Why our children will have different last names

We are having a baby boy in a few days, and will be adopting a girl for our second child one day. Our son will have my husband’s last name and our daughter will have my last name.


This solves the last name problem for our family, and it’s a solution that works for our family setup and our beliefs.


As always, we’ve chosen to share our process simply as a reminder that there are other options in life - never as a suggested one-size-fits-all solution, or, in thinking that our way is the ‘right’ way.


Before addressing the common questions we get about our children having different last names: Why not hyphenate your last names instead? What will other kids at school say when brother and sister have different names? Doesn’t sharing the same name make it a family?, etc., it’s important to address why we believed there was a last name problem in the first place.

I didn’t change my last name when I got married to Tom. Reason being, the history of women changing their last names goes back centuries, and the reason is not just my opinion or an assumption, it is verified by historical study after study. To summarize:

“The tradition of women changing their last names to match their husbands’ has its origins in the property transfer that took place upon marriage. Essentially, women went from being part of their parents’ family to becoming their husbands’ property.

Knowing the name changing tradition stems from women being considered as property belonging to another human was 110% reason enough for me not to change my last name.

On top of that, there were additional reasons why I did not believe in changing my last name:

  • Our culture has normalized a woman changing her last name but if a man was to change his last name to hers, it would be considered comical, strange, or viewed as emasculating for the man. If we believe marriage is an equal partnership, why is there not equal expectation, or even a discussion about, a man changing his last name instead? I am weary of social norms that do not give fair opportunity to one group compared to another (ex: previous expectations that women should not work or should be the one to stay home and take care of children versus the man, or that men who show emotion or are not aggressive are unmanly or likely gay, versus men that do withhold emotion or show aggressive behavior.

  • From birth, both the woman and the man have an identity which is their first and last name. The woman loses that original identity upon changing her name. There’s a reason that when a woman changes her name on Facebook it allows you to list your ‘maiden’ name in parentheses - it is for people to remember who you are because even if they’ve known you your whole life, once you change your last name you take on a different identity.

  • The term ‘maiden’ as in a woman’s ‘maiden name’ stems from ‘young girl’ or ‘virgin’ - further perpetuating the idea that women must be young, pure and wholesome before marriage whereas that judgment and expectation is not held to men.

  • The countless weddings I’ve attended where the new couple is announced as “Mr & Mrs. _____ [the husband’s first and last name].” At such a special moment in both of their lives there is zero mention of the woman’s first or last name. Just hours after being married the woman has been absorbed into and hidden by the man’s name and identity.

  • When Tom and I got married there were many traditions for the wedding ceremony that involved an act to say ‘two become one’ (ex: two candles light one candle and only one candle remains) and neither of us felt comfortable with the meaning of those acts. We are not two people merging into one, we are two individuals choosing to be partners and to share the same journey together: as separate people walking the same path in life.

  • The amount of women I’ve spoken to who said “I never thought about the reasons behind why we change our last names. I just went with it.” Similarly, women who have told me “I didn’t think there was another option.”

I think about that last reason so often. I wonder how many women, knowing the history of where our name change tradition comes from (women being considered property belonging to men), would give it a second thought?


There is a phrase that gets thrown around in business as a warning because it stifles growth and innovation: “The most dangerous phrase in the language is 'we've always done it this way.’” Ironically, the quote is by a woman named Dr. Grace Hopper and she was a pioneer in computer programming - she believed in progress.


Yes, a woman changing her last name is the way it’s been done in our country for hundreds of years - does that reason alone mean we should continue the tradition? Think of how many long-standing acts humanity has stopped as we’ve has progressed.


So with all this, when we found out we were pregnant we asked ourselves: whose last name will our child receive? And again, I found our society’s current tradition to be unfair and dismissive of women.

In our current society, it is expected and considered normal for a child to take the father’s name. Around 96% of heterosexual couples give their children the fathers last name. If those children choose to follow the same tradition, the father’s name gets carried on continually and the woman’s does not.


Which brings us to the decision-making process for our own family.

We know we are going to have 1 boy and 1 girl. We realize for people who have all biological children they can’t guarantee the sex of their children which is again why our solution works for our family and is not a one-size-fits-all suggestion. Also, having an even number of children and an equal distribution of genders, we are able to pass along our last names equally.

We considered hyphenating our children’s last names so they have both of our names, but we realized that would put them in the exact same predicament that we are avoiding: the loss of a name, since if that child gets married and has children they are passing along 2 names. Then if their child marries another person with a hyphenated last name, their child has to choose from 4 names as it’s assumed they will not carry all 4. Why set our children up for a scenario where they need to choose a name and lose a portion of their identity when we are solving that problem for ourselves?

We decided that as a family we could refer to ourselves as the DiCicco-Vasquez family without our children needing to have both names legally. However, it seems easier and more likely that we’ll simply refer to ourselves as: a family.


While the phrase blood is thicker than water is great when giving advice or watching mafia movies, we do not personally agree with the meaning behind it. A family is not defined by blood relation although yes that can be one characteristic.


A family is a unit, a group of people who refer to each other as a family unit. Just ask the millions of people who do not speak to certain blood relatives for a variety of reasons and instead have a ‘chosen family’ that they spend holidays with because they feel loved by those chosen family members. We will have an adopted daughter one day and will love her the same way we will our biological son.


Together, Tom and I were able to create a solution for our family that honored our individual identities and also challenged a status quo that neither of us felt comfortable with carrying on.


Our hope in sharing our story is to encourage learning about the traditions of family names and as always: to take action based on what you believe and feel comfortable with.


Just because it’s the way something has always been done doesn’t mean it has to reman that way, unless of course it’s something that you believe in strongly after learning about where that tradition comes from.

Resources

A Patriarchal Tradition That Just Won’t Budge - The Atlantic

Why so many women still take their husband’s last name - MarketWatch