My mom stomped on the glass at her wedding, didn’t take my dad’s last name, and routinely interfered with my enjoyment of rom-coms by pointing out when women had no agency. I’ve aspired to follow in her footsteps ― questioning gendered traditions and looking for ways to undermine patriarchal assumptions.
None of my actions have been particularly glass-ceiling-shattering. Picking a blue peg to drive my car in The Game of Life didn’t close the wage gap. Requesting Hot Wheels instead of a Barbie at McDonald’s didn’t guarantee anyone safe, legal abortions. But I grew accustomed to the contrary choice.
Until it was time to choose my baby’s last name.
I love when partners combine last names into a portmanteau or hyphenate them. But I married a man whose last name won’t combine with mine in any palatable way. After saying “I Do,” we each stuck with our given last names, and when I became pregnant, we had a decision to make.
Having already ruled out the previously mentioned options, we were left with a handful of choices. The most traditional and obvious choice would be to give our baby my husband’s last name. The newer approach might be to resurrect an old family name ― not something either of us felt called to. And then there was the option it seems almost no straight, married couple was going with — giving the baby the mother’s last name.
My husband was always open to giving our baby my last name. After all, I was the one who would throw up for three months, endure kicking from an in-utero soccer star, persevere through the marathon of labor and delivery, and then feed another human from my body eight to 12 times a day. And those are just the physical contributions. Surely, the lifelong demands of motherhood make it reasonable for a mom to share a last name with her child even if she doesn’t share one with her husband.
But I was uncharacteristically hesitant. I couldn’t think of one good reason not to, but I still felt uncomfortable with the rarity of giving our baby my last name instead of my husband’s.
“Why have the conventions of naming children been so slow to shift?”
No matter how my partner and I arrived at our decision, I knew that making this choice for our family would be a statement. I love to undermine the patriarchy, but was it appropriate to use someone else’s birth certificate to take this nominal stance? My baby’s name wasn’t a Happy Meal toy.
I only have one straight friend who gave her child her last name. That name is so charming and complements the baby’s first name so perfectly that her decision justifies itself the moment you hear it.
By contrast, my last name is somehow both a boring single syllable and completely impossible to pronounce. My life has been a field study on what verbal gymnastics will get the pharmacist to find my prescription on the first try.
Without the face value benefit of a great last name, I feared judgment. Not pearl-clutching judgment about honoring my husband. I feared the judgment of those who knew there were bigger fish to fry. The judgment that I was being contrarian only for contrarian’s sake.
A last name should be a simple personal preference ― as open and arbitrary as playing with cars or dolls. The decision to give a baby one parent’s last name or the other, or a combination, or the resurrection of an old family name ― these should all be equal choices that hold no weight outside of the family. But for now, when it comes to heterosexual parents, a mom’s last name gets quizzical responses, even the demand for an explanation. A dad’s last name doesn’t get noticed at all.
At the weddings I attend, no one is surprised if a man or a woman or both partners stomp on the glass. I know more women who have kept their last names after marriage than women who have taken their husbands’. Film critics routinely discuss the Bechdel test, Mary Sues and manic pixie dream girls. Many of the breaks with tradition my mom modeled for me are now woven into the status quo.
So why have the conventions of naming children been so slow to shift?
If parents give their kids the mom’s last name, maybe more families will feel comfortable making that choice, too. Eventually, that choice will be rendered neutral alongside all the other options. And that neutrality — that’s what will give families real choices to make.
So, because I carried and delivered our baby, because my last name would likely end with me but my husband has many cousins to carry on his last name, because there was no reason not to flip the script ― our baby has my last name.
When we shared our choice, we got a few questions about why — our best and most honest response was really, “Why not?” I hope that for my child, the distinction is a source of pride, the way my mother’s small breaks with tradition have always been for me. I look forward to seeing what norms they break for their own children.