Hi there! First name nerd advice-seeker here. I wrote to you four years ago to get your take on our first child's name, a boy we called Theodore Roland Giguere Hodes. I need general name advice, but also want your take on something.
I fancy myself a feminist, and I have been into the idea that if we ever had a girl, I would like her to have my last name (so Hodes as the second middle name and Giguere as the last name). My husband has finally come around to the idea, but now I wonder: is it crazy and impractical for our kids to have different last names?
Secondly, I'm at a total loss with names this time around. I liked how Theodore had lots of nickname options, is a real ol’ timey name, and works in English and French. I'd like something that goes with it, like Frederick (can't do it - pet's name), or Margaret (I don't love it, but it fits). Any other good ideas?
Welcome back. I’m really into this second-round of name seekers, who tell us so much about the timeline LaineyGossip readers tend toward between children, how much your tastes change (or don’t) between children, and the ways that the name conversation is never really done.
I frequently say that I love the letters I get here, and let’s face it—I’m biased. They’re addressed to me, and about one of my favourite topics. But of all the letters I love, this one is probably the shortest—how exactly did you manage to do so much with so little?
I’ll get to your questions, but first I just want to make a small clarification to an early line in your letter, “I fancy myself a feminist”. I loved reading it, but there was a tiny tone of… self-mockery? Tongue-in-cheek-ness? Maybe neither, but whatever it was, it inspired me to point out the following:
I’m not going to pretend a name column is a gender studies and politics course, but I’m also not going to pretend it isn’t. These kinds of ideas and topics are wrapped intimately together with our ideas about names, and whether those ideas are changeable, malleable, finite or self-created… and so I want to point out that you are a feminist, by self-definition, regardless of what name you choose to give your daughter, or another son, or what you do with your ‘maiden’ name, or anything else. If you believe in the equality of the sexes, regardless of anything else, you are a feminist... and you’re also the only person truly equipped to say whether you are or not, regardless of what other people think of your choices.
I read your initial question, and my first thought was ‘yeah of course, why not’ – but also, my initial thought was ‘oh so one is Giguere Hodes and the other is Hodes Giguere? Go nuts’. Then I realized your son currently has two middle names and only one last name, as opposed to two surnames. Right? And you’re proposing that each child would have one surname, that their sibling has as a second middle?
…Yeah, my answer is still ‘Go Nuts’. But I’m trying not to jump to a conclusion, and really consider a reason why my gut reaction might be misguided, so let’s be as methodical as we can:
1. We don’t use surnames as family shorthands anymore.
I think it used to be true that our grandparents or parents said things like “Let’s invite the Sandersons to dinner”, but that seems thoroughly old-fashioned now. So many couples or families don’t have the same names—because one partner chooses not to change their name in straight couples, or because it wasn’t obvious who would do the changing in same-sex ones, that it’s no longer an easily understood metric. Add to that the families with hyphenated names and the ones who do all have the same name (including accidentally—ask me about the couple who married, already had the same name, and stressed about people thinking she did change her name when she didn’t…), and anything goes. So isn’t it easier and more democratic to say ‘let’s have Dave and Kelly over’, assuming that includes any attendant children or dogs or etc, than to try to think of a one-name label for all of them?
Ergo, there’s no inherent awkwardness in ‘oh, what will people call us?’ Because your kids friends will call you “Teddy’s mom” or etc, and your friends will call you by your names, and…
2. Sibling ‘pairs’ don’t happen as much either.
My sister and I had the same surname until she got married, but I don’t think anyone ever referred to us as ‘the Taha girls’ or ‘Taha sisters’ or etc. Maybe this is because we happen not to look alike, despite sharing the same parents, but more likely it’s because we occupied different spaces. At our various schools, activities, and etc, nobody needed to group us together – and also, we weren’t the Weasleys, so numerous and clearly defined, that it was necessary to refer to us in a group.
My point here is that I am hard-pressed to run into a situation where this would affect your kids. Schools today have multitudes of kids from families of all kinds, and aren’t very likely to highlight anyone by surnames—if your kids won the spelling awards in two different grades, I’m almost sure they would refer to ‘siblings Theodore and Xanthippe’ (what?) rather than ‘the Smith siblings’. None of the kids would know who that was anyway, right? A lot of referring to families or even siblings that way seems like a throwback to a folksier, smaller-town feel that seems out of date even in those small towns… though admittedly, I’m writing this from the city, where I’m conditioned never to assume that a kid has the same name as their parents, the sex and gender of those parents, or whether in fact there are two.
I should also stress that I do know families that refer to themselves as the Joneses or the Mackenzies, and other people refer to them that way too… but that’s kind of a self-generated moniker, and doesn’t influence the way I look at anyone else.
3. Why only your daughter?
I know that when you think about giving your daughter your last name, you’re thinking ‘I’d like her to have a part of me, or to share something with me.’ I totally understand this, and I think it’s great, and given that many women do change their name, either by choice or by culture, it’s exciting for the name to live ‘longer’ than it otherwise might. There’s no reason for a child not to have a mother’s surname rather than a father’s, particularly if that mother still wears it.
But I would encourage you to do it even if you have another son. Yes, you already did it one way with your first child, but… now you have another one. Kids are very into the idea of fairness, as you know, and explaining blithely that each of them wears one of your surnames is not going to raise any eyebrows.
And in fact, raised eyebrows are what we’re talking about here.
The idea that everyone would have the same last name, and that a name that didn’t fit—a Lewis among Langstons or Robinson among Reeds—would raise eyebrows, stems from the inference that there was something ‘different’ about that family, and in the not-at-all-below-the-surface idea that ‘different’ meant ‘bad’.
Right? Two (or more) different surnames in a family used to indicate… what? Divorce? Remarriage? Widowhood? Adoption? Unmarried parents? Same-sex parents? …Feminism?
4. So what?
Knowing what we know now about all the ways families are created, who gives any of the above any sort of stigma? Nobody you care about. Who thinks of them as anything other than the million paths people take on the road to being parents, or children, or families? Nobody you want to give the time of day to. So why not use the name you want to use?
[Quick sidebar in an already-too-long missive: Yes, yes, a woman who passes on her surname is passing on a name that was likely given to her by a man/also belonged to her father. Yes, patriarchy. But the point here is she’s passing on or continuing a name she herself grew under and loved. Or her grandmother did, or her partner’s aunt. Don’t let people’s ‘But they’re all men’s names!!’ take away the fact that you find them important!]
Re: your second question – I don’t mean to shortchange it, and I do hear you. What you want is a name that can be and feel like lots of things to lots of people… what qualifies as that is where it gets curious. But based on your short list of nos, I would include…
Augusta, Caroline, Delphine, Harriet, Jacinta, Renata, Magdalena, Chantal, Emmeline, or Winnifred (too close to the pet name?) Boy-wise, I think about Sullivan, Duncan, Abraham, Heathcliff (and its sort-of-twin, Clifford), and my beloved Bartholomew.
I feel like I need a drink and a discussion circle. Can’t wait to hear what you think, and what you choose. Let us know!