When we married, my wife didn’t take my last name. This didn’t bother me in the slightest; nor does it appear to have bothered anyone else. We did, however, think for quite a while about our children’s names, and when our son was born the question stopped being hypothetical.
We had a number of options. Some people in the same circumstances give the child one of the parents’ two surnames. We didn’t want to do that because neither of us has a particularly interesting surname that we were keen to pass on, and because we didn’t like the idea of emphasising our son’s relationship with one of us, but not the other.
Another option is to combine the parents’ surnames. But we don’t especially like double-barrelled names, and, what’s more, they don’t really solve the problem: You have to make equally difficult decisions about which name comes first, and they get unsustainable after a generation or two. There was also no obvious way of merging our names more creatively to come up with something we liked.
Then we considered the Welsh option of calling our sons X ap Gareth, and our daughters X ferch Lottie (you can read more about this here), or some variation on this. But this still involved emphasising our son’s relationship with one of us, but not the other.
Then it occurred to us that you don’t need to make reference to the parents’ names at all. So we didn’t. When we filled in the birth-certificate form at the hospital, we put Iorwerth in the first-name box and Rowan in the last-name box. Rowan was just a name we happened to like (in fact it was in the running as a first name for quite a while). We’ll choose other last names for our other children.
No one since his birth has criticised our decision. When we suggested it to people before the birth, however, we were quite surprised by the negative reactions. Some people liked the idea very much. Others disliked it a lot. I also posted a question in the relevant section on Yahoo! Answers to see what people there would say. The reaction was very negative. Perversely, however, we were encouraged that we were doing the right thing. This is mainly because no one came up with a negative consequence that we thought believable and which would affect him rather than us. As far as I can see, the main disadvantage to doing this is that we may need to take his birth certificate along on certain occasions in case officials or school teachers refuse to believe we’re his parents. I can live with that.
I’ll list the main counter-arguments (and my responses) in a follow-up post, because I think they’re interesting. But to some extent I’m more interested in why some people seemed to dislike the idea so much. Part of it is probably that people get very uneasy when anyone does anything unconventional with children, however innocuous it may be. Another possibility (perhaps a superset of the other) is that a lot of people are simply much more conservative than I’d realised, and any flouting of normal practice puts them a little on edge. There’s another possibility as well. Some meat-eaters respond to vegetarians almost as if they’re offended by the vegetarians’ not eating meat, and I think this is because they take the vegetarians’ lifestyles as an implicit criticism of their own lifestyles. In the same way, I think some people assume that, by not giving our son either my surname or my wife’s, we were aiming a criticism at people who pass on their last names.
I would like to assure these people that we most certainly were not.