Plenty of women choose to keep their last name when they get married. A Google study shows about 20 percent of recently-married women did. But when a couple has a baby, they almost always automatically give the baby the father’s last name.
Writer Molly Caro May and her husband did not. She and her husband agreed early on in their relationship to put both of their names in the running and when they had their first child, she got May’s last name.
“We liked the sound of it better with her first name anyway,” May said. “Her middle name is his last name, so we wanted to include his last name. It didn’t really feel like such a big deal to us to make that choice. Why shouldn’t my daughter have my last name, right?”
But the couple’s family and friends had a surprisingly strong reaction.
“My family is very open minded and liberal, but even my family said, ‘Wow!'” May said. “My brother, he joked, ‘How does he feel about being emasculated?’ My mom made a comment about what my daughter would face on the playground and I said, ‘Are you joking?’ And she caught herself and said, ‘I can’t believe I said that. That comes from another era.’ So everyone sort of caught themselves.”
“But even my closest women friends, who are all feminists and super open to anything, even some of them said, ‘Wow! You’re really going to do that?’ or ‘I wish my man would let me do that,'” she said. “That was surprising to me. One woman said, ‘Do you think that’s not including your husband in some way?’ To which my response was, ‘Well, women haven’t been included ever! At least not in our culture.'”
What’s in a last name
Shoreline attorneys Cassie Trueblood and Braden Pence have an almost 3-year-old daughter named Francis Trueblood.
“It was something that I actually wanted,” Pence said. “It was something I felt strongly. It’s like a leftover patriarchy and I felt good about wanting to have an open mind.”
The couple chose Francis’ full name through a complicated process that included plenty of competition and many rounds of rock paper scissors.
“I guess I wanted the idea of having my name be an option,” Trueblood said. “I didn’t say I 100 percent want my last name, but I wanted it to be something that was an equal option.”
Their choice wasn’t met with any opposition, except for a little questioning from Pence’s aunt.
“His aunt said, ‘Oh, no Pence anywhere in there?’ It’s his dad’s sister so her maiden name was Pence. But when she got married she changed her name and her child doesn’t have Pence anywhere in his name,” Trueblood said. “So I’m like, why is it noteworthy to you that our child doesn’t have Pence, when neither does your child?”
May recently gave birth to a second baby girl and they gave her her husband’s last name, and May as a middle.
“I’m not advocating for every child having their mother’s last name,” May said. “I’m just advocating for a conversation because it isn’t a conversation. If someone decides they want the man’s last name, cool. But just have a conversation about it. It shouldn’t be a given.”
May realizes that her daughters may not like having different names when they grow up, but she wants them to know why they did what they did, and then give their kids the opportunity to go their own way.
“I just think about Francis,” Pence said. “I hope [having her mom’s last name] is something she’s proud of, feels good about. I’m proud of it, I really am. Ultimately, we didn’t know Donald Trump was going to win and that he was going to pick Mike Pence as his running mate, so turns out this was a really good idea.”
“Well, and with the Mike Pence situation, I keep inviting Braden to come to the Trueblood side and change his name at any time,” Trueblood quipped.
“It was a perfectly good name,” muses Pence. “It was a perfectly good name until he won.”
May noted there are several other countries and cultures where it’s perfectly normal to take the mother’s last name.