What’s in a name? Our last name decision

When we made everything legal last Friday, we finally had to address an issue we had been dancing around for years: our last names.  Tradition would have me change my last name to match Cal’s.  However, I am not big on tradition for the sake of tradition.  There are so many different approaches to last names with marriage now.  I could hyphenate.  Cal could hyphenate.  We both could.  We could choose a new name altogether.  Cal could change his last name to mine.  You get the idea.  For us, this decision was further complicated by the fact that we we had children before getting married.

When Ryan was born, I gave him my last name.  That was absolutely the right decision for us at the time.  As a single mom, I wanted to share my last name with my child.  There were so many times when Ryan was small that my last name was assumed to be the same as Ryan’s.  Had they been assuming that I was Mrs. [Cal’s last name] it would have really hurt because of our history.  Now that we are no longer on such horrible terms (even if we were just maintaining a civil co-parenting relationship and not married), I don’t think I would mind having a different last name than my children.  When I was a young mom going through the process of court with an ex who cut off all contact with me though? It definitely would have stung to be called Mrs. X.  Maybe that was immature, but I think it makes the most sense for children to have the last name of their primary caregiver in that situation, although everyone should make the decision that they want.

While I was pregnant with Saoirse, the topic came up again.  Cal worried that people would assume he was not our children’s father because he didn’t share a last name.  I didn’t think it mattered whose last name our kids had, but I wanted them to match.  Ryan has always had the option to change his last name open to him, and he has always been aware of that.  He has also always been adamant that his name is Ryan Y and he is proud of that.  He has made it very clear that he didn’t want that to change, at 7 years old his name is part of his identity.  So Saoirse took my last name too.  We could have hyphenated, or pushed Ryan more, or explored a plethora of other options.  Yet again, for the situation and the time, that was the right decision.

Then we got engaged and the topic came up again.  Cal totally respected whatever I wanted to do with my last name, but he really wanted to share a last name with our kids.  I also really want to continue to share a name with my kids, though now that I am older and in a secure relationship with Cal, it doesn’t matter to me as much as it once did.  We talked about our options, but it was always a sensitive topic, so we didn’t stay on it for long.  It seemed like we had plenty of time to figure out what we were doing.

Before we knew it it was June.  The months flew by (that’s what happens when you plan to get married three months after getting engaged). We had talked very little about the name question.  We talked about Cal changing his name or hyphenating.  We talked about choosing a new name together as a family.  We talked about me hyphenating.

During this time Cal had an unfortunate experience with someone at Ryan’s school when the person assumed Cal’s last name was the same as Ryan’s and called him Mr. Y.  Whenever this has happened in the past, Cal has always brushed it off, there has never been a reason to correct anyone.  This time, however, Ryan found it very important to correct the person about his dad’s last name.  Again this could have been brushed off at this point, but the person tried to correct Ryan, so Cal had to step in just to say that Ryan was right and that he had a different last name.  This led to the person asking whose last name would be changing since they knew we were getting married soon.  The whole interaction was awkward and made Cal very self-conscious about the last name difference since he was already insecure about it.  It was also a very rare encounter, I have never heard anyone comment on the last name difference before.  The only time anyone ever even hears all of our last names is when dealing with forms.  Last names aren’t really a part of daily life, but when they do come up we just use one name or the other.

The other day, we realized how quickly our wedding date was coming up and decided that since we had to do the legal part separately (to avoid extra hoops), we should go ahead and schedule a marriage ceremony at City Hall.  So we called and made an appointment to get legally married the next day.  Then we realized we really had to make a decision about the last name thing.  We talked to Ryan and he really wanted to keep his last name.  We really wanted to respect his decision.

We talked about hyphenating the kids’ names, but we both agreed that seemed overly complicated.  We talked about Cal changing his name or hyphenating, but he didn’t want to do that.  We came to the conclusion that name changes were a lot of unnecessary paperwork (particularly if three or four of us would be changing our names) and that everyone was just fine the way they were.  So we left it at that, or so I thought.

The next day we headed to City Hall to get legally married.  As I was filling out the paperwork for the Marriage License, I suddenly wished we had spent a lot more time discussing last names.  Where previously I was completely happy with everyone keeping their last name and knew it made the most sense for us, I was now second guessing myself.   I was overcome with this strong feeling that one of us needed to change their name.  I tried whispering to Cal about it in City Hall and he basically just told me to put down whatever I wanted to do.  So we each kept our names.

After all of that turmoil and indecision over the past few years about last names, we ultimately came to the conclusion that last names don’t matter.  At least not what is written legally on forms.  Legally, both of our children have my last name.  My last name is also shorter and more convenient to write on forms, but ultimately it just wasn’t worth the paperwork to us to change it.  Just because we fill out different names on official paperwork, doesn’t make us any less united as a family (like I briefly feared while filling out the paperwork).  Socially, we can still go by any name.  Hell, I am writing this blog under a completely separate last name than either of our legal names.

If someone wants to call me or our kids by Cal’s last name, I am okay with that.  If someone calls him by my last name, he is okay with that too. At the end of the day, we both realized that the legal last name didn’t really matter to us.