When we think about finding a baby name, it’s often focused on the first name. Parents can go back and forth for months, or in some cases, maybe they’ve had a name picked out for years.
There’s another element of deciding a baby’s name to think about, however, which is the last name.
Traditionally, a baby was given the father’s last name, and usually, the mother also had that name through marriage. Now, however, many families are choosing to do things on their own terms and not follow the traditional path.
There are logistical considerations when choosing a baby’s last name, and there are pros and cons to the available options. With that in mind, the following are some things to think about if you’re in a situation to decide on the last name for a baby.
The Traditional Approach
As mentioned, in the traditional approach, the child is given the last name of the father.
This can have pros, such as the ability to maintain the same name through generations. For some families, tradition is a priority. It’s also a simple way to identify everyone in the family. If the mother, father, and children have the same last name as one, then the family is easily recognized, and it can make things easier when it comes to filling out paperwork and registering for school and other activities.
The downsides are that first, a mother may feel like giving a child the last name of the father only isn’t taking into account her lineage or family history. For some families, it means that the maternal last name can end completely, and of course, you don’t necessarily get that non-traditional and creative approach in choosing a name.
If you’re the mother, for example, and you have a different last name from your child and partner, it can be a little tricky. Even though you have the same parental rights, sometimes there’s a perception that the parent with the same last name as the child has more rights, so it’s worth weighing that in your decision-making process.
Creating a New Name
Another option that you have with your partner is to create a new name for your family. That can feel like a clean slate for some families or a fresh way of doing things.
You can do this by combining both of your names, and then you’ll use that combined name, as will your child.
You’re paving your own way, but at the same time, you’re also maintaining a sense of legacy and connection with your families.
It can feel like you’re a truly unified family unit when you create your own name, but sometimes, hyphenating names can take a little more effort and paperwork than just changing your name to your partner’s, so keep that in mind.
Another reason that some people opt to combine names is if they’re an LGBTQ family. This can provide a connection for both parents to the child, even if they’re the non-biological parent.
Using One Name as a Middle Name
If you have two parents who both feel strongly about their child having their last name, you can always make one of the surnames a middle name, or you could even make one of your surnames the first name of your child.
For example, it’s not all that uncommon to see mothers use their maiden name as their child’s first name, although, of course, then you can’t use it again when you have another child, but could make the middle names the same in theory.
Using the Mother’s Last Name
When you choose to use the mother’s last name for your child, you are honoring the maternal line. If you’re a single mother, this can be your choice as well.
The downside is that you only recognize one side of the family. Sometimes it can become complicated because maybe you’re single when your child is born, but later you reconcile with the other parent, or you get remarried, in which case you might change your child’s last name down the road.
What About Changing a Child’s Last Name?
There are a lot of reasons you could be considering changing a child’s last name. For example, maybe you want to change their name to their stepparent’s, or you might want to get rid of the name of the other parent.
Only a parent, guardian, or conservator can change a child’s name. A child’s legal name change has to be done in court, and doing it informally isn’t legally recognized.
To begin the process, you would file a petition for a name change. It has to be filed in the county where the child lives.
In the petition, you’ll be asked for information about the name change and why it should be granted. You’ll have to let the court know the full name you’re requesting and whether there are any other court orders that involve the child whose name you’re seeking to change.
The easiest and most cost-efficient way to go about changing a child’s name is to have both parents agree. If that’s not going to work in your situation, you’ll have to give the other parent notice of a name change unless the parental rights of one parent have been legally terminated.
If you have to notify the other parent and they agree, then the name change can proceed.
If they don’t agree, things get tricky. The other parent would have to be served with a petition for the name change, and you’d likely have to work with an attorney.
Typically if your child is over the age of 10, they will also have to give their consent to the name change, although it varies depending on the state.
Some of the elements of whether or not a name change will be granted can include helping a child overcome embarrassment or inconvenience.
Whether you want to keep things simple or you’d like to explore your own path, there’s no written rule that says you have to give your child a certain last name.