Why the Baby Will be Taking Steve's Surname

When Steve and I first adopted Polly, there were a lot of conversations about which surname she should take. I felt strongly that she was 50% my cat and I wanted her surname to reflect that; Steve felt strongly that she was 50% his cat and he wanted her surname to reflect that, too.

The eventual compromise was to make up a completely new (slightly ridiculous) surname by combining both of our own. When Gizmo came along, we gave him that surname, too.

Baby Rooftops: Steve, the father's, hands on the bump

When Steve and I told our friends that we were going to be parents, a lot of them expected a similar debate. Surnames are a feminist issue and I, of course, have always had - and shared - my opinions.

I don't agree that it should automatically be the wife who takes the husband's name on marriage. I don't agree that women should automatically be the ones to give up their family identity in favour of men's. I don't, for that matter, believe that married couples should have to be one-male-and-one-female. And I don't believe that both partners need to have the same name.

But a shared surname does make sense to me.

To me, a shared surname feels symbolic: the couple are no longer She-of-this-family and He-of-that; they are something strong and new and all about the two of them. They are combining their two family backgrounds and building their own new unit. If you're going to get married (and that's a whole other blog post), choosing a shared surname strikes me as more of an outward commitment than a wedding or a new piece of jewellery.

I had always assumed that if Steve and I ever got hitched or had children, there would be a lot of discussion around the surname(s). We've talked about it before. We've ruled out double-barrels (which, to me, are just storing up bigger issues for the next generation - do they quadruple-barrel?). We've joked about using the same ridiculous surname we've given to the cats. We even discussed picking a random word and using that (but - other than "Rooftops", obviously - they all seemed kind of naff). I assumed marriage or parenthood - if they ever happened - would be the crisis point when we finally had to thrash out a decision.

So it came as a surprise to me, when we started discussing baby names, to find myself trying them out with Steve's surname rather than my own (or the cats').

Quite simply: the surname detail didn't feel important any more.

Somewhere along the way, my family surname has stopped having much significance for me. My sister has married and taken her husband's name; my mum has remarried and taken her husband's name; I'm the only one of my family left in the UK with this surname and, rather than feeling like I should be clinging on to it or protecting it (it's pretty unusual), that leaves me feeling free to let it go. It doesn't represent my bond to my family members - they no longer share it and that hasn't changed our relationship. It's just the name I happen to have.

Steve, on the other hand, does feel quite tied to his name. As much as we've joked about made up names in the past, in reality he doesn't want to change his surname and he likes the idea of passing it on.

Getting into a debate about something which is important to him and isn't important to me doesn't seem right. I'd be arguing for the sake of arguing; he'd be arguing because he cared.

And, finally, after all these months of pregnancy - of watching my body change to accommodate a baby; of feeling this tiny new human kicking inside me - I don't feel I have anything to prove. This child is mine, whatever its surname.

It's Steve's, too, whatever its surname, but I'm not sure the thump of belonging hits men as hard until the baby's actually born. There isn't that physical connection. But there can be a symbolic one.

So, there we go: Steve's surname it is. That's one naming issue painlessly solved. Now we just need to figure out what we're actually going to call the kid...!


  1. I, for one, am slightly sad that it won't actually be Baby Rooftops. I think it has a nice ring to it :)

  2. I lobbied for Rooftops but Steve was having none of it. :)

  3. I know lots of feminists get very riled up about this issue, which I totally get. And I totally agree that a woman shouldn't HAVE TO or be expected to change their name just like the man shouldn't feel expected to. When I got married I took Rob's name because (1) it's much easier for me to switch my name according to US law, (2) Rob didn't want to change his name and (3) I liked the idea of a shared name for the reasons you listed above, and I knew with a child if I kept my name one of us would not share our baby's last name. I don't blame anyone that does it any other way, because it's such a personal thing. I hope you share little bit's name on here. :)

  4. I expect to share his or her first name. :)

    I suppose Steve and I are going to have to chat about where the privacy lines are when it comes to sharing any details of the kid's life (although I suspect he would trust me to figure them out for myself).

  5. Love your reasoning on all of this. Growing up I assumed I would change my surname when I got married, but as I got older I started liking the idea of keeping my own. It's unique, for one--I have a very American first name and a somewhat uncommon Italian last name. I don't think there's anyone else with my name pairing anywhere. I've grown comfortable with it and I don't think I'll be changing it if/when I get married.

    Oddly enough, I've also always assumed I would give any potential children the father's last name. It's just not as important to me.

  6. My parents weren't married (still slightly scandalous in the mid-80s, apparently a social worker automatically turned up because my mum was classed as a single parent) - so I was given my dads surname. There were a couple of dull reasons, but the main one was that the mother has automatic parental responsibility and the father didn't if the parents weren't married - this didn't change until 2003, but there's still some odd loopholes about father's names, birth certificates, and rights. By my having his surname, and him registering my birth, he was legally accepting responsibility for me. Bizzare, dated, but there you go.
    My brother and his partner joined their names together when they got married - they were pregnant at the time. Neither wanted to change their names, so they compromised. My brother had a nightmare switching, and had to change it by deed poll before banks etc would let him use his new name. My sister in law just sent a copy of the certificate away!
    I don't know if I'd want to change my name. Having had different names to my mum for my entire life, I've never really seen the point. And I quite like it... only other Welsh names go with Gwen!

  7. Yeah I vote Rooftops also. Because obviously we should get a vote ;)

  8. I love your reasoning behind this. My issue has always been the fact that the child is expected to take the father's surname. Making a conscious choice to give him/her the father's surname, is totally different.

    My parents were unmarried but unlike Gwen, I was given my mother's surname until my parents married in 1984. Not sure what Adam and I would do if we planned to have children. We're both attached to our surnames in that they're both unusual. I'm amused at the idea of taking half of each of our surnames and going for Beanspoon, but I think that's definitely more a cat surname....

  9. I see an online petition in the making...

  10. This comments thread is making me REALLY curious about what other bloggers' surnames are...!

    My surname's uncommon enough I was quite disappointed when I discovered I wasn't the only person with my name. The downside of a really common first name...

  11. Scandalous! A friend of mine had unmarried parents (early 80s); when his mum married a different man, my friend took the new surname, too. In Scotland, if you go by a name for a couple of years, it becomes yours with no need to fill in forms. At least, that's the theory... in practise, he had a bit of a nightmare getting a passport!

  12. I dunno... I'd have had kids much earlier if I could have given them a crazy, cartoon-style surname like Beanspoon!

  13. That's interesting. I'm VERY attached to my last name for some reason, and am 99% sure I would keep it if I were married. Maybe my man could take it too, but I wouldn't care if he did or didn't.

  14. It's increasingly common where I'm from to hyphenate the name in the event of a wedding, and both people changing it. I just don't think their offspring will find this solution a practical one, as they'll struggle to compound two hyphenated names :D Personally I'd never change my name to my husband's or wife's, because, being bisexual, this just doesn't make sense to me. But then again, I'm not getting married any time soon. I think your attitude is great - if you don't care and Steve does, why not let him have his say. It's very reasonable and kind.

  15. I'd feel the same way regardless of my partner's gender - it would still be about defining ourselves as a unit; there just wouldn't be the same "husband's name" assumptions!

    Yep, I don't get the hyphenating thing - it seems so impractical long term.


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