Non-traditional Situations

Seems pretty cut-and-dried – you’re having a baby, so you need to give him a name. Once it was a given that children would get their father’s last name, but these days last names might be hyphenated, combined or otherwise shared between family members. Then there’s adoption. Maybe your adopted child already has a name when she joins your family. Do you keep it or give her a new name? Suddenly it doesn’t seem so easy.

Adoption Options

When Alyson LaBarge and her husband adopted their third daughter from China, she had already been named by the Chinese Social Welfare Institutes (SWI). “In my daughter’s SWI, the girls who were born at about the same time were all given the same first and last names, with their middle name being unique to them, so they were all named Feng as their last name and Jiang as their first name,” says the mom from Anna, Texas. “My daughter was found near a river so her name, when written out, was Feng Jiang Hui meaning beautiful river.”

In choosing her name, they wanted her to be proud of her heritage, yet feel part of her new family. “Since she brought nothing else with her from China, we wanted to keep at least a part of her name,” LaBarge says. “We also knew that at times, the family names the children are given in the SWIs are somehow very obvious to other Chinese that the child was named in an SWI, and therefore abandoned, something that would be degrading or looked down upon. We wanted to avoid that for our daughter as well.”

In the end, they chose the name Paige, since their other daughters had five-letter “P” names. In combining two of her Chinese names into JiangHui for a middle name, she ended up with a name honoring her culture, as well as identifying her as part of the LaBarge family.

Single Moms and Unmarried Partners

Families come in both traditional and nontraditional varieties. How are names handled when Mom keeps her maiden name, family names are combined or hyphenated or a single woman becomes a mom?

For Bryce Gruber of New York City, N.Y., and her boyfriend, parenthood came rather unexpectedly. “We didn’t feel pressured to get married,” Gruber says. So they agreed she would pick the baby’s first name and he would pick the middle name. She chose Benjamin and he chose Kyoto (the city where the baby was conceived).

Hyphenating the baby’s last name to Gruber-Kohana was a bit of a struggle. “We didn’t really have any difficulties with the first name,” Gruber says. “It was agreeing on the hyphenation of the last names that really didn’t sit well with the baby’s father. I feel strongly that it takes two people to make a baby, so two people should have a hand in naming the baby.”

Single moms may not have to negotiate with anyone else for naming rights, says Turner, though they are still subject to a family’s input and preferences. “The same family traditions, such as taking an ancestor’s first name, still apply whether you’re married or not,” she says. “And if the father is active in the child’s life, his wishes and family traditions can be considered as well.”

Other options for unmarried partners is to use one last name as a middle name and the other as the last name, or even, as Utt-Grubb suggests, combining last names into one new name to be shared by everyone. “[For example], dad’s last name Wilson and mom’s last name Field become Filson or Wield,” she says.

Last Names

Children taking their father’s last name is no longer a given. Utt-Grubb and her husband both took on their hyphenated last names when they married and share the name as well with their children.

When Ruth Perryman and Randy Miramontez of Roseville, Calif., married, he already had children with his last name and she had children with her former husband’s last name. Perryman wanted her turn. So she chose Ruth Miramontez Perryman as her married name, giving her the option to use either last name. Their two sons also use Miramontez Perryman as their last name, though they tend to go by Perryman, to Mom’s delight.

from adoption to marital status”We didn’t hyphenate because we feel that’d make it even worse,” Perryman says. “We decided to give them both names so they could be free to choose which to use.”

Here are some things Utt-Grubb suggests taking into consideration when choosing family names:

  • Whether or not having a unified “team name” for the family is important
  • Whether or not parents believe there is a social stigma attached to a nontraditional last name
  • Whether or not parents believe that it will be socially awkward if their last name isn’t the same as their child’s (with some preparation, this usually isn’t a big deal)
  • Whether or not there is someone else to carry on the family name and how important that is to you