Tag Archives: naming children

My son’s name (2)

As promised, here is a list of arguments people gave against our not passing on either of our surnames to our son, along with my responses. They either come from friends and acquaintances, or from responses to my Yahoo! Answers question. I hope they will be helpful to people who are thinking of doing something similar.

How will he know he’s part of your family?

(Yes, someone genuinely said this!) If you have to rely on your last name to know who your family is, then your family has done something very wrong indeed. Or you’re adopted… in which case you’ll probably have your adoptive parents’ last name anyway. Or there’s been some other dramatic event severing ties with your family. In which case your last name is the last of your worries.

It’ll make things really hard for future genealogists.

Fine. I like to give them a challenge. Not that I think, given how good record keeping is now, that this will be much of a challenge. But it may at least be sort of interesting for them.

It’s not traditional.

Fine. I don’t see any point in being traditional for the sake of it. Besides, it sort of is traditional in Wales, as it happens. Since there are so few Welsh surnames (and they’re seen by some as something of an English imposition), lots of Welsh kids use given last names. I find it very intriguing that people seem happier with the idea when I tell them this. As if anything is justified by being traditional somewhere.

If you’re worried about him only sharing a name with one of you, then isn’t it worse that he’ll share his name with neither of you?

This sort of misses the point, which is that we don’t want his relationship with one of us to be emphasised more than his relationship with the other. In any case, I rather like the idea that, instead of his simply inheriting one of our names automatically, he’ll get a name that we worked together to choose specially for him

It’ll cause him no end of trouble filling in forms.

No it won’t. He has a first name and a last name, and a birth certificate to prove it. He’ll be in no worse a position than anyone else. In fact, it’ll be easier for him than for me, since I’ve always used my second name instead of my first (my parents’ choice, not mine). And that can get annoying.

He’ll be bullied.

If I genuinely thought this would make him much more likely to be bullied, I wouldn’t have done it. But I’m simply not convinced that it will, particularly given how many kids there already are who have a different name from at least one of their parents.

You’ll have to take his birth certificate along with you on flights and things.

This may be a little annoying, but it’ll be annoying for us than for him. And I don’t think it’s a very big issue.

So what do you gain?

No one actually asked us this, but I think it’s worth answering. What we gain is that we’ve given him what I think is a nice name, which is a little unusual, but which doesn’t sound too weird, and which we thought very carefully about before choosing. My wife doesn’t feel that her family’s been ignored at the expense of mine, and I don’t feel that mine has been at the expense of hers.

And if it turns out he grows up and doesn’t like it for some reason, he’s free to change it if he wants!

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My son’s name

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.

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