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Choosing a baby’s last name


Whether I’m ready or not, I’m going to be a father in about a month.

My partner and I have spent a lot of time thinking about what to name our baby, but we have given every bit as much thought to our baby’s last name (surname) as her first name.

Art Farmer

This man is not a Farmer (photo courtesy of vernon.hyde)

Surnames are funny things. They are fossils, names frozen in time from when people first started using them a few centuries ago. Often they are of the job that someone used to do (Miller, Baker, Smith) but are of little relevance today. So maybe they don’t need to be preserved in stone.

Traditionally, a woman adopts her husband’s surname through marriage, and so the baby simply takes the father’s surname as well. This practice of name adoption is a relic from when women were considered property. Today, the practice still gives preference to the man’s name over the woman’s, even if no one thinks of women as property anymore. My partner and I have no interest in any of this, so she has retained her own name.

That leaves us with two last names: Nasrallah (mine) and Resnick (her’s). Which one should the baby get?

Bad Option 1: Use one name

Some parents in this situation give the baby either the father’s or the mother’s name, like Lorem Ipsum Resnick. In a stable two-parent household I think this is a bad idea, because it creates a disconnect between the child and one parent.

Bad Option 2: Make one a middle name

Similarly, using one of the parents’ last names as the child’s middle name (Lorem Resnick Nasrallah) implicitly gives one name precedence, since no one really cares about middle names anyway. And often it is the mother’s name that gets the short end of the stick in these situations.

Bad Option 3: Hyphenate

Other parents have chosen to give the child an enormous hyphenated last name: Lorem Ipsum ResnickNasrallah This solves the equality issue, but is an unsustainable strategy. When Ms. Resnick-Nasrallah meets Mr. Miller-Smith and has a baby, will the baby be Resnick-Nasrallah-Miller-Smith?

The Solution: Use part of both!

The answer is to use only a part of each of the parent’s last names. It’s like a surname mash-up.

Using a single breakpoint, our favorite new name combination is Nasralnick. Another excellent option would be Resrallah, which is especially fun if said in a Scooby Doo voice.

This name-recombination approach also appeals to me because of its relationship to biology. A child gets exactly half of their DNA from their mother and half from the father. Why shouldn’t the child’s name be the same?  The crossing-over of names also has a connection to chromosomal recombination during meiosis.

Name crossing-over

Chromosomal recombination (Wikimedia Commons)

The beauty of this is that you can point to the parts of the child’s name and say “This part is from your mommy, and this part is from your daddy.”

Other couples may have names that don’t recombine quite as well. In these cases more than one recombination breakpoint might be necessary (Resralnick, for example). In the worst case scenario, the letters of the two names can be used to create an entirely new name from the pieces (like Rascal). This option gives you a lot of freedom to be creative.

Why Not?

Many people worry that having a different name from your child will cause problems when flying with them. This is untrue. Simply keeping a copy of the birth certificate will quickly resolve any potential issues.

Others worry it will make their child feel different from other kids. It won’t matter what last (or first) name you give to your child: other kids will find some way to tease them.

Finally people tell me “We want our family to all have the same last name.” No problem: mom and dad can adopt the newly created name as well. Then the family can take on a new unified identity together.

Editor’s Note: the baby will probably not be called Lorem Ipsum.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 2013.07.24 07:38

    Chris, I love this! And it would be totally awesome for the three of you to take on the new name together. Looking forward to finding out the final decision.

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