Why is there still such a reluctance to give a child the mother’s last name?

Why is there still such a reluctance to give a child the mother's last name? thumbnail

The birth of a child is supposed to be a celebration that brings family members together. But when my friend Simon* recently became a father, his parents disowned him and his extended family members accused Simon of betrayal and selfishness.

What could he possibly have done to provoke such a response? A name, that’s what. Specifically, his wife’s name.

*Not his real name

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4 thoughts on “Why is there still such a reluctance to give a child the mother’s last name?

  1. “I don’t know of a single case of where the mother’s name is the first choice rather than the last option or a concession.”

    Hi Kasey,

    I’m married and when my now 6 year old son was born my husband and I decided to give him my surname as it sounded better with his first name. We were both indifferent to the idea of only a male surname being passed down. We did however include my husbands surname as a one of 2 middle names. However when we received our new Medicare card with my sons name on it they had hyphenated his surname putting my husbands surname first and my surname last – it took quite a while to have it changed as Medicare didn’t seem to understand the issue.

  2. Here’s an example for you. My four (now adult) sons all have their mother’s surname. I like it better than I like mine. I don’t think my parents entirely approve, but their opinion is not something I lose any sleep over Other people seem more puzzled than disapproving, and sometimes people assume it’s my surname too. Once again, neither attitude worries me; in the end, you’re going to get called whatever people want to call you.

    Disapproval of the practice is, though, horribly patriarchal and offensive.

  3. Hi Kasey,
    this is a topic that has been discussed around me fairly frequently (maybe I raise it in conversation). the general response from the generation of women under me (I’m 50), is to look puzzled (I’m finding that many young women are taking their husband’s surname upon marriage (what?? Why??)). The response I get from men is most frequently quite offended. Nobody has yet to provide me with an answer that satisfied me for giving a child the father’s name other than the one you have provided – ugly surname, copped a lot of teasing at school. All the answers seem to revolve around “tradition” etc, yet we are seeing unmarried couples having babies (this is not traditional) and the babies are still being given the father’s surname. In many cases I’ve been told it’s so as not to confuse the children/teachers/doctors/general public (what??). Does the world’s population walk around in a daze because some mothers have children to more than one man so the children of that one woman have different surnames? Or are we scratching our heads over common surnames in cases where people aren’t even related? (!).
    My personal view is that since in most cases, it is the mother who was pregnant for over 9 months, is more than likely to have done the bulk of the child-rearing, lost opportunities to progress at work, lost sleep, lost her physical independence amongst other things; and, given that mitochondrial DNA is passed through the mother’s line and mother’s are, on the whole, the one constant by which a family tree can be traced, why isn’t it a given that children will take their mother’s surname?
    I know that there are men who take on the traditional role of a mother, through choice; there are widowers and many other guises of men as primary care-givers (I’m sure to miss some of the categories) so I’m not trying to detract from the care that many men provide and the responsibilities they take on. It is still the case however, that mothers, be they biological or adoptive or foster, are the primary carers for young humans and it would be fairer and more logical for this to be reflected in the naming conventions we have in the west.
    Let’s not forget, that surnames are the result of a man imposing his ownership on his property. Women today and children are no longer the property of the man they married/their father/stepfather.
    On another note, one of my friends and his (then) wife gave their two sons his surname and their daughter the wife’s surname. Please don’t tell me that would confuse people. Surely as a species, we’re not that stupid.

  4. When I was in hospital with my first born a friend of mine (who didn’t change her name when she married) phoned me and advised me not to give my daughter her father’s name. She told me how sad it made her that she was not automatically recognizable by name as her children’s mother. At that moment, holding my new baby, it made a lot of sense. I gave my daughter a double-barrelled name with my name first! I haven’t regretted for a moment. If not for that lucky call, I would have just given them his name as expected.

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