when only I have the kids and am giving my wife's contact information (I assume she experiences the same) - it's really a confused look when we get to the street address and it's the same as mine. In conclusion: names are funny things, and many people have them.
posted by combinatorial explosion at 2:05 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I want to add - I do wish the narrative around giving a child its mother's surname weren't so often portrayed as this system-bucking going-to-cause-so-many-issues offbeat THING that people are going to bug you about!

Because in my experience, and the experience of the women I know who kept their names & gave their kids their last names, it's actually pretty prosaic... you might get some raised eyebrows or you might have some cranky relatives but it's really not a THING in most places with most people. It might cause a little inconvenience but no more so than anything else - like a hyphenated last name or not being married to the other parent or anything else that is also common these days.

I do think presenting it as though it's this BIG DEAL CHOICE scares some people who might otherwise consider the option because they don't want to cause unnecessary bureaucratic hassle or be fielding intrusive questions all the time. So I usually feel compelled to just throw in that we did it - the kids have my last name and my husband kept his own last name and it works fine for us; and it's totally a legit option that maybe you should think about, maybe it would work for you too! and maybe it wouldn't for other reasons but if you reject the idea there's probably no good reason to reject it on the basis that it's too weird or would cause too many problems.

elizardbits: He was crossing with the kids & without me. (We also have enough kids that people do ask if they're all jointly ours, so there's been a few times people have assumed he's a stepfather.)
posted by flex at 2:07 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


When we got to naming out daughter my Wife and I went with my last name as our daughter's last name and her last name as her middle name. Mt wife did no take my last name which I think is appropriate as she's not my propert. My wife's last name makes for a better middle name than my last name but I think in general it works. That way both families are "honored" in the name.

What's funny is that unless my daughter decides to keep her last name (I think she should because she's not property) if she ever gets married my wife's name will continue on and mine will get abandoned.
posted by vuron at 2:10 PM on July 15, 2014


Strangers can’t stop commenting on how amazing Chris must be—to have, I guess, granted me the gift of using my last name for our daughter.

I can see how relatives would know the baby's full name and possibly complain about it, but how exactly do strangers know? When I meet an acquaintance/new person with a baby, all I'm ever told is the first name: "this is Ace," or whatever.
posted by JanetLand at 2:10 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm one of those women who wouldn't change her last name if she married a dude and would want her kids to have her last name. While I applaud the author's bucking of conventions, I hate the disingenuous tone. She likes bucking conventions, but couldn't believe people were shocked, she wanted no reaction but was admittedly announcing the last name choice during the pregnancy to get a reaction . . . Make up your mind, lady. If you weren't so hot on getting people's reactions then you wouldn't make a point of telling all and sundry she was keeping your last name before she'd even been born. Writing an article about how surprised you were is naive at best, crass attention-getting at worst.
posted by schroedinger at 2:10 PM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Since 1981, soon-to-be married couples in Quebec are actually not allowed to change names after the wedding takes place.

Inconveniently, it also means that if you marry in Ontario, change your name there, move to Quebec, get divorced there, you can't automatically change your name back.

My mother got married before 1981 and changed her name (and regrets it), her younger sister got married just after and did not and doesn't regret it. (I would have liked my maternal grandmother's last name.)

It seems like most people give their kids double-barrelled surnames and figure their kids will have more options when it comes to naming THEIR kids. (You are allowed to have two last names. You can only give your children names that their parents have in any order, so Tremblay-Gagnon and Smith-Jones can name their kids Tremblay-Gagnon (or G-T), Smith-Jones (J-S), Tremblay-Jones, Smith-Tremblay, etc, but not Jomblay or whatever new made up name they want.)
posted by jeather at 2:13 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Like griphus and others, my (male) last name has made a number of things difficult, and it's usually too long to fit in forms, so I would have encouraged my wife to not take mine. I say "would" because it wasn't really even considered. Better, I was happy to accept Ms. nobeagle's invitation to her clan. While I've heard a few "you don't hear about that happening very often."'s, I've never been chastised, or had my choice to take my wife's last name disrespected.

An idea for parents with different last names; combine them in a fashion of [beginning of name 1][ending of name 2] such that one gets a new name, but it's not longer than the previously longest name. Perhaps even better, have the parents, as well as the kids, take this new name. This way, it isn't any one parent giving up their name, and it requires less of a charitable interpretation to see it as the parents taking on a new name.
posted by nobeagle at 2:14 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


>"Mixing up convention had always mattered to me... It didn’t feel revolutionary to us."

>The author is extremely pretentious. Wow.

Maybe you are using an idiosyncratic definition of pretentious that I am unfamiliar with, but I can in no way comprehend how that statement can be described as pretentious.


Defying convention for the sake of defying convention is inherently pretentious. Attack conventions which are repressive or merely confining. Attacking convention for the sake of attacking convention is attention seeking with some implied higher purpose attached-- pretentious.

Some people are uncomfortable with any talk of the patriarchal structure of everyday life.

I could give a shit what she names her kids. Or even her motivations, if she had possessed the good taste to shut up about them.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:19 PM on July 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


I love my last name and am proud of it. My friends have joked that a planet should be named after it, or at least a heavy metal band. However, it is always misspelled and incorrectly pronounced. I decided to save my daughter a lifetime of that and went with her dad's name.
posted by medeine at 2:23 PM on July 15, 2014


When I got married, I took my wife's last name as my middle name, and she took mine as hers. When we had our first daughter, we made the conventional decision and gave her my last name and my wife's last name a as a middle.

When my wife got pregnant again, we discussed giving our second child my wife's last name. I was ambivalent, as this would be certainly the last child we had, and I might be passing up the opportunity to have grandchildren that carry my name. Even now I find it strange that I would care about that. When we found out we were going to have another girl, it made the choice easier, so my second daughter has my wife's last name. So I get to look enlightened to friends and family, but inside I still feel guilty about my ambivalence.

But! By giving my second daughter my wife's last name, I think I've increased the odds of my first daughter giving her children (if she ever choose to have any) her (my) last name. Sneaky.

Just to further confuse things further, my wife is of middle eastern descent and has dark skin and curly black hair, while my second daughter, who shares her name, is super-duper blonde.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 2:27 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Attack conventions which are repressive or merely confining.

How is patrilineal naming being the default not repressive or confining?

I could give a shit what she names her kids. Or even her motivations, if she had possessed the good taste to shut up about them.

Good for you!
posted by kmz at 2:29 PM on July 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


I have a friend in town who took his wife's last name (dropped his completely) when they married, and their child has it too. When people forget or whatever, he gently, casually reminds them too. I love it.

I kept my last name when I got married, and still get weird passive aggressive shit for it here and there (I get shitty facial responses at the DMV fairly often, relatives quietly but perennially grumble or "forget", and I think I've called and emailed my car insurance agent like 4 times about them getting it wrong and they always assure me it's fixed and it never is, blrm). I think a lot of people discount or underplay how radical it still is some places to go full on lady-only-focused. Hyphen or whatever, sure, pretty common. But no taking of the patronym in any form after marriage for you or your kids, full on legal not just informal, is still pretty unusual, at least in my area. If I had a kid they'd take my name probably (it's already something we discussed), but I'm currently edging more and more towards "kids are likely not in the cards". Anyway, I admire this small but solid form of still-radical affirmation (while of course feeling people should do whatever they want).
posted by ifjuly at 2:39 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's a great couple I know where the man decided he liked his wife's family much better than his own borderline abusive one, so he took her last name and have passed that name on to their own children. Admittedly, his wife is one of the most wonderful people I know so I think he made a great choice.

One interesting thing about their relationship is they, and their families, are all Mormon. Despite the strict patriarchal nature of the community, no one to my knowledge has given them any sort of trouble over it.
posted by honestcoyote at 2:44 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I could give a shit what she names her kids. Or even her motivations, if she had possessed the good taste to shut up about them.

Huh, did I miss the part where you were minding your own business until she grabbed you by the lapels and insisted on lecturing you about this? I thought she wrote an article and put it up on the web so people could read it if they chose to.

I'm not sure how she has the energy to reflect on patriarchy and names when she's so damn busy dealing with the reactions of people who think she should just shut up already dammit woman what makes you think your opinion is worth expressing or that anybody should respect it anyway.
posted by Lexica at 2:45 PM on July 15, 2014 [21 favorites]


When my husband and I got married, we decided that instead of me taking his name or him taking mine (that was what he was thinking we would do, but that struck me as equally unfair), we would choose an entirely new last name that we both liked. We were living in Delaware at the time, which requires you to publish your intention to change your name in the newspaper for 3 weeks (a variation of the banns, an English tradition). We published, and the newspaper sent us the affidavit to take before the judge, which we promptly somehow lost.

So we shrugged, figured it was probably going to be a pain in the butt to change our names on checking accounts, drivers licenses, social security cards etc. anyway and the universe probably did us a favor, and kept our names. We weren't planning on having kids anyway so it didn't really matter.

Fast forward 13 years, and we had a kid. We had the whole name decision to make all over again. We opted for a hyphenated last name for him, because it seemed to be the only way to not make anyone feel left out. He's 3 now, and we're already feeling guilty about saddling him with that much last name. We tell him he is totally free to pick one to use if he doesn't want to deal with both.

Of course, I think whichever decision we made would have caused some regret. If he had my name, I would feel bad that my husband was the odd one out, and vice versa. We're not planning on having a second kid, so we can't do the alternating thing. There's really no perfect solution (except perhaps choosing an entirely new last name for everyone... now I sometimes wish we'd never lost that damn affidavit).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:50 PM on July 15, 2014


"People might say these are small peanuts, but language is never small. Language shapes how we view things before we even know we are viewing them. How we name something determines how we value it. If women’s last names are consistently absent from history, never passed down, then where is their—our—value?"

Very nice, but I'm frowning upon giving her daughter the (first) name Eula... End User License Agreement?
posted by .holmes at 2:57 PM on July 15, 2014


I have a hyphenated last name. It was a major pain in the ass when I was growing up with it in the 80s and 90s, although it is better now. If I have a kid, they are going to get the mother's name (I'm male), as mine is just too much of a mess. Also, my mother's father killed the interesting aspect of his last name when he had a grocery store (he removed all the foreignness that Ellis Island had left his parents' last name) and my father's last name is just kind of boring.
posted by Hactar at 3:03 PM on July 15, 2014


The author is extremely pretentious. Wow.

Yeah, like she's the rosa parks of naming kids or something.

My paternal grandmother kept her maiden name after the wedding (India, 1944). She said it was a BIG DEAL and had to make multiple visits to the records office, the family court and police station over and over again over a period of 18 months before they accepted her marriage and maiden name. This was all done while her husband was all "yeah, i like your last name, you should keep it". Nobody was even contesting that shit.

Only after that did she agree to have kids. But when the kids came, she was all "umm yeah, i dont want to give them my name because of the runaround i had before".

So when my mom married my dad, she tried to convince my mom to keep her maiden name ("Pakistan in the 70's is a lot more liberal than India in the '40's. Keep your maiden name."). My mom was all "don't tell me what to do, mother-in-law". And only years later when I was born, did my dad find out that as a form of protest against his mom, she changed her last name AND middle name to match my dad's. His middle name is 18 characters long.

Thats a fucking story. I don't have all sorts of friends popping out babies, but when the idea of the last name of the kid comes up, it hasn't been seen as a big freaking deal to name the kid one way or the other. But hey, new york city must be way more conservative than suburban Indiana.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:04 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


My family is French and none of the women I know have changed their names when getting married. Children often carry their mother's name because...why wouldn't they?

I'm sort of surprised I'm the first person to lob the "this is a stupid American issue" grenade here.


Weird. My family is English and my in-laws are French and all the woman until my sister have changed their names. All the children have their fathers name because ... that's how it's done. (My sister hasn't had kids yet, not sure what they'll do). So I guess you are the first person to lob that grenade because the other non-Americans here have already experienced it in non-American culture and your experience is just a little more odd.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:04 PM on July 15, 2014


(Wait, the EULA coincidence is funny but people do realize that Eula is an actual name, right? Not that common these days but it's definitely a thing.)
posted by kmz at 3:11 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


But hey, new york city must be way more conservative than suburban Indiana.

Given that her piece is full of examples of people reacting weirdly, apparently so.
posted by rtha at 3:13 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Eula is a time-honored name. It is derived from Eulalia, who is the patron saint of Barcelona, and means "sweet-spoken".

(on preview, kmz beat me to it.)
posted by Lexica at 3:13 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Our experience was that names are a license to Have Opinions and offer them freely, and we don't even have kids. People's judgmental asshole side comes out in spades and they'll happily tell you all about it. The funny thing is that there are no practical implications of name choices (other than hearing from tiresome people) but people will act like you are considering forehead tattoos instead of a routine name choice.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:26 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I took my wife's last name when we got married. My father in law was shocked and dismayed at first. He got over it. We had to do a legal name change, which was a pain, instead of just having the marriage license take care of it. But it really hasn't been a big deal to our friends and relations (my grandmother could never get the hang of it, but she's dead now). People keep their own last names a lot now, but I like the whole family having the same last name. We knew we wanted kids.
posted by rikschell at 3:28 PM on July 15, 2014


My partner and I didn't feel like marriage suited us but with a baby on the way we needed to decide whose name to use. We came up with the idea of jointly choosing a new surname for both of us. So we chose a nice new surname thats meaningful to us and had a renaming party. Our child will take that surname too, but when he/she grows up, perhaps they will meet someone they like and choose a new surname together with them.
posted by memebake at 3:42 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Edgewise: your plan breaks down when you consider same-sex couples or gender variant folks. Also if the child grows up to have a gender identity that doesn't match the one they were assigned at birth, it complicates things. It is not "utterly fair" if you look at the possibilities with any depth.

See, that's precisely the criticism that I anticipated. But it's really not hard to extend my approach to these situations. You can alternate children, roll a die, or decide that females get one name and males get another (physiologically speaking). If a kid decides to change genders, there's no reason to change the name, unless that suits them, in which case by all means do so. After all, if you're going to change your gender, changing your name isn't as big a deal (and most transgendered people change their first name, anyway). And guess what? Despite the attention that transgendered issues get these days, these cases are not very common. Even so, if they presented an unsolvable conundrum, that would throw a spanner into it, but as I said, it's easy to adjust.

The Spanish have been using hyphenated surnames for generations (although, under current practices, the mother's surname does eventually disappear.)

That parenthetical statement contains my problem with this approach. If some names don't eventually fall off, how can that possibly scale? After three generations, you have EIGHT hyphenated elements in your name. There's no way to mitigate that without having some kind of cut-off or obsolescence. If that can be done without there being a gender bias, then I guess it could work.

I don't think it's about being fair, per se. Last names are usually ways to acknowledge paternity for the father (as someone pointed out, the woman's role is usually less in doubt), while cleaving the spouses and children into one family unit that they are thenceforth known by

Yes, that's the traditional purpose, but I believe in moving past that. You're right that there's no effective way to be "fair" and maintain a unified family identity.
posted by Edgewise at 4:06 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


In the very liberal circles in which I travel, this would go over pretty poorly. As a quiet exercise it would be seen as taking one's politics a bit too far, sort of like letting the homeless move into your house. As a noisy exercise it would be seen as a rather nasty piece of emasculation of the husband, and people's main question would be whether he took the knife willingly or under protest.
posted by MattD at 4:08 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


A friend of mine taught an intro philosophy class in which he mentioned that he and his wife were going to be following this principle: "male child gets the father's last name; female child gets the mother's last name." The students were univocal in their disgust and outrage. But none of them had anything even remotely resembling a reasonable criticism, and they were eventually forced to admit this.

I thought this was a really good way to get students to confront that they can have strong opinions about things that they can't back up with reasons. It went into my teacher's toolbox.

Also, I really like the principle.
posted by painquale at 4:11 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


In the very liberal circles in which I travel, this would go over pretty poorly. As a quiet exercise it would be seen as taking one's politics a bit too far, sort of like letting the homeless move into your house. As a noisy exercise it would be seen as a rather nasty piece of emasculation of the husband, and people's main question would be whether he took the knife willingly or under protest.

Yeah, a lot of liberal circles aren't actually all that liberal, when you go down a little deeper.
posted by jeather at 4:12 PM on July 15, 2014 [33 favorites]


Like many, many others, I'm one of those people who have the last name of a man who is biologically my father, but whom I've never met. It's weird. I'm the only person I know with my last name. For a time, I lived with my grandparents and used their (i.e., my mother's maiden) name, and then for a while I used my stepfather's (i.e, my younger brother's) name. Then, at some point, I only used "my" last name, which has absolutely no real connection to anything in my life/past/family. But, hey, it's all mine.

In my opinion, it matters what your last name is. It matters that your parents take time to consider what you will be called, how you will be labeled, how that will connect you to your family. It doesn't matter if you get your mother's, father's, or some hybrid name, it matters that someone cares enough to make a thoughtful decision about it for you.
posted by MoxieProxy at 4:14 PM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm one of those people who have the last name of a man who is biologically my father, but whom I've never met. It's weird. I'm the only person I know with my last name. For a time, I lived with my grandparents and used their (i.e., my mother's maiden) name,...

Welcome to MetaFilter, Mr. President.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:22 PM on July 15, 2014 [30 favorites]


It is sorta funny that most people have problems with the child's last name, and not the fact that she named her baby Eula May.

Only a letter off from being Holly Golightly.

Is it weird that my last name is my father's first name?
posted by bluefly at 4:23 PM on July 15, 2014


"Eula May" is the name of the telephone operator from "To Kill A Mockingbird."
posted by whistle pig at 4:23 PM on July 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


memebake: we chose a nice new surname thats meaningful to us and had a renaming party

Out of interest, did you have any difficulties as a result?

I've always been concerned about the impact of changing surname and having (for example) business contacts outside my immediate network unable to make the connection. I guess it's 'brand recognition'.

Did you experience that and perhaps a multiplied effect because there wasn't a typical convention to fall back on?
posted by Chipeaux at 4:26 PM on July 15, 2014


If I manage not to think of EULA when I see the name (sorry, yes, lovely traditional name that has been supplanted by legalese), Eula Kautz May is a really nice and balanced name that sounds better than Eula May Kautz.
posted by jeather at 4:26 PM on July 15, 2014


That she signed him up for daycares and doctors under her lastname instead of mine was a big part of the reason she lost custody.


Wait, what?
posted by MoxieProxy at 4:34 PM on July 15, 2014


memebake: we chose a nice new surname thats meaningful to us and had a renaming party

Chipeaux: Out of interest, did you have any difficulties as a result?


We changed our names one month ago, since then we've been writing to various banks/agencies to get everything switched over. We've started receiving mail in our new names which is exciting.

No real problems yet. As you say, work contacts outside my immediate network might be a little confused, but my work doesn't rely on those extended networks so I don't forsee that causing me any problems.
posted by memebake at 4:36 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


for a while I used my stepfather's (i.e, my younger brother's) name

I had to parse that twice.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:56 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


> Ugh. I've faced this, I've engendered it. But to pretend that no one would react to going out and saying "We're playing with conventions" is to court insanity. I say this as a person who wore a re-purposed pants leg as a hat for a while. People will react to anything outside the norm, and to behave like they are the ones who are being unreasonable is just deliberately messing with the social contract.

But isn't it society's fault, for establishing a social contract before she was born, and therefore without her consent? Yes. Yes it is.

The right reaction, in case anyone was wondering, is to be surprised for a second, catch yourself, suddenly realize how close-minded you were, and thank her profusely for being better than you.

Is that so hard? No. No it is not.
posted by officer_fred at 5:08 PM on July 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


she's so damn busy dealing with the reactions of people who think she should just shut up already dammit woman what makes you think your opinion is worth expressing or that anybody should respect it anyway.
posted by Lexica


Did you really just accuse me of forming my opinion of the author because she's a woman? Based on what evidence? What did I say that was gender-specific?

That rhetorical tactic is cheap and you're absolutely better than that.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:14 PM on July 15, 2014


MetaFilter: Oh My Crapping Hole
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:20 PM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Did you really just accuse me of forming my opinion of the author because she's a woman? Based on what evidence? What did I say that was gender-specific?

Reread what I wrote, more carefully. I did not say that you formed your opinion because she was a woman or that you had said something gender-specific. "Woman", in my comment, was how the imaginary speaker was addressing her. It could be substituted with "lady" or "dipshit" or "asshole" without changing what I wrote much:
should just shut up already dammit woman what makes you think your opinion is worth expressing or that anybody should respect it anyway
vs.
should just shut up already dammit lady what makes you think your opinion is worth expressing or that anybody should respect it anyway
vs.
should just shut up already dammit dipshit what makes you think your opinion is worth expressing or that anybody should respect it anyway
vs.
should just shut up already dammit asshole what makes you think your opinion is worth expressing or that anybody should respect it anyway
I do think it's interesting how some of those seem to hold a bit more hidden disdain than some of the others do, just by the term that's used. But shining a light on society's inherent misogyny is not the same as calling out individual behavior.
posted by Lexica at 5:34 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I suggested giving daughters my wife's last name and sons my last name, and the Mrs said no. At the end of the day, though, who cares.
posted by jpe at 5:40 PM on July 15, 2014


At the end of the day, I care.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:41 PM on July 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


This is a thing I have just done (like.... 9 weeks ago?)

Our (female) child got her Surname with mine as middle.
I have her surname as a middle name.
She has mine as a middle name.
If the child had been male it would have my surname with hers as middle.

There are two reasons for this:

1) It treats both parties equally
2) It is a system which scales.
3) It is mostly backwards compatible

Hyphenated names can't scale because eventually you will have a million hyphens.
Male only or Female only are obviously not equal.
Most more complex systems that meet points 1 and 2 need widerspread adoption.

There are downsides I suppose, but they are mostly in the "That's a bit odd" vein so far. We've not had time to run into many opportunities for bureaucratic trouble.

The article seems ultimately to say "everyone thought it was weird and then it was fine".
and then settles on "Maybe think about different options before you do them"
both of which I agree with.

What it doesn't say (which is also good) is "you must do it this way" or "this is the best or only way"

If you genuinely want a family unit with one name then that is best.
If you are more concerned with equality than scalability then maybe hyphenation is better.
etc. etc.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:42 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I dislike my last name partly because it's steeped in generations of chauvinism, but alas, my partner's last name wasn't attractive/cool enough for me to take or hyphenate. Should've miscegenated.
posted by peripathetic at 5:44 PM on July 15, 2014


I could give a shit what she names her kids. Or even her motivations, if she had possessed the good taste to shut up about them.

I don't think you said any of this because she's a woman, but I do think it's hilarious that you whine about her talking about her experience as if you were forced to click through any of the links to read it (or did she come to your house and tie you up?), while presuming that anyone here should give a shit what you think about what she names her kids.

My mom took her maiden name back a few years after she and my dad divorced; I still have his name. It was never cause for raised eyebrows - the divorce was, among some, to be sure, but not the two of us having different names.

There were a couple of years after the divorce where my mom had to bring the divorce decree to places like banks to prove that she was really allowed to close an account (that was under her married name, I guess) or take out a loan without her husband's permission.
posted by rtha at 5:49 PM on July 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


I have a friend from an old Spanish family who follow the naming convention of using both parents. She has , I think, eleven (11) legal names. Her given name, 7 or 8 family names and a few saints thrown in for good measure. When she got married she put them all on the invitation then promptly hyphenated her husband's name on to hers and had three daughters. I cannot wait to see what they do but I'm shooting for a good 14 names each in the next generation.
posted by fshgrl at 5:56 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


flex: My husband gets it. And he jokes about having kept his last name. And to be totally honest, I really don't want to be all like "he's so amazing" about it, although other people have said that to me. But for what? - acknowledging me as an equal? acknowledging and agreeing my thoughts on the matter are valid? not making it into any kind of a deal? because their husbands would never allow it?

For so many people, tradition is the one thing that keeps us from becoming animals, or so it seems. Break traditions (like the wife and kids using the husband's name), and you're a crazy person, a heathen in a land of the god-fearing, or just illogical. Why change tradition, after all? Women can vote and have jobs, right? But they've always taken their husband's name!

So, to some people, your husband was "so amazing" for allowing you* to break tradition (*and the man having the final say in all decisions out of the kitchen is also a tradition to some people - it's fun to see how sales people address a couple, who they think should take the lead in negotiations and such, but I digress).

It's not your husband's relationship to you, but with The Grander Traditions. At least, that's my read. My wife and I had fun discussions about last names before we got married, then again when we had our first kid, but we came down on the side of tradition, because my family was a bit insane, and my wife was "so awesome" as to not demand to keep her family name alive by keeping her name, or naming our child with her last name. Even my siblings were baffled that we would even discuss anything other than my wife taking my name when we married, then slightly enraged that I would change my name to take her name, or some new 3rd name. It's not just old, ornery people who cling to traditions for no good reason. By the way, I have a brother, and he has a decent chance of keeping our family name alive, so I wouldn't be "killing off" the name with my decision.

Oh traditions, you're so heavy and hard to move.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:59 PM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


--I thought it was weird enough having my father's last name after he left and went no-contact, and I was a pre-adolescent and technically old enough to understand such things (the court wouldn't allow us to change our names to our mother's without his consent).

-My son's mother tried to change his last name from mine to hers at some point. It was part of the plan to cut me out of his life. That she signed him up for daycares and doctors under her lastname instead of mine was a big part of the reason she lost custody.


Ugh. Changing a kid's name out of spite is just as bad as forcing a kid you want nothing to do with to keep your name out of spite.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:08 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have a 13-year-old son who has his mom's last name. We made the decision at the last minute, with the birth certificate literally sitting in front of us. We had his first name (came to me in a dream) (seriously), and his middle name (her dad's name), but when we got to his last name, we thought that using her last name a) just sounded better with his first and middle names and b) was a pretty great non-traditional thing to do. (Although, full disclosure: I have an older son with my last name, and I'd probably be being less than honest with you and myself if I didn't at least acknowledge the thought that having my patriarchal bases covered may have influenced how easily we made this decision.)

But no one has ever made a big deal of it at all. It's just been a total non-issue. We were never married and split up three years after he was born, which may have something to do with it, and live in a pretty liberal area, which I'm sure has a lot to do with it, but still, other than causing a little confusion at his school's office, it's never caused any worry at all.
posted by ThoughtCrimeSpree at 6:42 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, a lot of liberal circles aren't actually all that liberal, when you go down a little deeper.

"Scratch a liberal, strike a pig" is the traditional proverb.
posted by BinGregory at 6:47 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


My cousin's husband took her name when they married, and all three of their sons took her name after she birthed them at home (with the help of a midwife and a tub).

But they live in the mountains above Santa Cruz, so there you go.

The dog my wife and I caretake wound up with my name, but that was due to an assumption by the vet here in the LBC, where the patriarchy remains strong.
posted by notyou at 8:27 PM on July 15, 2014


Having sat on the bench in family court, last names can sometimes may be an issue but really my issue is the bizarre first and middle names that people give their children. I feel for the Rainbow, Disco, BK Hallelujah, and all the weirdo spellings. Yes, it is your child but do you have to make them put up with names like "Timber Dick"...yes, really....really.

Re the last name thing I just wish women would quit changing their names when they marry, because the odds are they will marry again and take another name, just do what men do and keep it simple. Society will adjust.
posted by OhSusannah at 9:07 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Now what kind of peckerwood would name their child ... oh.
posted by BinGregory at 9:17 PM on July 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


One of the fringe benefits of being a gay man. If I ever get married (HAH), and if we subsequently decide to have children, our names will be hyphenated anyway so really the only argument is over the first/middle names.

Which can get... difficult.

Either way, good for her.

Yes, it is your child but do you have to make them put up with names like "Timber Dick"...yes, really....really.

Parents need to stop imposing their own perceived shortcomings on their children. Give them a name that is reasonable, raise them with the knowledge that if they ever wish to change their name you are fully behind them.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:26 PM on July 15, 2014


(and I say this as someone with a first and last name that provoke immediately predictable responses, to the point where I say "If you sing that song or mention that book I am not talking to you again" sometimes. I mean, my parents had a good reason to choose the first name they did, in memoriam for someone, but fuuuuck.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:28 PM on July 15, 2014


My children were born in a hospital with dual language birth certificates. So when it came time to fill them out we simply decided to translate our last names to be the same. This way the kids got both last names. In one language they get mom's and in the other language they get dad's. We have since followed this same practice when filling out any official documents for ourselves and so we all have the same last names in both languages.
posted by wobumingbai at 9:56 PM on July 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


My stepbrother M. and his wife N. have two sons. My stepsister-in-law is the last branch of her family tree and had already taken M.'s last name when they married. Their first son got M.'s last name and, on my stepmother's suggestion, they gave the second son N.'s maiden name to keep it going. I thought it was a marvelous idea, and to hell with schools being confused.
posted by Spatch at 11:14 PM on July 15, 2014


My wife kept her maiden name, and our children have her surname. No one has ever commented on that. People who don't know us assume, I think, that they are my stepchildren. It is a very unusual thing to do even today (we live in the UK) but it is not a big deal at all. The only time it is a problem is coming through immigration at Heathrow. I have been told several times it would cause problems entering the USA, but it never has done.
posted by Major Tom at 1:00 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think what this article highlights is that our society still has some pretty strong patriarchical assumptions sitting round with this. My wife took my name, although I would have been happy to do something different: its what she wanted, so we went with it.

I think the whole "lucky to have a husband like that" thing is so interesting. It reminds me of a scene from the film Made in Dagenham, which follows the strikes by female workers for equal pay. The strikes are hard work, and her husband becomes unhappy with their situation. During a fight, he points out that he never hit her. She sarcastically points out that that should be the default. That isn't something to be proud of, it should just be the norm.

I try to keep that in mind in my relations with my wife. Sometimes I will get compliments for helping round the house: I do most of the cooking and washing up, for instance, but I don't feel like that is an acheivement on my part: thats just being part of a relationship. Its a bit sad that that anything like that should be considered remarkable.

But then I'm always pushing up against the frustrating assumptions made by fellow men. I know relations who will make tired old jokes about how relationships between men and women supposedly are, and I will weakly smile as they attempt to include me in the joke, as if I know what they are talking about. I had a flatmate who, whenever I mentioned my girlfriend (who I was seeing long distance, and was thus rather overjoyed whne I got to see her) would refer to her as the old ball and chain as if seeing her would be a chore for me. The idea that men are captured by women (or visa versa), that marriage isn't a partnership, is so alien to me, yet it is pervasive.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:58 AM on July 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


In our family, we all (husband included) now have my name as our penultimate name, and my husband's name as our last name. It makes me happy every time I see my husband's full name written down*.

My side of the family find this all completely incomprehensible / are unable to accept this 'radical' act and I routinely get letters addressed to 'Mrs (in fact I am Dr and before that was Ms, never Miss) his initial, his last name'. I am often tempted to return them to sender with 'not known at this address' scribbled over it.

*sadly the Passport Office wouldn't accept that this was our name without a notarised document to support it when we last went to renew our passports, so while the kids' passports include my last name, ours just have his. I was so sad and furious when the passport office handed me a passport which no longer had my name on it - it felt like I'd lost a limb and been told I was a non-person, like in the days before 1870 when a woman became feme covert on marriage and lost her individual legal identity.
posted by melisande at 5:08 AM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


As my lefty feminist friends have moved through the getting married stage and are now firmly into second- and third-baby-having phase, it's been interesting to watch this naming thing. Most of the women I knew kept their own names, and so I guess I just assumed there would be at least discussion around the child naming. But almost without exception, for opposite-sex couples, the kids have gotten the dad's last name. I can't know what conversations took place behind closed doors, of course, and no one owes me an explanation of their decisions, but the people who have offered explanations of their own motivation have typically gone with "Eh, it just seemed easier." I wouldn't have predicted this pattern, and am surprised every time it happens again.

I have chosen unmarried partnership and no kids, so I don't really have a horse in this race. But I did grow up as the only one in my family with my last name. (My mom remarried when I was about seven and took her new husband's name, their daughter took his name, I chose not to change my name.) It really was no big deal for anyone, even in the 80s and 90s. I don't understand what everyone thinks is going to be such a big difficult deal today. The biggest problem we ever seemed to encounter was my friends calling my parents Mr. and Mrs. [MyLastName], which they cheerfully answered to.
posted by Stacey at 5:25 AM on July 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


My oldest son has my last name; my second son has his father's and great-grandfather's first,middle, and last names; my youngest son has my last name. The oldest is 44, the youngest is 38. Nobody -I mean nobody, not their father, not family members, not friends- ever questioned their last names, it was never an issue. All three sons were born and raised in the US. Are we living in a different universe?
posted by mareli at 6:28 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have grown up with a hyphenated name, and I have no idea what the big deal is, or why people complain. I mean, the worst inconvenience I have is that sometimes filing systems drop the hyphen and smoosh the names together, or file me under the first or second name. So when you go to a front desk, they can't find you, you just suggest that it might be under the other name. Big whoop.

I have kept my hyphenated name upon marriage. It wasn't even a consideration to change it. When I was a kid (in the 70s), they thought my parents were big progressive creatures or something, but the reality is that the hyphenated name was created not by my parents, but my grandparents circa WWII in the Old Country. Grandma came from the Important Family With Distinctive Name, her two sons were going to inherit the family business, so they had hyphenated names. Eventually, my dad emigrated, and kept the hyphenated name, passed it on, and it's made it two generations without change. (My brother's wife and children took his hyphenated last name.) Back in the Old Country, my father's brother dropped his father's name, and kept his mother's. His children all took my grandmother's name.

I do not have children, but my stepkids (previous to my influence) took their gender's last names. So they have different last names. Also, not been a big deal, or any problem with schools or questions of parentage or whatnot.

I know at least one man who took his wife's last name upon marriage. I thought it was unusual, but pretty cool to see.
posted by RedEmma at 7:01 AM on July 16, 2014


My wife kept her name when we got married. We were on the fence about the last name of our newly-minted small person, so we decided that the first one gets my last name, and the next one gets her last name. Upon reaching legal age, the kid is free to pick either parent's name, or hyphenate, or pick whatever she wants--ain't no big thing. Seemed like a reasonable compromise. I had no idea the shitstorm that would have awaited us if we'd swapped that completely arbitrary ordering.

Both our last names start the with same letter, so her initials will still be same: EKG. She will remain The Cardiac Kid
posted by Mayor West at 7:42 AM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I wonder why her experience was so unlike mine. I gave my daughter my last name (I'm her mother) and I've had exactly one friend say "I wish I could have done that but my husband would've refused." Nobody else has cared. Not the insurance companies, not the schools, not my friends, not my husband. No snark, no praise, it's just not interesting.

It doesn't matter to anyone other to me, it seems; to me, it's the most feminist thing I've done in my life.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:51 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


> One of the fringe benefits of being a gay man. If I ever get married (HAH), and if we subsequently decide to have children, our names will be hyphenated anyway

Interesting that you see the hyphen as a given. My sister and her wife have different last names; my stepbrother and his husband have the same last name.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:54 AM on July 16, 2014


Interesting that you see the hyphen as a given.

I see your point, and should have been more clear that I was speaking from personal experience. The two times in my life that sort of long-term discussion has come up, hyphenation was simply assumed by both of us to be the only logical way to do things, in the sense of wanting to acknowledge the (potential) marriage in a concrete way without losing part of our named identity; adding to it instead.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:18 AM on July 16, 2014


Oh, I get it: it's your personal policy, not one you're giving to a larger population. Makes sense.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:02 AM on July 16, 2014


That parenthetical statement contains my problem with this approach. If some names don't eventually fall off, how can that possibly scale? After three generations, you have EIGHT hyphenated elements in your name. There's no way to mitigate that without having some kind of cut-off or obsolescence. If that can be done without there being a gender bias, then I guess it could work.

You're right that there's no effective way to be "fair" and maintain a unified family identity.

Unless you have same-sex parents, it seems pretty straightforward to do it without a gender bias-- women pass down whichever name came from their mother's side (and drop the name that came from their father's side), men pass down whichever name came from their father's side (and drop the name that came from their mother's side.) Jane HerMaternalName-HerPaternalName and John HisMaternalName-HisPaternalName become the HerMaternalName-HisPaternalName family. No gender bias, never more than two names, one unified name for the family, and preserves the traditional "male family name passed along the male line" plus adding an additional "female family name passed along the female line." (which then would be associated with mtDNA passed down the maternal line while last names passed down the paternal line will continue to be associated with Y-DNA! /geneticgenealogynerd)

I was given a hyphenated name at birth and this is what we're doing for our kids. (I would've taken the new hyphenated name at marriage so we'd all have the same last name, but my husband wanted to keep his and I didn't care that much so I kept my original MyMaternalName-MyPaternalName too... but our kids will be MyMaternalName-His(Paternal)Name.)

This doesn't work so smoothly for hyphenated children of same-sex couples when they have to decide which half of their birth lastname to keep/pass on, but it's not like the traditional solution works there anyway, right? As you said, alternate, flip a coin, create a new name, whatever. I think it should work fine for trans* folks with a clear gender identity (if they've already transitioned by the time they get married/have kids and are making the decision of which name to pass on), a bigger issue would be people who are genderqueer or otherwise less comfortable with a choice linked to defining themselves as male or female.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 12:14 PM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


If I ever had so much money lying around that I didn't have anything more pressing to spend it on, I'd consider changing my last name to "Hyphenated."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:19 PM on July 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


You're right that there's no effective way to be "fair" and maintain a unified family identity.

Yes there is - both parents choose a completely new surname, and pass it on to the child.
posted by memebake at 2:05 PM on July 16, 2014


> You're right that there's no effective way to be "fair" and maintain a unified family identity

You can base your family identity on something other than having a single shared surname.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:39 PM on July 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


You're right that there's no effective way to be "fair" and maintain a unified family identity.

I would hope, should I ever have a family of my own, that our unified identity would be derived from our love and respect for each other, as well as for those outside our immediate family group. Who is named what is pretty immaterial in that sense.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:28 PM on July 16, 2014


This thread is about names, so in the context of this thread when Edgewise talks about a 'unified family identity', we understand that he's talking about names. I'm sure we all also agree that a shared identity can be based on other things as well.
posted by memebake at 3:44 PM on July 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


So I basically wrote this same article in 2003, when my first book was published, and it was excerpted in some totally innocuous, mild magazine like Ladies Home Journal or Baby & Child or something, and edited down in that version to its most innocuous, mild form—and I got hate mail you wouldn't believe. People telling me my husband was either going to divorce me for "disrespecting" him or that he was not a real man to begin with since he "allowed" me to give "his" child my name; people saying they felt most sorry for my daughter, who was going to grow up not only embarrassed to have me as a mother, but shamed by the last name she was saddled with, a daily reminder of what an awful person she was born to. I was completely caught off-guard by this—my piece was not about the weird reactions we got for making this choice (most people thought it was pretty cool), but mostly about the difficulty my in-laws had with wrapping their heads around it, and what that experience was like. In other words, it was a "hey, here's a thing I experienced" personal essay kind of story, not a "you oblivious idiots are slaves to the patriarchy if you don't make this same choice" rant. And yet these anonymous readers of the most inoffensive popular magazine I could think of absolutely did interpret it as some kind of attack on their own personal morals and values.
posted by mothershock at 7:29 AM on July 17, 2014 [8 favorites]


> we all have the same last names in both languages.

Huh? How can someone have several different names depending on what language one speaks?
posted by Monochrome at 8:12 AM on July 17, 2014


Huh? How can someone have several different names depending on what language one speaks?

How is that hard to understand? Do you think, for example, that Michael Chang's Chinese name is an exact cognate?
posted by kmz at 8:19 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


How is that hard to understand? Do you think, for example, that Michael Chang's Chinese name is an exact cognate?

I'm also confused about it, and my confusion has nothing to do with whether a name is an exact cognate, it's because I assume that the parents had different last names before they became partners. At that point, unless there's been some kind of legal name change, I don't understand how the dual-language thing affects "we have the same name". I also don't understand how having a baby has an effect on either parent's name unless, again, there's been some kind of legal name change in the process.

If somebody would be kind enough to explain it, preferably without snark, that would be most welcome.
posted by Lexica at 10:36 AM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not the original poster but I'm imagining the scenario is something like:

Parent A's name is 张 [x], parent B's name is [y] Jones.

On the birth certificate all names are supposed to be given in both Chinese and English forms. So the parents are 张 [x] and 张 [z] in Chinese, and [a] Jones and [y] Jones in English. Their kid is 张 [b] in Chinese, [c] Jones in English.
posted by kmz at 10:56 AM on July 17, 2014


My partner and I gave our daughter her own last name -- neither of us was particularly enamored of either of our last names.  We chose a word that meant a lot to us, and as far as I know our daughter is the only person in the world with her last name, which I think is pretty nifty.  Her mom and I have a standing offer to her to change our last names to hers if she ever wants us to, like if not sharing names made her feel alienated or whatnot, but so far (at age 8) she's been fine with it.

(The name: Duende.)
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 4:35 PM on July 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


> How is that hard to understand?

I wish you would've rephrased that. At first glance it seemed like you were feigning surprise.

Do you think, for example, that Michael Chang's Chinese name is an exact cognate?

Inasmuch.

I had assumed that people speaking Chinese (or any other language) would refer to Michael Chang as "Michael Chang"---that is, the phonemes most similar to the phonemes that Michael Chang himself uses in his native language. I had assumed that people writing Chinese (or any other language) would refer to Michael Chang in their language with a straightforward transliteration.

I looked at a Wikipedia article and discovered that there may be no such thing as a straightforward transliteration.
Modern Standard Chinese consists of less than 500 syllables, so homophones abound and most foreign words have multiple possible transcriptions. This is particularly true since Chinese is written as monosyllabic logograms, and consonant clusters foreign to Chinese must be broken into their constituent sounds (or omitted), despite being thought of as a single unit in their original language. Since there are so many characters to choose from when transcribing a word, a translator can manipulate the transcription to add additional meaning.

In the People's Republic of China, the process has been standardized by the Proper Names and Translation Service of the Xinhua News Agency. Xinhua publishes an official reference guide, the Names of the World's Peoples: a Comprehensive Dictionary of Names in Roman-Chinese (世界人名翻译大辞典, Shìjiè Rénmíng Fānyì Dà Cídiǎn), which controls most transcription for official media and publication in mainland China. As the name implies, the work consists of a dictionary of common names. It also includes transcription tables for names and terms which are not included. The English table is reproduced below; those for a number of other languages are available at the Chinese Wikipedia.
I am called by a nickname that is completely unrelated to my legal name. Family, friends, and colleagues know me by this name. But I may not use this name on my driver's license. I may not use this name when opening an account at the bank. One persnickety restaurant employee refused to take my order with this name. I have lived almost all my life with reminders that no matter what I call myself, every authority will recognize only one name. "How is that hard to understand?"

It's clear that you're familiar with Chinese legal names and I am not (to the point of surprise). Please bear that in mind when I ask: Is there a legal requirement that a Chinese name must be a transliteration of the original (likely from the official table mentioned above)? Is there a cultural expectation that a Chinese name ought to be a transliteration of the original? Are there people whose Chinese names retain a semantic similarity to the original but no phonetic similarity? Are there people whose Chinese names bear no resemblance in semantics or phonetics to their original names?
posted by Monochrome at 5:05 PM on July 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Molly and Chris are both lovely people, and my friends. When I found out she named her daughter Eula, I was delighted. I have not one but TWO great-great-aunt Eulas in my family, and I think it's a shame that the name isn't more common (especially since its rarity means that people now make EULA jokes anytime they hear it). It made me all the happier when I found out Eula was going to be Eula May.

I think it's brave of Molly to write about this, and I was delighted to see something she wrote posted here on Metafilter. Her experiences aren't everyone's experiences, but she has always been the kind of writer to try to be as honest as she possibly can, which sometimes means putting yourself out there privilege-warts and all.

Now, about having "the good taste to shut up"?

FUCK. THAT.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:00 PM on July 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


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