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Of hyphenated last names December 26, 2013

Posted by Sharath Rao in Uncategorized.
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We were filling in our son’s birth certificate form a few weeks ago. Having filled all but his last name, I asked HP. “Rao Sarathy” or “Rao-Sarathy” ? “Lets do it with the hyphen.”, she said. And so this boy now has a hyphenated last name.

The part of naming, which can often be contentious among couples, is to agree on what will be passed on to the child. That was something we had no disagreements on: his name will have both our last names. It just wasn’t obvious in what form it would go in. And there were several options – split between middle and last name, hyphenated last name, 2 words in the last name or something else. Neither of us had strong preferences either way and so, even while we oft and on wondered what it should be, it never quite got decided. Eventually the decision to go with the hyphenated last name was done without as much as batting an eyelid!

Hyphenated last names are not common, maybe unheard of, where I come from. I probably encountered one only when I came to America. I know of no others in our close circle of friends here either. So it was not surprising when some friends who asked if the hyphen is indeed a part of the name.

I then found this article about hyphenated last names. It speaks of the motivations behind them – a sense of equality in terms of having both the parents represented, which is frankly what motivated us. We are not big on symbolisms with few exceptions (which is probably how most most people think of themselves šŸ™‚ ). The article speaks of how even as a marker of equality, this is a ‘one-generation solution’, a solution that scales poorly. What will the future generations do? Simply pile on names?

As we had agreed, HP retained her name after marriage as a matter of principle. The common option in such cases is for the children to simply take on the father’s last name. When it is not a paternalistic ritual, the act of taking on the father’s name is mostly about convenience. If not, I imagine that the same motivations that cause women to retain their names would lead them to pass on their names to their children. And passing on the names would mean one of the few options I mentioned above, including the hyphenated last name.

To us, the quandary that a hyphenated last name presented to future generations, while valid, was not deterrent enough. What they do with their kids’ names will be one of the million choices that they will have to make anyway and I do not intend to prime them one way or the other. It is unlikely that they will, for reasons of complexity, resent having both their parents’ names as part of their name. It then boils down to what might annoy them more – not having one of their parents’ names as part of their names OR having a composite last name that they cannot realistically pass on. Like many decisions that we simply have to take for them, we did.

That, of course, means there shall now be 3 last names in the family. I know there is a symbolism associated with the entire family having one last name. A reasonable way within our framework to accomplish that would have been for both of us to change our last names and also pass them on. Although I know a couple that went down that road, I am not sure we cherish that notion (one family, one last name) enough to make it worth the trouble.

What we now have is the possibility that our son might share his last name only with his potential future sibling. Not too bad for sibling revelry! (read: making virtue out of necessity)

Reference: A whole another post on the second choice for the first name.

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Comments»

1. Mady - December 26, 2013

Hey Sharath, nice read! Kudos to both of you for going ahead with this. I had always assumed that my kid would carry both our last names too. But then when I got down to it, I was riddled with the same issue you note down here. Also what struck me was that both our last names were representative of just our dads’ so essentially our kid will end up propagating patriarchy driven last name in any case, so here I am – mom to my husband’s son! šŸ™‚

2. Sharath Rao - December 27, 2013

Thanks Mady. As you say, you went with the default option and I guess over time the default option might change to make it less patriarchal.


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