Perhaps the most significant decision a parent makes is choosing the perfect name for her child. But nowadays, with committed partners having different last names, hyphenated married names, single parents, same sex parents, divorced parents, and other relationship scenarios, determining a child’s last name can be an unexpected challenge.
"What do you think about kids' last names? Should they have dad’s last name whether you are married, defacto separated, single or whatever?" a Circle of Moms member with the screen name "Kel80" asks.
Single moms especially like to discuss the last name topic. "I am very close to my due date and I am still deciding if I want to give her my last name or her dad’s last name," Kayla O. says, for example. "Me and the dad are off-and-on dating … it’s been complicated. So my question is, should I use my last name or the dad’s?"
If you, too, are wondering what last name to write on the birth certificate, Circle of Moms members recommend considering the following four questions.
1. Does Either Parent Have a Preference?
Generally speaking, your child’s chosen name should be something both parents agree on, says a Circle of Moms member named Jodi. So it’s important for parents to talk about their preferences in advance of the birth to avoid making a last-minute decision before being discharged from the hospital.
For example, a mom who calls herself Firebird B. shares that a friend who kept her maiden name when she married also gave her daughter her maiden name, with her husband’s blessing. Firebird adds that the husband even considered taking his wife’s last name too: "Not because it's an excessively awesome name; he just doesn't get on well with most of his family."
Charlotte R. is another parent who felt strongly about the chosen last name, giving her son both her and her husband’s name. "There are only girls in my generation of my family, so the name would have died out," she explains, adding that she also wanted her child to have a last name that represents mom and dad equally.
Single moms Chelsey H. and Amanda W. suggest moms consider how they will feel about a name long after the child’s birth. If you are unmarried and your child has the father’s last name, it can create a little confusion for mom in school, at doctor’s offices, and when traveling, they say.
"Maybe you don’t think about it now, but you’ll have people assume you have the same last name and then people start calling you Mrs. …and then you [will have to explain], 'Oh no, we have different last names; he has his dad’s last name,'" Chelsey says.
"I’m constantly called by his last name at doctors, I always get looks about the different names, [and] people assume [my children’s] fathers are different and [even] that he's not mine!" Amanda says of her son who has her ex's last name and her daughter, who has her last name.
2. Is Dad Going to Be An Involved Parent?
The consensus in the Circle of Moms community is that if the father will not be involved in the child’s upbringing, then he’s also abandoned baby naming rights. Despite tradition, "I don't see the point in giving a child the last name of a father who is only marginally involved, or not involved at all, from the time the baby is born," Becky F. says.
Candice N. agrees, saying, "If you believe the father will not be in the baby's life very much except to buy diapers here and there, then in my opinion, I'd say to take your [last name]."
Tiffany B. goes even farther: "Your child should have your last name unless you are married to the father," she asserts.
On the other hand, "If you believe the father will be around and will be a good father, then I say give the baby his last name. It will make him feel more connected. And, honestly, he has just as much [of] a right to want the baby to take his last name as you do," says Melanie L.
After all, "If the guy is willing to sign the birth certificate and take ‘ownership’ so to speak, why not let him?" Keshia W. says.
3. Do You Want Your Child to Choose?
A good compromise, of course, is to hyphenate your child’s last name using both partners’ last names. That’s the option Montana E. chose, saying she didn’t want her daughter to have a different last name from her, but didn’t want to deprive her dad of the last name either.
Angela V. also hyphenated her children’s last names using her name and their dad’s last name because she says she really wanted her name in there somewhere.
Hyphenating the last name can be an especially good pathway if parents want their child to eventually choose their own name once they are older, or have some connection with the father even if he isn’t an active parent. "You never know when the father may come around," Amber M. says. "[By hyphenating] at least you give your child the option of choosing what they want as they get older. My son is 10 now and I am glad that I gave him both. His dad came around, and my son is proud to have both names."
Hyphenation is becoming more typical in today's world, says a mom named Ponda A. "If both names are on the birth certificate, then both names are to be listed on documents. When the child is old enough to make a legal decision, then they can... legally change their name to one or the other."
Yet even if no legal changes are made, a child often will choose to drop one of the hyphenated names if he no longer has any connection with it. Kathy F.’s daughter has two last names (one from her father, one from Kathy), and used both in elementary school. When she started middle school she just used Kathy’s name on school papers that don’t require her full legal name.
Ponda says this is a common occurrence. "I have talked to a school attendance administrator who deals with this. She indicated that she sees several of the students [who] have two last names... [drop] one of the names... in everyday conversations."
4. Keep Your Child in Mind
Whatever last name you decide to bestow upon your child, remember to keep your child’s best interests in mind, Circle of Moms members caution.
"Trust yourself to know what to do: His name, both? It's not about how the mother feels about the father," Kara C. says. "Too many mothers think about how they feel, when it's not about them."
"Regardless of your relationship with [the dad], it's not about either of you, it's about your child," agrees Liz. A.
And in the end, "It doesn't matter what their name is as long as [you’re] their mom," reminds Lisa B.
Image Source: TiggerT via Flickr/Creative Commons
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