Tag Archives: Sexism

Surnames and Patriarchy

The “good ole days”, when men were men, and women took the last name of their man and of course the children would also take the surname of their father. Simple, neat, tidy and terribly old school. There are a lot of reasons and circumstances for women to keep their surname after they hook up with their partner, and when this happens, how do you choose a last name for your child(ren)?

When Men Were Men

Men proudly defending their tradition of keeping women down.

Things have changed over the last generation or two, and increasingly men are no longer the men they once were, and it’s a good thing. I can think of a plethora of reasons why a woman would choose not to take the surname of her partner, and my wife fits into this category. In our case, my wife is a scientist and has several publications under her surname and for her to change her name would, at best make it difficult for people to track her body of work, and at worst may actually prevent her career from taking off. If my wife had a career that was less dependent on her name, I would have still raised the issue of whether or not we should share a common last name after being married. In my mind, we are both individuals and to assume that she would take my name would be akin to denying her identity as a result of our relationship.

 Surname Options

Since my wife and I both still have our original surnames, we had to decide what the last name of our children would be. The following is a list of the options that we considered in choosing a last name for our kids:

  1. My last name for one, and my wife’s last name for the other
  2. My last name for all of them
  3. My wife’s last name for all of them
  4. A hybrid of my last name and my wife’s last name
  5. A hyphenated combination of both of our surnames
  6. An entirely new last name for both of our children

Jenn and I were both opposed to option #5 because we thought that if our kids keep their last names and they decide to hyphenate the names of their children, then you’d be creating a situation where the length of hyphenated surnames could grow exponentially with every new generation and that seemed ridiculous.

We, or at least I, had a lot of fun with option #4. By combining our surnames in a particular way, you could create a resulting surname of “Bakins”, which seemed awesome to me because I am a geek and saw an opportunity to name my son “Bilbo” which would have made me the father of “Bilbo Bakins”. Absolutely fricking awesome,right? Jenn, appreciated the humour, but also appreciated that this was probably not how our son would want to be known for his whole life. Option #6 was also ruled out pretty quickly, and if I recall correctly it was primarily because there would be no connection (by name) to either Jenn or myself. This left us with options 1, 2 or 3 and the concern of being linked to our children by name.

We gave a lot of consideration to options 1, 2 and 3, and ultimately opted for option #2, but I feel that all three of these options had a lot of merit. If social conventions hold, then whatever surname we gave our son would likely be the family name that survives this branch of our collective family tree. Most people who get married tend to take the family name of their husband, and so, traditionally most people probably never really consider how this affects how a mother feels about her name not being carried on through her children. Because Jenn still has her own family name, from my perspective this was certainly an important factor to take into account since I didn’t want Jenn to feel that I was insensitive to the possibility that her family name might not carry on through her children.

Honestly, thinking through this whole thought process again makes me think that we should reconsider changing our kids family name to Jenn’s. It seems funny to me, and very indicative of our patriarchal society that it is assumed that a woman will take the name of her man. Moreover, the children which she carries in her body, which are literally part of her body for the first 9 months of existence are then brought into the world and appropriated in name by the father. To be sure, this is a complex issue and I know that I am presenting an oversimplified version of the facts, but this reality does make me cringe. I would certainly not want to be a woman in today’s (or yesterday’s) society. It makes me feel very passionate about how this world will treat my daughter and how much, as a society, we owe women. What are your thoughts on surnames and the way they are dictated by a our societies patriarchal influences?