I grew up with a mom who, when she signed her checks, wrote three names. When I was younger, I’d watch spend the time it took to write out the words. Now, unlike my father (or me for that matter), my mom has very good hand writing. You could actually read her signature. She spent time on every letter and it flowed together. At first, I thought nothing of the fact that she wrote three names when she signed her checks. I didn’t understand, or even know, that wives typically take their husband’s last name. I didn’t really know why they did that, what it meant, and why, in our society, that was the default behavior of couples. I did know that I didn’t know any other woman my mom’s age who wrote three names. I never asked her about it – I always figured it was just her thing.
Of course, as I got older, I started to learn what “default” in our society means. When it comes to marriage, women took their husband’s last name and it all harked to the idea that a woman left her family, her history, her tradition and joined another. At least, this was how it is done in the US and English speaking countries. And I understood that my mother had replaced her middle name with her maiden name and taken on my father’s last name as her family name but, and this always struck me, she never felt like my father’s last name trumped hers. Her last name wasn’t lost or replaced- it was merely moved and it was worthy of appearing along side of her chosen family name.
my future sister-in-law’s wedding
As I got older, I never had the desire for my future wife (whoever that ended up being) would take my last name. If she wanted to, that was her choice. If she didn’t, that’s fine too. If she wanted to hyphen it, great. It didn’t matter to me necessarily. I always felt that a name is merely a name – it’s who the name represents that matters. And, in fact, in the early stage of my relationship with my fiancee, I did mention my very opinion on this and mentioned that I could end up taking her last name. She was kinda thrilled about that idea, in fact, but that’s also because she’s very proud of not only her name, but also who carries that name – specifically herself, her family, etc. And her family name isn’t that popular and with only sisters in her family, there’s a risk that her last name would stop propagating (at least in the US) rather soon. She’d rather that continue and I think that’s a very good reason to want to keep her name.
So, great, I’d take her last name, life would be peachy. And since I live in a state where I’m allowed to change my name on my marriage license, there wouldn’t be any problems or hassle to get this done. We didn’t talk about it for a few years but, as I got older and the actual realization that I’m getting to the point where I could become a dad, I suddenely had second thoughts. Well, not necessarily second thoughts about me taking her last name. I had second thoughts on the name my kids were going to have.
And so I started thinking.
And then it hit me. My mother was always proud of her last name and she always included it in her signature. It was a part of her and belonged to her and it was worth writing. Now, I never received her last name but why didn’t I? Why is my name only three words long rather than four? In fact, who determines why we only get one last name anyways? I’m Mexican-American, dagnabit. Have you ever met a latino that didn’t have eight names? I thought not! Why shouldn’t my kids have the option of having 100 names?
And by ditching my last name, and not passing it on to my children, does that then disconnect them from my cultural heritage? Does our connection to the larger Mexican-American community disappear when their names contain no Mexican reference at all? Will they not realize where they come from and what that means? And will they, in a sense, be denied the inherent opportunity to embrace their heritage and to discover where they come from because I, as their father, made a conscious decision to deny them that? Will they end up suffering the same disconnect with society in general that I did growing up because my father made that very choice?
The name choice, in a sense, became less about me and more about giving it to the nameless future beings that, if God graces me, I’ll help bring into this world and raise. Part of parenthood, in my opinion at least, is giving them opportunities or at least chances to experience things in a different (and a better) way that I did. If my kids choose to embrace their ancestry, I want them to have that opportunity and owning my last name, and my fiancee’s, can be one way for them to do that. It doesn’t mean they have to but it’s there and ready for us and that’s something they should at least have, I think. Which, all in all, makes me realize that if my fiancee didn’t to keep her last name, I’d probably insist that our future kids still have it somewhere. It does mean that our kids will have four names, and, in our society, they might only end up ever using 3. But if that happens, that’ll be their choice.
So, in the end, our family name (legally) will be my fiancee’s last name. My middle name will expand from one name to two. Our kids will, hopefully, have two middles names as well with one being my “maiden” name. They won’t have two last names – this isn’t that great of an idea because then the order of the last names matters which means that my fiancee’s last name would have to be the first one in order but everyone in the US would assume that mine, which is 2nd, is our real last name and that’s not kosher – but they’ll have access to it. And in case they don’t end up being called Maria, Fernado, Jesus, Luis, Lucinda, Xavier or what not, at least they’ll have one name that’ll make applying for financial aid at college easier. Viva la acci√≥n afirmativa!